Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism offer informative reads about rural health issues

Some winners of the 2014 Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism won for coverage of rural issues or work for news outlets with large rural audiences. The winners will be recognized at the Association of Health Care Journalists' annual conference in Santa Clara, Calif., in April.

Markian Hawryluk of the Bend Bulletin in central Oregon was a double winner. Hawryluk won first prize for coverage of public health by smaller news outlets, for "The Risks of Home Birth." Hawryluk took peer-reviewed and government data and combined it with personal examples to bring attention to the "very high risks associated with home birth." Simeon Bennett and Stepan Kravchenko of Bloomberg Markets won second place for "Russia's Hidden Epidemic" of HIV. Third went to Brian Bienkowski of Environmental Health News for "Pesticide Use by Farmers Linked to High Rates of Depression, Suicides." This story is about the increasing evidence that long-term pesticide exposure can affect mental health, and a farmer who committed suicide after years of handling pesticides.

Hawryluk won third place in investigative reporting for "Too Risky to Transplant." This story reveals changes in the Medicare organ transplant program that focus on patients one-year survival rates, which has prompted the rejection of riskier transplant patients and less-than-perfect organs. Hawryluk encourages journalists to go directly to the surgeons when looking for this type of data because transplant programs don't want to publicize any negative findings about their programs. First place went to Beth Daley of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting for "Unregulated Tests" and "Can you Trust Lyme Disease Tests?" Mary Beth Pfeiffer of the The Poughkeepsie Journal in New York won second for her series "Killers and Pain." These stories explored and exposed a painkiller-abuse epidemic, breaking new ground on a story that has been told before by placing the blame on doctors and the New York agencies that regulate them.

For coverage of health policy by small outlets, first place went to Barbara Peters Smith of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune for a series titled "The Kindness of Strangers: Inside Elder Guardianship in Florida." This series describes how Florida courts can take elders who are unable to care for themselves under guardianship and gain control over their assets, even when family members are willing to take on that role. Critics of the process call it "liquidate, isolate, medicate."Smith's advice to journalists when writing this type of article is to make sure to carefully vet stories from family members and consult with a lawyer when dealing with anyone who might be depicted critically.

Lauren Sausser of the Charleston, S.C., The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C, won second place for "Rural hospitals face emergency." Sausser reported the plight of rural hospitals across the country through the story of one. She wrote that many rural hospitals are struggling to stay open while working on tight budgets, being forced to merge with larger systems or closing. Sausser encouraged journalists to add color and context to such a story by going straight to the source for information.

Third place went to Patrick Malone of the Santa Fe New Mexican for "True Cost of Care." This story exposed how markups on medical services affect patients with insurance and the uninsured and the role the markups play in hospitals' charitable status. Malone used a massive Centers for Medicaid Services report to gather his data and encouraged journalists to make sure they use the "truest and most representative" data, and include human voices to explain why the data matters.

Justine Griffin of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune won second place in the small consumer category for "The Cost of Life," a personal narrative that delveed into the fertility industry and "shadow promises for the unsuspecting donors."

The staff of Inside Climate News, the Center for Public Integrity and The Weather Channel won first prize in the large investigative reporting category, for for "Big Oil, Bad Air", a story focused on the role "oil-and-gas friendly legislators" in Texas have had on drilling permits and decreased regulations and the effects of airborne pollutants related to hydraulic fracturing.

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