The Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism recognize the best health reporting in print, broadcast and online media. The contest is run by journalists for journalists and is not influenced or funded by commercial or special-interest groups.
The contest features 12 categories (in 2012; earlier years had different categories) and entries can include a wide range of health coverage including public health, consumer health, medical research, the business of health care and health ethics.
Contest entrants fill out a questionnaire that details how they reported the work they are submitting. AHCJ posts those questionnaires with the entries, allowing other journalists to learn about new sources, get story ideas and do similar reporting in their own communities.
Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism: 2007 winners
- Large Newspapers (over 250,000 circ.) & wire services
- Medium Newspapers (90,000-250,000 circ.)
- Small Newspapers (under 90,000 circ.)
- General Interest Magazines above 1 million circ.
- General Interest Magazines below 1 million circ.
- Trade Publications/Online Journals/Newsletters
- Beat Reporting
- Limited Report
- TV/Radio (Top 20 markets, network, syndicated)
- TV/Radio (Below Top 20 markets)
Large Newspapers (over 250,000 circ.) & wire services
First Place: A Hidden Shame: Danger and Death in Georgia's Mental Hospitals; Alan Judd and Andy Miller, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Alan Judd and Andy Miller of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that at least 115 patients had died under suspicious circumstances in Georgia's mental hospitals from 2002 to 2006, and that more than 190 patients over that time were victims of employee abuse. They also report that state investigations into deaths in the hospitals are conducted by the same agency that runs the facilities. The state often absolves its employees of responsibility even before crucial information, such as autopsy findings, is available. In addition, the hospitals have failed to correct persistent problems, resulting in additional patient deaths.
Second Place: Golden Opportunities; Charles Duhigg, The New York Times
This New York Times series examined how businesses and investors are reaping enormous profits by exploiting the soaring number of older Americans.
The Times' major findings regarding health care issues included:
● Private investment groups have bought thousands of nursing homes in recent years, and then cut costs to increase profits. In the past, residents have responded to declines in care by suing, and regulators have levied heavy fines. But private owners have made it difficult for plaintiffs to succeed in court and for regulators to levy chain-wide fines.
● Some long-term-care insurance companies have developed procedures that make it difficult, if not impossible, for policyholders to get paid.
● Companies that manufacture everything from walking canes to oxygen equipment are charging Medicare billions of dollars more than they charge individual customers for the exact same products and services.
Third Place: Six Killers; Gina Kolata and Denise Grady, The New York Times
The stories examined, in depth, the six leading causes of death in the United States, and pointed out areas in which care can be improved considerably by making better use of preventive methods, screening tests and treatments that are already available. For instance, lives can be saved if heart attacks and strokes are treated faster and more appropriately, if diabetics lower their cholesterol as well as their blood sugar and if people get tested for colon cancer and pay more attention to its early warning signs. People with chronic lung disease can significantly improve their quality of life with the appropriate therapy, but the disease is often ignored, misdiagnosed, poorly treated and stigmatized. As for Alzheimer's disease, there is no treatment that can alter the course of the illness; desperate families spend more than a $1 billion a year on drugs that are minimally effective at treating just the symptoms.
Medium Newspapers (90,000-250,000 circ.)
First Place: Medical Misconnections: Patient-Safety Problems and Solutions; David Wahlberg, Wisconsin State Journal
Tubing misconnections, incompatible defibrillator pads, nurse fatigue and other safety concerns continue to harm patients nationwide, despite increasing attention to medical errors. Seemingly simple solutions could reduce these problems: different sizes or shapes of connectors for different kinds of medical tubing, universal defibrillator pads (or plugs) and limits on nurses' working hours or their duties when working long hours. But obstacles abound: a lack of financial incentives among medical device companies to change tubing or defibrillators, the inability of government agencies and hospital oversight organizations to compel change and the complexity of the health-care system, which is struggling with many other patient-safety demands.
Second Place: Living with Cancer; Leslie Brody and Lindy Washburn, The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)
The series explores the reality of living with a cancer diagnosis, as experienced by a health care reporter in the midst of dealing with her own breast cancer and a family issues reporter helping her husband cope with pancreatic cancer. The issue-oriented stories weave deeply personal accounts with reporting on other patients and families, as well as perspectives from doctors, social workers and other experts in the field.
Third Place: The Mercury Connection; Tony Bartelme and Doug Pardue, The Post and Courier (Charleston, S.C.)
"The Mercury Connection" revealed for the first time that some South Carolinians who frequently eat freshwater fish have unusually high levels of mercury in their bodies. The newspaper analyzed a massive database on contaminated fish and identified certain mercury hotspots in the state. Bartelme and Pardue then collected hair samples from people who live near these hotspots and sent the samples to a certified lab. The results showed some people ranked among the most mercury-contaminated people in the nation. The series also highlighted how state health officials are doing little to measure levels of mercury in people.
Small Newspapers (under 90,000 circ.)
First Place: State of Decay: West Virginia's Oral Health Crisis; Eric Eyre, Charleston Gazette
The series revealed the abysmal state of dental health in West Virginia. The newspaper spotlighted people suffering with swollen faces, toothaches, gaping cavities, painful abscesses, lip cancer, gum infections and teeth cracked off because of an unsuccessful attempt at do-it-yourself dentistry. West Virginia leads the nation in the percentage of older adults who have had all their natural teeth removed.
Second Place: Pam's Story; Mary K. Reinhart, East Valley Tribune
Pam Kazmaier and her 12-year-old son, Zack, tried to commit suicide together by overdosing on their psychiatric medication. Both recovered, but she was convicted of felony. Still, the suicide attempt may have saved their lives and their family. The six-chapter narrative takes readers from the dark depths of mental illness, through hospitals, jail and courts, and ultimately to recovery.
Third Place: Putting a Price on Health Care; J.K. Wall, Tracy Donhardt, Norm Heikens, Indianapolis Business Journal
With ever louder and frequent calls for consumer-driven health care, three reporters from the Indianapolis Business Journal tried to obtain, before seeking care, the basic price information necessary to make rational buying decisions in today's health care market. Our success rate was just 12 percent. The story discusses whether the health care system is able to or ever will adapt to allow consumers truly to shop for health care.
Third Place: Defining death sparks debate; Kris B. Mamula, Pittsburgh Business Times
At a time when organ donation is universally embraced, the story detailed how a change in the definition of death in Pittsburgh, Penn., in the early 1990s helped increase recovery of some organs by more than 700 percent nationwide during an eight-year period and why the policies that fueled this growth trouble some ethicists and doctors.
The story also described variations in how death is defined around the country and even at different hospitals within Pittsburgh and the pressures to increase organ donation still further, including hospitals' financial incentives for performing transplant operations.
General Interest Magazines above 1 million circ.
First Place: How Bad Does the Health Care Crisis Have to Get?; Fran Smith, Redbook
The feature educates the reader on the realities of this country's flawed health care system, with profiles of four women who, for different reasons, were forced through the cracks-with often devastating consequences.
Second Place: Is Your Doctor Playing Judge?; Sabrina Rubin Erdely, Self
The article exposed an important, but little-discussed health care issue: That many Catholic and conservative Christian health care providers deny women a range of standard, legal health care medical care-declining, even, to inform patients about such treatments-due to the doctors' personal beliefs. It's a phenomenon playing itself out not just in doctors' offices and emergency rooms nationwide, but also in state legislatures, where activists are introducing bills to further widen doctors' refusal rights.
Third Place: A Deadly Twist; Jennifer Wolff, Self
“A Deadly Twist” exposed for the first time in a national magazine the life-threatening risks of chiropractic neck adjustment, a procedure performed more than 100 million times a year in the United States.
General Interest Magazines below 1 million circ.
First Place: Fresh pain for the uninsured; Brian Grow and Robert Berner, BusinessWeek
In an effort to maximize revenue, hospitals and doctors are increasingly transforming medical bills Into consumer debts, which are easier to collect and often carry high interest rates and fees. The hospitals and doctors get their cash faster; finance companies, including giants like General Electric and Citigroup, obtain high-interest, high-fee accounts; and patients with little or no insurance end up paying much more for medical care. This new form of medical finance is quietly sweeping through the health care Industry, especially among non-profit hospitals that have had difficulty collecting bills from working poor patients.
Second Place: The Debate Over Health Care Reform; Marilyn Werber Serafini, James A. Barnes, National Journal
The leading Democratic and Republican presidential candidates have put forward proposals for revamping the nation's health care system. National Journal asked 10 health care experts who span the ideological spectrum to assess five key aspects of the plans. This is a detailed examination of those proposals, from both a political and policy standpoint. The story further explores the impact of these plans on legislative action on health care reform in Congress following the 2008 presidential election.
Third Place: The Young Invincibles; David Amsden, New York
David Amsden shed a light on the fastest-growing segment of America's uninsured population, the group named the "young invincibles" by the insurance industry - young people who choose to go without health insurance, hoping they can make it through their twenties without catastrophe. Through moving personal acounts from a somewhat unexpected group, Amsden crafted a resonant feature.
Trade Publications/Online Journals/Newsletters
Second Place: Reality Check; Sue Rochman, CR
Most of us want tests that can identify cancer at its earliest stages. But determining whether a screening method actually saves lives is not a straightforward task. This story explains how researchers attempt to determine which screening tests really work and explores some of the controversies that have ensued.
Third Place: Improper Marketing As An Infectious Disease; Ed Silverman, Pharmalot.com
This was a three-part series concerning allegations that Pfizer sales reps were encouraged to use inappropriate business practices to boost sales of an older AIDS medication. The posts discussed how sales reps used unapproved materials to attempt to convince doctors that Pfizer's Viracept was superior to rival medications. Reps were also urged to skirt rules governing the appropriate use of professional speakers for continuing medical education programs.
Third Place: The Pandemic Vaccine Puzzle; Maryn McKenna, CIDRAP News
The mission of CIDRAP News is to provide infectious-disease coverage that speaks to readers in everyday language but is backed by science; every story must have at least one link to the appropriate scientific literature. CIDRAP felt that mainstream coverage of the search for a vaccine against pandemic flu was increasingly based on press releases and so decided to delve deeply into extant scientific research and government regulation. Result: Strong evidence a pandemic vaccine will be delayed for years beyond what authorities have admitted.
First Place: 2007 Body of Work; Amy Harmon, The New York Times
As the Human Genome Project and subsequent research generate DNA tests for predispositions to all kinds of conditions, little is known about what it is like to live with such knowledge. These stories are aimed at illuminating the dilemmas of some of the first Americans to reach this genetic frontier. If there is a unifying "finding," it is that the information is invariably double-edged. It can bring huge benefits but they come with burdens that we may not fully contemplate as we rush to embrace it.
Second Place: 2007 Body of Work; Marshall Allen, Las Vegas Sun
Marshall Allen's stories range from in-depth coverage of a health insurance merger and a criminal investigation at a public hospital, to heartfelt stories of patients getting caught up in a system that's often dictated by money and politics instead of quality patient care.
Third Place: 2007 Body of Work; Laura Meckler, The Wall Street Journal
The Wall Street Journal set out to explore some of the more complex dynamics of living donation, and some of its controversial potential. We spend eight months with one family to see how a 25-year-old son dealt with the toughest decision of his life: whether to give half his liver to a father who, he felt, might not deserve it. We looked at the potential of kidney swaps, a new solution for people who have willing but medically incompatible donors. We profiled a surgeon with a radical idea: paying people to give a kidney. And we explored the world of the Jesus Christians, a small religious group whose members are committed to live kidney donation but who may be acting under the influence of a dangerous cult.
Third Place: Susan Brink's 2007 Body of Work; Susan Brink, Los Angeles Times
This body of work shows America's health care system as it affects citizens. The entry includes stories about a middle-class family that surprisingly and suddenly found themselves priced out of the individual health insurance market, a single mother whose child is on SCHIP, a family with employer-sponsored health insurance and how they decide which plan to choose and how much to set aside in an HSA.
First Place: Something to ask yourself: Is it worth it?; Judy Peres, Chicago Tribune
Mounting evidence shows that even moderate drinking of alcoholic beverages may increase the risk of breast and colon cancer.
Second Place: Violence and Nursing; Joy Jacobson, American Journal of Nursing
Recent studies have reported alarming rates of physical and verbal abuse against nurses in the workplace, one finding that 64% were abused in a 4-week period. Patients are usually the aggressors. Most victims don't file formal reports; fewer than half discuss the incident with a colleague. Eight studies findings showing the incidents in various settings are presented in a sidebar and potential solutions are discussed.
Third Place: Diabetes Drug Use Surges in U.S. Children; Christopher Bowe, The Financial Times
Children's use of drugs to treat Type II diabetes – once known simply as adult-onset diabetes because it occurred in old age – is surging as obesity rates rise. More disturbingly, many of these children are also taking pharmaceuticals for other related chronic problems typically seen in older adults, such as high-blood pressure, cholesterol, respiratory and pain medications.
TV/Radio (Top 20 markets, network, syndicated)
First Place: Where's Molly?; Elizabeth Cohen, CNN
For decades, tens of thousands of American children were locked in institutions - labeled as 'defective' and 'erased' from their family trees. Family secrets are now coming out in the open as siblings of these "erased children" go on a desperate search - but in most states, the law is standing in the way. We join a man who defied legal hurdles and his family's wishes to keep his sister a secret - and searched to finally bring his sister's existence out in the open.
Second Place: Nick's Choice; Joe Fryer, KARE-Minneapolis
This story chronicles the journey of a 9-year-old boy who was born with a rare syndrome and is forced to make a difficult decision regarding his body.
Third Place: Dan Rather Reports: Toxic Trailers; Chandra Simon, Dan Rather and Resa Matthews, HDNet
Thousands of families who were left homeless in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina are living in temporary travel trailers provided by FEMA. Dan Rather Reports discovered many of these trailers are emitting toxic levels of formaldehyde, and broke the news that FEMA was actually well aware of the problem before delivering a single trailer. The residents' heads ache and eyes itch, their children wake with nosebleeds and suffer from respiratory problems that don't go away. Many have been afraid to come forward from fear of losing the only home they have left. Others have appealed to FEMA, time and again, for trailers that would not make their children sick.
TV/Radio (Below Top 20 markets)
Second Place: Care-less Denials; Hagit Limor and Phil Drechsler, WCPO-Cincinnati
"Care-less Denials" began with a series of concerned e-mails and calls from Anthem patients and their families unable to find a mental health professional to help them. It took dozens of calls to find professionals who could explain what had happened. Anthem had cut the reimbursement rates mid-year so severely that many psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors either dropped off the panel or wouldn't accept new patients. Patients were stuck with insurance they couldn't use. The I-Team pursued this all the way up to the Governor's office, leading to three investigations, by two state departments and one local county commission.
Third Place: Love, War, and PTSD: Anna and Peter Mohan; Karen Brown, WFCR Public Radio
Peter and Anna Mohan were a young married couple, excited about their future, when Peter was sent to Iraq with the military. When he returned, he was a different person - emotionally withdrawn, alcoholic, suicidal. He was eventually diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Peter is among an estimated 20 percent of combat veterans expected to develop the debilitating condition.