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AHCJ Awards

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 (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.

Select a year to see past winners:

Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism: 2012 winners

Beat Reporting


First Place: Sheri Fink's 2012 Body of Work; Sheri Fink, independent journalist

These examples of reporting from the disaster public health beat looked at the impact of hurricanes in New York City and New Orleans in 2012. The stories showed ways that major lessons from previous hurricanes were not learned, including that significant portions of the cities' health care infrastructure remain highly vulnerable to flooding. The stories also revealed areas for future focus, including better preparedness to meet the needs of elderly and disabled residents of high-rise complexes in prolonged power outages.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Second Place: Jordan Rau's 2012 Body of Work; Jordan Rau, Kaiser Health News

Jordan Rau explored one of the most challenging endeavors in health care, the effort to measure the quality of hospitals and other providers and make them financially accountable for how their patients fare. Rau analyzed and reported on Medicare's new readmissions penalties, which affected 2,217 hospitals, finding that hospitals that treat low-income patients were more likely to be punished. He revealed how new bonuses and penalties affected nearly 3,000 hospitals, providing the first public list of how each hospital did and analyzed Medicare's measure of hospital efficiency, finding that essentially similar patients cost the government far more at some hospitals than at others. The examination of Medicare's new measures of patient safety showed that they might be skewed against teaching hospitals. Stories analyzed how hospitals in different states and regions in the country performed on some of these metrics and identified hospital outliers.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Third Place: Donald G. McNeil Jr.'s 2012 Body of Work; Donald G. McNeil Jr., The New York Times

The series looked at a very small number of places or industries in the world that have successfully kept infections and death from AIDS to an absolute minimum, and how they did it. It also explored ways that other places – or even the whole United States – might do the same if some changes were made. One important lesson: each venue is different, but the most essential element is constant testing for HIV and aggressive follow-up of all sexual contacts of infected people. Sex education is also important.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Honorable Mention: Carol Ostrom's 2012 Body of Work; Carol Ostrom, The Seattle Times

Ostrom's collection of work includes a look at the "facility fee" imposed on patients seen in clinics and doctors' offices operated by hospitals, the increasing use of costly surgical robot, a 30-year story of a cystic-fibrosis breakthrough and a local study that found early signs of autism in babies' brains and allowed Ostrom a chance to look broadly at the state of autism research.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Honorable Mention: Carolyn Y. Johnson's 2012 Body of Work; Carolyn Y. Johnson, The Boston Globe

Johnson's narrative, "Outbreak baffled doctors until they saw common cause," recounts how doctors pieced together baffling cases of meningitis, finally connecting the infections to a tainted drug produced by a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy. "Girl named Grace a gift to family, science" follows one family's journey to find the genetic cause of their children's disabilities. "Harvard vows changes after 4th monkey death" is one of a number of stories that examined ongoing problems at Harvard Medical School's primate research facility, which was rocked by animal deaths and injuries. "Researchers put selves under the microscope in self-experiments" examined the growing ability of scientists and others to track their own bodies using new tools, providing information that could help understand their own health or ask broader research questions.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Trade Publications/Newsletters


First Place: Health Care's Costliest 1 Percent; Haydn Bush, Hospitals & Health Networks

As providers brace for major reductions in reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid, a number of initiatives are quietly targeting high utilizers of care in both programs. But can grassroots experimentation adequately address a growing national consensus that spending is too high? This three-part series took a detailed look at health care's costliest 1 percent.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Second Place: Missing Touch; Megan Scudellari, The Scientist

Touch is perhaps our most valuable sense. It allows us to grasp delicate objects, detect our limbs in space, and caress the cheek of a loved one. Well, most of us. There are no prosthetic hands available, commercially or in clinical trials, that provide a sense of touch. Though tactile feedback might do the most to improve upper-limb prosthetics, the majority of the prosthetics research community is instead putting its effort into making arms with wider ranges of motion and more powerful motors. This article chronicles the challenges of incorporating touch into prosthetics, and follows the work of a small group of researchers pursuing that tantalizing goal via cutting edge new approaches, such as rewired nerves and bionic fingertips.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Second Place: Facing the Facts: HPV-Associated Head and Neck Cancers Get a Second Look; Charlotte Huff, Cure

A lot has been written about human papillomavirus (HPV) status in the context of cervical cancer, but less about its impact for head and neck malignancies. A flurry of recent data, though, has highlighted two key trends. On the one hand, these malignancies are proliferating, as HPV infection becomes more common in the U.S. population. More positively, the survival rates appear better for this category of malignancies, and early findings indicate that treatment might not need to be as toxic. By interviewing current and former patients, Charlotte Huff was able to put a face on this seldom-discussed malignancy. The article was packaged with several graphics, showing the location of various head and neck cancers, the DNA mutations linked to tobacco use, as well as a chart detailing ongoing clinical trials. A sidebar describes the two available HPV vaccines.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Honorable Mention: Health insurer discloses, deletes political spending; Sean P. Carr and Wayne Dalton, SNL Financial

While certain political groups do not have to disclose their contributors, sometimes those contributors must disclose in other ways. Aetna Inc., like other insurance companies, must self-report a series of general interrogatories to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. Sean P. Carr and Wayne Dalton gave that data a careful review to determine how companies spend money on lobbying activities. Aetna proved to be a unique case. The health insurer outspent all other insurance companies. Its disclosure of massive spending to groups opposed to the Affordable Care Act came after conciliatory remarks about the health reform law by its CEO and after the company spurned a call by some shareholders to reveal more information about its political activities.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Business (large)


First Place: Dollars and Dentists; David Heath and Jill Rosenbaum, The Center for Public Integrity and PBS Frontline

This project explores the under-reported story of tens of millions of Americans who lack access to dental care. Unlike health care, there are no safety nets for dental care, even though the pain can be excruciating and even fatal. Stepping into that void are fast-growing corporate dental chains owned by private equity firms, which promise lower-income people affordable dental care. "Dollars and Dentists" documented how these chains prey on people with few other options.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Second Place: Medical Billing: A World of Hurt; Sarah Jane Tribble and Dave Davis, The Plain Dealer

Plain Dealer reporters Dave Davis and Sarah Jane Tribble explored the world of medical billing and revealed the business side of medicine that doesn't work for patients. Through monthly stories, including one special section, Plain Dealer readers learned how hundreds of people are involved in the creation of a single patient's bill, and the potential for error inherent in the process. They read how patients' suffering often starts all over again after leaving a hospital's care, as confusion and anger over hospital billing are often overwhelming. The Plain Dealer also revealed common pricing strategies, such as the extra facility fees that are commonly charged just because a doctor's office is part of a larger health system.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Third Place: Meet the Drug Dealer Who Helps Addicts Quit; Mara Zepeda, Alex Blumberg and Uri Berliner, National Public Radio's Morning Edition and National Public Radio's Planet Money Podcast

This report investigated the shortage of certified doctors prescribing the drug buprenorphine (brand name: Suboxone) to treat herion and opiate pain pill addiction in the United States. It revealed that one unintended consequence of this shortage is that addicts have taken to self-medicating by buying Suboxone illegally on the street. The Morning Edition report examined the doctor shortage. It focused on New Mexico, which has the highest fatal drug overdose rate in the country and remains one of the most underserved areas. A drug dealer revealed his supply chain and profit model. Local health professionals and law enforcement agents described the benefits and disadvantages of this black market. The Planet Money podcast explained the demand through interviews with opiate addicts who buy Suboxone illegally. It also took an in-depth look at the history of buprenorphine's development, which was subsidized by taxpayers, and the federal government's complicated stance on opiate addiction treatment in the decades before and after the drug was brought to market.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Honorable Mention: How Fake Cancer Drugs Entered U.S.; Christopher Weaver and Jeanne Whalen, The Wall Street Journal

This story revealed the central role of a Canadian businessman at the center of the international drug distribution enterprise that channeled counterfeit versions of the cancer drug Avastin to dozens of U.S. medical practices. It shows how the Winnipeg-based international pharmacy executive – under pressure from drug makers and regulators – built a network of companies that exposed American patients to the risks of fake medicines, widely considered a third-world hazard. The executive, Kris Thorkelson, had for years sold foreign drugs channeled through this network to American customers through his websites, vexing pharmaceutical manufacturers and law enforcement officials, before turning to the even riskier business of supplying physicians with overseas versions of lifesaving treatments. The story unearthed documents and human sources close to Thorkelson's business that showed how this grey market system exposed vulnerabilities in the American drug supply, prompting what a senior law enforcement official called "a watershed moment" for American authorities that believed the U.S. was sufficiently protected against counterfeit medicines.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Honorable Mention: Cost of Admission; Sam Hornblower and Steve Kroft, CBS

With estimates for waste, unnecessary care and fraud in health care in the hundreds of billions, 60 Minutes' investigation into hospital emergency room practices provides a window into the kind of conduct that causes health care costs to go out of control. For more than a year, reporters looked into the admission and billing practices of Health Management Associates, the fourth largest for-profit hospital chain in the country with revenues of $5.8 billion last year, finding that the company relentlessly pressured its doctors to admit more and more patients.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Business (small)


First Place: Ramon Rodriguez: The trials of a renegade CEO; Barbara Benson, Crain's New York Business

This article chronicles tales of mismanagement, ineffective boards of trustees and exceptionally poor judgment. The board of Wyckoff Heights Medical Center brought in a new CEO, Ramon Rodriguez, in late 2011 to save the debt-ridden Brooklyn hospital. He immediately caused a major stir, not least because he fired nine doctors, replaced half the board and fought the Cuomo administration's efforts to merge the hospital with two other Brooklyn institutions.

Barbara Benson explains why New York hospitals are hemorrhaging money and why fixing the system is proving to be so difficult. Her Wyckoff story details the derailing of a potential merger deal that could save the hospital from financial ruin, and Rodriguez's depression and penchant for penning outrageous emails that blast his own board and top doctors. Financially troubled hospitals aren't victims of low reimbursement rates alone. Their fiscal health is equally vulnerable to human error, as this article illustrates.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Second Place: Medicine Man; Andrea Gerlin, Allison Connolly and Stryker McGuire, Bloomberg Markets

The European Union's single market, combined with a lack of political integration, has had unexpected results in the sale of pharmaceuticals. In "Medicine Man," Bloomberg reporter Andrea Gerlin shows these surprises in her profile of EurimPharm CEO Andreas Mohringer published in Bloomberg Markets. While the European Commission approves drugs for sale across the 27-nation bloc, individual nations still play the dominant role in setting prices, leading to a wide variation in drug prices across the EU. Gerlin reports,it also created opportunities for entrepreneurs such as Mohringer to buy inexpensive products in one market and sell them in another at a higher price. Gerlin's article also illuminates the anomalies in drug company pricing. As Mohringer points out, the parallel trade would dry up if pharmaceutical makers priced drugs consistently across Europe. Gerlin shows how the Austrian pharmacist undercut drug companies' prices on their own products to build a business so successful that it provided the means to indulge his love of rare Ferraris.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Third Place: Risky bonds prove costly for Carilion; Sarah Bruyn Jones, The Roanoke (va.) Times

Seven years after Roanoke-based Carilion Clinic borrowed money to expand its flagship hospital, the nonprofit hospital system is still tallying how much it lost in a series of complex financial transactions related to the $308 million in tax-exempt bonds it issued on Dec. 14, 2005. In court papers, the losses were pegged at "many millions of dollars." The decision has continued to wreak havoc on Carilion's financial performance and forced the organization to refinance its bonds to try to repair the damage. Carilion blames the Wall Street firms it hired to facilitate the loan and advised Carilion to structure the bonds as auction rate securities.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Honorable Mention: Bedside Bankroll; Rachel Anna Dovey, North Bay Bohemian (Santa Rosa, Calif.)

With no licensing or certification, anyone can practice in-home elder care in California – and in wealthy Marin County, opportunity for fraud abounds. Dovey called every elder care agency in the county and gathered information about how much they pay, spoke with a home care agency that hired a fraudulent worker, a worker who gets paid very little and has difficulty living in such a wealthy area and an elderly disabled woman who was unable to pay high costs for her elder care.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Honorable Mention: Your New Health Team ... Half Way Around the World; Donald Edward Tepper and Chris Hayhurst, PT in Motion

A growing number of health care services are being outsourced not only to domestic companies but also to those based overseas in a process called "offshoring." These range from coding and billing to patient lab results, intensive care unit monitoring, documentation, eligibility determination, and front office services. These actions are being taken largely for business purposes. What does this mean for physical therapists, their patients, and the health care system? What are the trade-offs between less expensive services and quality of patient care?

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Investigative (large)


First Place: Ghost Factories; Alison Ann Young, John Hillkirk and Peter Eisler, USA Today

More than a decade ago an article in a scientific journal warned that people living near hundreds of forgotten lead factory sites could be in danger from toxic lead fallout deposited on nearby properties. The researcher gave the U.S. Environmental Protection agency his list of 464 potential lead factory sites in 2001. But USA Today's 14-month investigation of the sites on that list found federal and state officials left thousands of families in harm's way, doing little to examine the properties or warn residents of the danger posed by lead-contaminated soil in their yards.

In addition to publishing traditional investigative stories detailing the newspaper's findings, a centerpiece of the project is a massive, multi-dimensional digital interactive that has empowered communities and government officials to explore in detail the danger USA Today has documented at each of more than 230 confirmed factory sites.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Second Place: Prognosis Profits; Joseph Charles Neff, Ames Alexander and Karen Garloch, The News & Observer (Raleigh N.C.) and The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer

The two newspapers investigated the practices of North Carolina's nonprofit hospitals. The hospitals generated huge profit margins during the Great Recession, amassed billions in reserves and paid top executives million-dollar salaries. The hospitals made substantial profits by inflating prices for drugs and procedures. Hospitals pursued patients aggressively through collection agencies and some sued patients to put liens on their homes. Many failed to provide sufficient charity care to offset their nonprofit status. The hospital protected their positions with one of the most effective lobbies in the state. Later stories showed how hospitals made huge profits off cancer drugs, pocketing 5, 10 or even 50 times average sales price. Another showed how hospitals run up the price of routine services after acquiring doctor practices.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Third Place: Playing With Fire; Patricia Callahan, Sam Roe and Michael Hawthorne, Chicago Tribune

The Chicago Tribune's series revealed how a decades-long campaign by the chemical and tobacco industries brought toxic flame retardants into our homes and into our bodies, despite the fact that these dangerous chemicals don't even work as promised. The investigation found a lobbyist planted with the National Association of State Fire Marshals, a phony consumer group that stoked the public's fear of fire to protect and expand the use of flame retardants, lies told by a noted burn surgeon who served as a star witness for the manufacturers of flame retardants before state legislatures, the industry's distortortions of findings in a study and a government agency that wasnt' testing crib mattresses for chemicals.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Investigative (small)


Special Judges' Citation: 40% Of High-Prescribing Docs Get Pharma Perks; Lisa Chedekel, The Connecticut Health Investigative Team

The Affordable Care Act requires pharmaceutical companies to publicly report all payments to physicians by September 2013. Some drug companies have already compiled – but few consumers know that the information is available or how to access it. This story discloses – for the first time – for Connecticut consumers how many doctors in Connecticut are high-prescribers of certain psychotropic and pain medications, the cost of written prescriptions, how many of these doctors received payments from drug companies and the amounts that the doctors received from the drug companies. It also reported that only three doctors on the high-prescribing drug list have been disciplined by the state Medical Examining Board.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Special Judges' Citation: Patients' pain pumps fraught with problems; Timothy Darragh, The (Allentown, Pa.) Morning Call

This story showed that malfunctioning pain pumps are a common problem. A patient in a local hospital died when he was overdosed with one of these pumps, prompting a more in-depth look.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Consumer/Feature (large)


First Place: Cost of Dying; Lisa M. Krieger and Dai Sugano, San Jose Mercury News

With her frail and elderly father suffering and doctors doing everything they can, reporter Lisa M. Krieger learns it is hard to reject care, even as expenses soar. Krieger's series took the lessons she learned, as well as wisdom offered by readers to write about how to start that difficult conversation to accepting the end. She explored end-of-life planning, advanced directives and POLSTs, palliative care and how our technological ability to stave off death creates dilemmas unimaginable decades ago.

Her look at caregiving finds that, while it can be immensely rewarding, it is also exhausting, expensive and poorly supported by a medical system that delivers life-prolonging miracles, but little help for loving care at home in life's fragile years. She uses data to explore the differences in how hospitals treat chronically ill patients at the end of life.

She follows the final three months in the life of a woman diagnosed with kidney failure who rejects life-prolonging dialysis for a life-affirming ending with adventures to the beach, zoo, aquarium and favorite restaurants. The year-long series concludes with eight steps we can take to make our final years of life easier, kinder and less expensive.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Second Place: Chain Reaction; Kevin Sack, The New York Times

Melding narrative and investigative technique, The Times set out to examine the country's devastating shortage of donor organs, particularly kidneys, and to explore leading-edge solutions to the inequity between supply and demand. Significant findings include the discarding of hundreds of potentially viable kidneys each year because of shortcomings in the country's organ-matching system and the emergence of kidney transplant chains that begin with a Good Samaritan donor and enable live-organ matches for otherwise incompatible recipients.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Third Place: A Rampant Prescription, A Hidden Peril; Kay Lazar and Matt Carroll, The Boston Globe

This series investigated nursing homes' use of antipsychotic medications on the elderly, a practice the U.S. Food and Drug and Administration has long warned against because of potentially fatal side effects in people with dementia. The Boston Globe analyzed data from 15,600 nursing homes nationwide and found that about 185,000 residents received antipsychotics in 2010 alone, despite not having a medical condition that warranted such use. The series also revealed that Massachusetts nursing homes commonly use antipsychotics to control agitation and combative behavior in elderly residents who should not be receiving the powerful sedatives, yet state regulators seldom use their authority to reprimand or penalize facilities for this practice. Documents from the few state inspections that did result in citations highlighted instances in which residents were so over-medicated, they were unable to open their mouths to eat, or to do much of anything besides sleep.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Honorable Mention: Spray On Safety Ignored; Mark P. Greenblatt, Gitika Ahuja and Mollie Riegger, ABC News

By using the Freedom of Information Act and a considerable amount of scientific research, this ABC News investigation revealed never-before-known dangers of DHA, the main ingredient in the very popular spray-on tan. It also prompted some of the nation's top dermatologists and scientists to no longer recommend spray tans as the "safe" alternative to other forms of tanning. Through use of a concealed camera, the investigation also revealed false and misleading safety information manufacturers and salons were giving to consumers, such as claiming that the DHA in spray-tan was "food grade" and approved to eat by the FDA.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Consumer/Feature (small)


First Place: Healing the Hurt; Rita Rubin, POZ

This project explored the impact of trauma on people living with HIV. A recent epidemic of attacks on women, transgender women and people with HIV exposes a link as toxic as the virus itself: Trauma not only fuels HIV, it also makes living with it harder. But HIV-positive women and their allies in the realms of science, medicine and social justice are ready to fight back – with programs, education and lifesaving advocacy.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Second Place: Gift from Grief; Michael Morton, MetroWest Daily News (Framingham, Mass.)

The story is about a local couple who donated the brain of their autistic 4-year-old son to research, soon after he escaped their apartment and drowned in the closed pool at their complex. The piece follows several strands, including the sense of devastating loss and haunting second-guessing that any parent losing a child goes through. In addition to explaining how the accident happened, the story gives all readers a sense of what it's like to raise a child with autism, particularly those with severe impairments and those who try to run off any chance they get. Finally, the piece looks at how the boy's brain will be used for studying autism, the state of research into the disorder and the challenges, as well as the hope, of that work. A sidebar explains more about the mission of the "bank" storing brains for researchers and how readers can make donations, and a chart shows autism rates that had been recently revised upward by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Third Place: Demand for home care workers soaring, but will there be enough takers?; Arielle Levin Becker, The Connecticut Mirror

Connecticut is in the midst of an aggressive effort to move seniors and people with disabilities out of nursing homes and into home- or community-based settings where they can receive care. This comes as the state's population of people 65 and older is projected to grow dramatically, while the working-age population shrinks. These stories were intended to explore how these changes will affect two major parts of the long-term care system – the workforce and the unpaid caregivers.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Health Policy (large)


First Place: The Crushing Cost of Care; Janet Adamy and Tom McGinty, The Wall Street Journal

The story showed how Scott Crawford, a 41-year-old heart transplant recipient in Maryland, became one of the most expensive Americans on Medicare. The Wall Street Journal used a Medicare database and health records to chronicle his 10-month stay in intensive care and offer a window into the forces driving up health spending. The analysis of Medicare's billing records found that a sliver of expensive patients account for the majority of the program's cost. The story illustrates the tense fight between doctors, nurses and his family over whether to keep Crawford alive as his condition deteriorated.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Second Place: Cracking the Codes; Fred Schulte, Joe Eaton and David Donald, The Center for Public Integrity

Cracking the Codes documented how thousands of medical professionals have steadily billed Medicare for more complex and costly health care over the past decade – adding $11 billion or more to their fees – despite little evidence elderly patients required more treatment. The series also uncovered a broad range of costly billing errors and abuses that have plagued Medicare for years – from confusion over how to pick proper payment codes to apparent overcharges in medical offices and hospital emergency rooms. The findings strongly suggest these problems, known as "upcoding," are worsening amid lax federal oversight and the government-sponsored switch from paper to electronic medical records. This was an extremely complex topic that required deep immersion in the arcane specialties of medical coding and health information technology. Very few academics or other researchers had approached this topic using Medicare billing data, especially over such a long period of time, and so there wasn't much in the way of roadmaps to help guide this project.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Third Place: The Battle Over Women's Health in Texas; Emily Ramshaw, Pam Belluck and Thanh Tan, The Texas Tribune and The New York Times

The Texas Tribune, in conjunction with its content parter The New York Times, has been covering women's health, from state lawmakers' efforts to force Planned Parenthood out of business in Texas to their sweeping budget cuts for contraception and cancer screenings. The two stories featured here ran in The New York Times and The Texas Tribune concurrently. They highlighted the dramatic closures of reproductive health clinics for poor immigrant women along the Texas-Mexico border, and the behind-the-scenes political drama that led hundreds of thousands of the state's neediest women to lose access to birth control and cancer screenings.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Honorable Mention: Cost of Dying; Lisa M. Krieger and Dai Sugano, San Jose Mercury News

With her frail and elderly father suffering and doctors doing everything they can, reporter Lisa M. Krieger learns it is hard to reject care, even as expenses soar. Krieger's series took the lessons she learned, as well as wisdom offered by readers to write about how to start that difficult conversation to accepting the end. She explored end-of-life planning, advanced directives and POLSTs, palliative care and how our technological ability to stave off death creates dilemmas unimaginable decades ago.

Her look at caregiving finds that, while it can be immensely rewarding, it is also exhausting, expensive and poorly supported by a medical system that delivers life-prolonging miracles, but little help for loving care at home in life's fragile years. She uses data to explore the differences in how hospitals treat chronically ill patients at the end of life.

She follows the final three months in the life of a woman diagnosed with kidney failure who rejects life-prolonging dialysis for a life-affirming ending with adventures to the beach, zoo, aquarium and favorite restaurants. The year-long series concludes with eight steps we can take to make our final years of life easier, kinder and less expensive.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Health Policy (small)


First Place: The Automated External Defibrillator: Medical Marvel But Measurement Mystery; Hoag Levins, The LDI Health Economist Magazine

Publicly accessible automated external defibrillators (AEDs) can seem near-miraculous in their ability to pull sudden cardiac arrest victims back from sure death. Not surprisingly, stories of their successes have a strong emotional appeal in a country where more than 900 people die of cardiac arrest every day. But actually measuring and analyzing the national scope and impact of this "bystander" AED emergency response model remains an elusive goal for policy makers and the nation's health care research community. The goal of this story project was to take a comprehensive look at all aspects of AEDs use and actual health impact across the country. Findings include: Even as governments, corporations and individuals purchase and install an estimated $500 million worth of AEDs each year there is a lack of central registries at the city, state and national level capable of routinely gathering data about AEDs' exact locations or battery power levels or overall operational status. Also unknown are the criteria used to place many of them, or how many times they are used by members of the public, or what the outcomes of those emergency response events are, or how the bystander AED model's overall national benefits compare to its overall costs. And even when the device malfunctions that caused those failure are identified, there is no way to contact the owners of all similar AED models or recall and repair those models. Those faulty AEDs simply remain hanging on the wall until the next cardiac arrest victim collapses nearby and dies as a result of a non-functional AED.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Second Place: Mental Breakdown; Jocelyn Wiener, Ken Carlson and Lauren Whaley, The Modesto (Calif.) Bee

In California's economically challenged Stanislaus County, where unemployment and poverty rates are among the state's highest, help for the mentally ill has virtually disappeared. County mental health has lost more than 200 positions, about 37 percent of staff. Hospital emergency rooms are clogged with mentally ill patients, with several reporting double the numbers of five years ago. The county jail is also suffering effects from the cuts, with a nearly 50 percent increase in mentally ill inmates in the past 6 years. ER doctors and sheriff's deputies have become de facto mental health crisis workers. Meanwhile, the mentally ill are left to cope largely on their own, with advocacy groups and a few mental health professionals trying innovative approaches to cast light in a dark tunnel of need. The team's work included up-close-and-personal photos and audio of this very sensitive subject.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Third Place: Importing Doctors; Kellie Ann Schmitt, Christine Bedell and Kent Kuehl, The Bakersfield Californian

This project determined the rate of foreign-trained doctors in all California counties, something that hadn't been publicly available previously. The analysis revealed major discrepancies between physicians' backgrounds in Kern County, an underserved area in the poor Central Valley, and doctors elsewhere in California and the United States. Reporters also analyzed the board certification rates of international medical graduates within Kern County and compared it to rates for U.S. medical graduates there. The project also looked at the influx of Caribbean-trained American physicians into the county and the impact, including cultural differences that can emerge between physicians and patients, and followed the personal journeys of physicians from the Philippines, Sudan and India who eventually landed in Kern County.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Public Health (large)


First Place: Coverage of fungal meningitis outbreak tied to contaminated drugs; staff, The Boston Globe

At first there were four deaths and more than 25 people in five states infected with fungal meningitis, a disease so rare most doctors never see it. Investigators had linked the illnesses to a compounding pharmacy in suburban Boston, which made the injectable steroid given to all the patients. As the number of deaths and cases and states rapidly mounted, The Boston Globe deployed a team of reporters to not just report the news but to explain what had gone so terribly wrong. The story was unfolding fast, it was competitive, and it was complicated, involving medicine, a heretofore obscure corner of the pharmaceutical industry, and a complex patchwork of state and federal regulations. Explanatory journalism is most difficult under such circumstances, when there's little time to think and analyze, but that's when it's most necessary. Even as The Boston Globe unearthed new information, staffers made what could have been a dense subject thoroughly absorbing, writing in a narrative style worthy of a detective novel. Reporters dissected documents and tracked down victims and salespeople, customers and competitors of New England Compounding Center to answer the many questions raised by the outbreak. 

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Second Place: When Healthcare Makes You Sick; Peter Eisler, USA Today

This series of stories examines the scope and impact of an epidemic of health care-associated infections plaguing hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and other medical facilities across the country. It finds that health care-related deaths and illnesses among patients in these settings are far more common than government statistics suggest. Some of the most persistent infections are becoming more prevalent even though there are proven strategies for cutting incidence rates. Meanwhile, the emergence of new, antibiotic-resistant superbugs in health care facilities is bringing an added layer of threats, raising the risk that patients who seek care for basic ailments will contract illnesses that cannot be treated. Still, many medical institutions have not heeded urgent recommendations from government agencies and public health officials on how to control these infections.

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Third Place: Drugs Plague Kentucky Infants; Laura Ungar, The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal

As part of six-installment series on prescription drug addiction in Kentucky, medical writer Laura Ungar examined the exploding problem of babies born suffering from drug withdrawal because of their mothers' addictions. Hospitalizations for Kentucky babies born addicted to drugs – primarily prescription pills – rose 2,400 percent in just over a decade, from 29 in 2000 to 730 in 2011.The stories not only detailed the numbers but also showed the human impact – babies who cry almost non-stop, sucking desperately on pacifiers to soothe themselves as they suffer through painful drug withdrawal. The stories also examined the difficulties pregnant addicts have in getting the help they need.

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Honorable Mention: Cancer's New Battleground: The Developing World; Joanne Silberner and David Baron, PRI's The World

America has waged war on cancer for more than 40 years, but in developing countries the fight has barely begun. This radio and online series features patients, doctors, and public health advocates on the front lines. What political, cultural, and logistical obstacles make tackling cancer so difficult across most of the globe? Correspondent Joanne Silberner reports from Uganda, Haiti, and India on innovative programs that are improving cancer prevention, detection, and treatment.

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Public Health (small)


First Place: The Shape We're In; Kate Long, Kyle Slagle and Dawn Miller, The Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette

The Gazette examined West Virginia's frightening chronic disease and obesity rates, reporting that: One in four West Virginia fifth-graders has high blood pressure and cholesterol. One in four is obese. One in three adult West Virginians is obese, at high risk of chronic disease. West Virginia is in the top three states in diabetes, stroke, heart attacks, obesity, early death and a wide range of other costly chronic diseases. Seven in 10 of West Virginia's health dollars are already spent on chronic disease. Chronic disease costs will double in West Virginia within ten years if nothing changes, health economists warn.

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Second Place: The Few. The Proud. The Afflicted; Florence Williams, Mother Jones

This story looks at how a bunch of ex-Marines affiliated with Camp Lejeune may hold the key to understanding breast cancer. It describes the complicated epidemiology behind this cluster of male breast cancers and the extensive contamination of the base by solvents. This story helped support legislation to compensate victims.

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Third Place: Danger On Your Dinner Plate; Stephanie Armour, John Lippert and Michael Smith, Bloomberg Markets

In some cases, private food inspectors have financial ties to executives at companies they're reviewing. AIB International, a Manhattan, Kan., inspection company that awarded top safety marks to producers who sold toxic food, has had board members who are top managers at clients including the maker of Wonder Bread, Tastykake, Entenmann's pastries and Sara Lee baked goods.

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