Category Archives: Public records

Ruling takes one step closer in releasing SNAP data

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

The public’s right to information was bolstered by a federal judge’s decision that the U.S. Department of Agriculture should release data about how much taxpayers pay to retailers through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The decision was in response to a lawsuit filed by Argus Leader Media in South Dakota, which had filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the “annual sales amounts of every business in the nation that participates in SNAP. USDA refused to release the data, and the paper filed suit in 2011.” Continue reading

AHCJ objects to FDA’s ‘close-hold embargoes,’ requests explanation

Felice J. Freyer

About Felice J. Freyer

Felice J. Freyer is AHCJ's treasurer and chair of the organization's Right to Know Committee. She is a health care reporter for The Boston Globe.

Image by Logan Campbell via flickr.

Image by Logan Campbell via flickr.

AHCJ is protesting the Food and Drug Administration’s recent restrictive practices in handling news embargoes and has asked the agency for clarification of its policies.

In an Oct. 11 letter to Jason Young, the FDA’s acting assistant commissioner for media affairs, AHCJ President Karl Stark raised strong objections to the practice of providing embargoed information on the condition that reporters refrain from seeking outside comment until the embargo lifts. Continue reading

Access – or lack of access – to health information is making news

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

key-in-lock-showing-forbidden-information-graphicstockSeveral stories about access to public information have caught my eye in the past week. Whether it involves public health data from Florida, evidence in a federal criminal case or embargoes and favored access at a federal agency, it’s clear that journalists are facing obstacles in ensuring the public’s access to information.

In Rhode Island, a judge ruled in favor of a journalist seeking evidence presented in the trial of a doctor now “serving four life sentences for his role in operating a pain management clinic like a ‘pill mill.'” The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration had refused to release the records since journalist Phil Eil requested them after the trial ended in 2011. Continue reading

HIPAA experts: No need to request a waiver after Orlando shooting

Joseph Burns

About Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns (@jburns18), a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health insurance. He welcomes questions and suggestions on insurance resources and tip sheets at joseph@healthjournalism.org.

emergency-roomSince Sunday’s horrific shooting in Orlando that killed 49 people and injured 53 patrons at the Pulse night club, journalists have been asking whether the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) limits what hospital administrators can say about a patient’s condition.

One source of confusion was a statement made by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer after the June 12 attack. Continue reading

Review of EPA data leads USA Today to towns with contaminated water

Susan Heavey

About Susan Heavey

Susan Heavey, (@susanheavey) a Washington, D.C.-based journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on social determinants of health and curates related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on resources and tip sheets at determinants@healthjournalism.org.

Photo: Ryan Garza, USA Today NetworkLee Anne Walters of Flint, Mich., pours gallons of bottled water into a bucket and pan to warm up for her twin sons to take a weekly bath. Her son, Gavin, 4, looking on, has been diagnosed with lead poisoning. The photograph ran as part of USA Today’s investigation into lead levels nationwide, beyond the crisis in the Detroit suburb.

Photo: Ryan Garza, USA Today NetworkLee Anne Walters of Flint, Mich., pours gallons of bottled water into a bucket and pan to warm up for her twin sons to take a weekly bath. Her son, Gavin, 4, looking on, has been diagnosed with lead poisoning. The photograph ran as part of USA Today’s investigation into lead levels nationwide, beyond the crisis in the Detroit suburb.

Yes, database websites can seem clunky, and government data can seem hopelessly riddled with errors.

But searching, downloading and analyzing it – specifically EPA records on drinking water – led USA Today to a blockbuster front-page story that not only drew attention to the threat of lead contamination beyond the crisis in Flint, Mich., but also stirred residents to action.

Mark Nichols, who shared the byline with Alison Young at the paper, was the force behind the number crunching. Continue reading