Tag Archives: disaster

Disaster aftermath: Helping people to ensure Medicare benefits continue

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, The Atlantic.com, New America Media, AARP.com and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College in New York City, and co-produces HealthStyles for WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio.

Photo: Eric Hackathorn via Flickr

Photo: Eric Hackathorn via Flickr

Hurricane Matthew wreaked havoc on the southeastern United States. It left at least 43 people dead and forced many from their homes, due to rising rivers that flooded many communities. In parts of North Carolina, the storm was particularly cruel to lower income residents, reported The Washington Post.

Disasters like this may be hardest on older residents – who may not drive, have serious chronic health conditions or mobility problems. Older people who were forced to evacuate their homes may not have enough medication on hand, or may need ongoing, life-saving treatment, like dialysis. They may be at a loss in figuring out how to obtain needed care, but it is possible. Continue reading

Tips from the archives: Covering hurricanes and other natural disasters

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.

Photo: Eric Hackathorn via Flickr

Photo: Eric Hackathorn via Flickr

With Hurricane Matthew coming ashore on Haiti and approaching Cuba and the United States, this seems like a good time to review some resources and advice that AHCJ has compiled about reporting on hurricanes and other disasters.

Even if you’re not reporting on an affected location, this may be a good time to ask some questions and write about disaster preparedness in your region. 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

Seniors have special concerns in natural disasters like Sandy

Judith Graham

About Judith Graham

Judith Graham (@judith_graham), is a freelance journalist based in Denver and former topic leader on aging for AHCJ. She haswritten for the New York Times, Kaiser Health News, the Washington Post, the Journal of the American Medical Association, STAT News, the Chicago Tribune, and other publications.

It’s well known that older adults are more vulnerable in times of natural disaster. But there’s nothing like a storm the size of Sandy to drive this point home.

Judith GrahamJudith Graham (@judith_graham), AHCJ’s topic leader on aging, is writing blog posts, editing tip sheets and articles and gathering resources to help our members cover the many issues around our aging society.

If you have questions or suggestions for future resources on the topic, please send them to judith@healthjournalism.org.

In the past week, we’ve read about New York City hospitals and nursing homes that decided to wait out the storm rather than evacuating. Sheri Fink, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her report on decisions made at Memorial Medical Center in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, got out ahead of Sandy and talked to city and state health officials as well as facility executives. Her ProPublica story is must-reading for anyone who wants to understand the thinking of officials responsible for preparing for the storm.

A take-home point: Evacuations can be extremely difficult for frail seniors living in nursing homes. Balancing the potential impact of displacing residents against the potential impact of sheltering in place during a storm isn’t easy.

I hope that reporters writing these kinds of Sandy-related stories take this into account. For another look at decisions made by city and state decisions vis a vis nursing homes, see this piece by Ben Hallman in the Huffington Post. Kudos to this reporter for going out during the storm and going to a site where nursing home residents were being sheltered. Continue reading

Health officials clashed over alerting public to fungal infection in wake of Joplin tornado

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.

Following the devastating tornado in Joplin, Mo., county public health officials found themselves in conflict with state officials about alerting the public to an aggressive fungal infection that was showing up in people who were injured in the storm and its aftermath.

According to emails obtained by Sarah Okeson of the Springfield, Mo., News-Leader, state officials were concerned about panicking the public and declined to issue the alert.


Photo by Red Cross: Carl Manning GKCARC via Flickr

Local officials, on the other hand, say they wanted to “ensure that any hospital/health care provider would recognize the illness in a timely manner and begin aggressive anti-fungal treatment.” Faced with a denial from the state, the local officials issued a limited alert to 43 health care contacts and to health care providers.

A week after the county’s request – and two days after the News-Leader ran a story written by Okeson about the fungal infections – the state issued a health advisory.

The infections drew the interest of federal officials, including Benjamin Park, who leads an epidemiology team at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Park repeatedly emailed acting state epidemiologist Dr. George Turabelidze offering assistance and emphasizing that “There could be some important public health information that is obtained from this (risk factors, exposures, environmental sampling?) that would be important for future disaster events.” In one email, Park refers to receiving “inquiries all the way up to HHS secretary about this.”

Guidance for releasing information in a public health crisis

The Association of Health Care Journalists recently worked with the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) and the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) to develop guidelines for releasing information in a public health crisis.

“Stories like these raise questions about how public health agencies respond to outbreaks,” said Charles Ornstein, president of AHCJ’s board of directors. “That’s why I’m particularly glad that AHCJ has worked alongside ASTHO and NACCHO to come up with guidance about the type of information that should be released in public health emergencies. Working collaboratively, journalists and public health officials can improve the information shared during outbreaks and earn the public’s trust.”

The guidelines include advice to health official to consider publicizing an illness or death when “A major epidemic or novel illness is emerging, or a natural disaster or other major event affecting public health has occurred or is anticipated.”

The guidance emphasizes the importance of openness, stating that information should be withheld only when there is a clearly justified reason.