About AHCJ: General News

Health journalists convene in Orlando Date: 05/31/17

Orlando conference logo


  • Florida Hospital

  • University of Central Florida College of Medicine

  • Nemours Children's Health System

  • Mayo Clinic

Endowing sponsors

  • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

  • W.K. Kellogg Foundation

  • Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust


  • University of Florida Health

  • Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

  • Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute

  • The Hastings Center

  • John A. Hartford Foundation

  • The Commonwealth Fund

  • Kansas Health Foundation

  • New York State Health Foundation

  • Health Foundation for Western & Central New York

  • Colorado Health Foundation

  • California Health Care Foundation

  • Missouri Foundation for Health

  • The JAMA Network

  • Journal of the American Osteopathic Association

  • Laura and John Arnold Foundation

  • Rhode Island Foundation

  • The Pew Charitable Trusts

  • Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation

  • Florida Society of News Editors

  • Health Foundation of South Florida

  • WUSF Public Media

  • Orlando Sentinel

Nearly 700 people attended Health Journalism 2017 in Orlando in April for sessions covering everything from the latest on health reform to strategies for freelance journalists to keep their careers fresh.

The annual conference of the Association of Health Care Journalists convened researchers, health policy experts, physicians and journalists for the April 20-23 event. Attendees were active on Twitter, generating more than 10,000 tweets with the conference hashtag #AHCJ17.

On the first day of the conference, about 60 journalists ventured out on field trips to some of the area’s top health care institutions, including the University of Central Florida College of Medicine, Nemours Children’s Hospital, Florida Hospital and the Orlando VA Medical Center.

They saw technological and educational advances, such as a rotating machine used to X-ray wiggly children; a lab where parents learn how to care for their children who have had medical procedures; a logistics center that monitors patients in hospitals in two states and a cadaver lab.

The day also featured two mini-tracks: One on gene editing technology, including its potential and the accompanying ethical questions; and one on science basics, including looks at stress, vaccines and dementia.

In the opening-evening roundtable, a panel of experts discussed violence and ways to address it as a public health issue. Gary Slutkin, chief executive officer of Cure Violence, said that a growing body of research shows that taking proven public health measures can lead to a decrease in violence.

Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, pointed out that violence generally doesn’t really come out of nowhere. “When we look back there were red flags all over the place … somebody knew.”

Rachel Davis, managing director of the Prevention Institute, said cities and school systems have begun to look at violence in new ways – not just as a law and order problem.

While the panelists did not dismiss issues such as poverty, inequality, racism or the prevalence of guns, they said that even with all those gnawing problems and their contribution to toxic stress, the public health approach to violence is proven and valuable.

Moderator Andrea McDaniels, health and medicine reporter at the Baltimore Sun, noted that a public health approach doesn’t just help to fight street violence, but also bullying and domestic violence.

A well-attended panel about the intersection of the criminal justice system and people with mental illness included the perspective of Capt. Susan Brown, the crisis intervention team coordinator for the Orlando Police Department She told the audience that she was 10 years into her law enforcement career before she learned what schizophrenia was. She said that it is not acceptable for officers to not know how to deal with people who have mental illness. Attendees watched a video from an officer’s body camera in which he tried to determine why a woman was driving erratically. He determined that she was experiencing a mental health crisis and called for appropriate assistance.

Winners of the 2016 Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism were recognized at the luncheon on Saturday before attendees heard from Ellie Hollander, the president and chief executive officer of Meals on Wheels America. That safety net program was recently threatened by President Trump’s so-called “skinny budget,” which would have cut grants that fund Meals on Wheels programs.

Hollander explained that the program goes far beyond feeding older adults; she described it as a “lifeline for vulnerable seniors” that provides companionship, safety checks and assesses potential risks in the home.

From an economic point of view, Hollander said that Meals on Wheels can provide a senior with food for a year for the same cost as one day in the hospital or 10 days in a nursing home. “My concern is that if we can’t find a way to bridge the gap against this exponentially increasing demographic shift what we have, with seniors who have multiple chronic conditions, and it is an epidemic, our health care costs are just going to escalate and escalate, and they’re already out of sight now,” she said.

Other panels included a look at how telehealth is being used to deliver care in new ways, the science and experience of addiction, how toxic stress affects child development, health challenges for refugees and undocumented immigrants and lessons learned from covering mass violence incidents.

Freelancers took advantage of panels on using tools such as DSLR cameras to tell stories, strategies to keep their careers fresh and how to decide if they should embark on writing a book. On Friday, more than 70 writers met with more than 20 editors during the annual Freelance PitchFest.

Selected tweets from the conference: