About AHCJ: General News

Association announces winners of 2019 health journalism contest Date: 03/25/20

Columbia, Mo. – Investigations into flawed or corrupt health-care practices won many of the top honors in the Association of Health Care Journalists’ 2019 contest, for which results were announced today.

The Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism drew 454 entries, up 29% from the previous year, partly because of a surge in student-journalist entries.

This was the second year for the contest’s student category, designed to encourage and highlight work by young journalists. The category’s top prize went to Lucas Manfield, who was a graduate student in Columbia University’s journalism program.

Manfield investigated the strangulation of a psychiatric patient by a fellow patient at a Los Angeles hospital, using open records requests and court files to document that the death was due to a pattern of lax oversight. His report was published in the Los Angeles Times. “This entry stood above the rest, for its powerful storytelling and authoritative, well-sourced presentation,” contest judges wrote.

Freelance writer Patricia Kime won first place in the beat category, for her coverage of health issues affecting military service members and veterans. Her entry included a New York Times Magazine piece on troops afflicted with lead poisoning, possibly from exposure to lead from thousands of bullets fired in training.

Kaiser Health News correspondent Christina Jewett won first place in the large-outlet division of the investigative category for uncovering secret deals the U.S. Food and Drug Administration made with the manufacturers of medical devices, such as surgical staplers. The deals allowed the companies to report malfunctions to a confidential database instead of to a public one. “It's terrifying that anyone in America can undergo a surgery that could go horribly wrong and that the doctor, patient and family would be totally in the dark,” the judges wrote.

Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter Bridget Balch won first place in the small-outlet division of the contest’s investigative category for exposing the way a local hospital managed to have one of its lawyers appointed as guardian for poor patients, who then could be moved out of the facility and off its books.

First-place winners in the 12 categories will receive $500 and a framed certificate.

The contest entries were considered by several dozen volunteer judges, all of whom are current or retired journalists or journalism instructors. The contest committee was overseen by co-chairs Tony Leys and Julie Appleby and AHCJ members Cate Vojdik, Sabriya Rice and Carrie Feibel.

The winning entries included smart approaches to covering complicated topics.

Taylor Knopf of North Carolina Health News won first place in the small-publication division of the public health category for innovative coverage related to the opioid epidemic. Knopf used a grant from the Solutions Journalism Network to travel to France and Switzerland to examine how those countries' progressive policies reduce the harm opioids cause.

Wendi C. Thomas led an investigative project that won first place in the contest’s business category. The startling pieces showed how Memphis’ largest hospital company sued thousands of poor patients, including some of its own employees, to collect bills they couldn’t pay. The project was a partnership between the local group MLK50: Justice Through Journalism and the national journalism outlet ProPublica. A few weeks after the piece was published, the nonprofit hospital company announced it would make sweeping changes in its collection practices.

Amy Maxmen of Nature won first place in the trade category with a gripping, first-hand look at how the World Health Organization is battling Ebola in a part of the Democratic Republic of Congo that often is beset by violence.

Winning entries can be read online, along with questionnaires in which the winners explained how they produced their work.

See the full list of winners and the judges' comments here.