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 a variety of 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.
Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism: 2009 winners
- General Interest Magazines above 1 million circ.
- General Interest Magazines below 1 million circ.
- Beat Reporting
- Metro Newspapers
- Community Newspapers
- Trade Publications/Newsletters
General Interest Magazines above 1 million circ.
First Place: Bad Bargain; Katherine Eban, Self
Regulators, politicians, employers and insurers have assured Americans that generic drugs – which will soon comprise 80 percent of the medicine dispensed to us – are safe, effective, and largely identical to their more expensive brand-name counterparts. "Bad Bargain" exposes the glaring regulatory loopholes that allow substandard or un-equivalent generics to reach consumers. The article also identified patients who suffered devastating consequences after being switched from brand-name to generic drugs.
Second Place: The Deadly Choices at Memorial; Sheri Fink, ProPublica/The New York Times Magazine
A 13,000-word chronicle of what happened when floodwaters rose, generators failed, and a New Orleans hospital was cut off from the world. Among the key findings: Several health professionals from Memorial acknowledged that they had deliberately injected severely ill patients to hasten their deaths. More patients than previously suspected had been injected before their deaths, the vast majority after a long-awaited rescue effort was at last under way.
Third Place: What's Wrong with Cancer Tests?; Shannon Brownlee, Reader's Digest
The recent controversy over the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force's guidelines for the use of mammography for women in their forties underscores the difficulty patients and physicians have with understanding – and accepting – the limitations of cancer screening. Six months before the USPSTF's recommendations were published, this story in Reader's Digest walked readers through the tradeoffs involved in mammography and a number of other cancer screening tests.
General Interest Magazines below 1 million circ.
First Place: Warning: This Bottle May Contain Toxic Chemicals. Or Not; David Case, Fast Company
Everyone agrees that BPA, or bisphenol A, is everywhere, from dental fillings to cell phones to baby bottles-but is it a dangerous endocrine disrupter or a useful, perfectly safe chemical? This account of warring studies-independent ones that find evidence of adverse health consequences vs. industry-funded ones that find none-is a case study of the way commercial interests can distort science, and the failure of the government to cat decisively to protect public health.
Second Place: Useless Medicine; Robert Langreth, Forbes
Many health care stories throw out the figure that 30 percent of all medical spending is wasted. But they almost never delve into specifics. Exactly which operations, medical devices, and drugs are overused or ineffective? Robert Langreth shows how a huge percentage of the spending on knee surgery, stents, CT scans, and schizophrenia drugs is wasteful and potentially harmful.
Third Place: Big Pharma's Crime Spree; David Evans, Bloomberg Markets
Reporter David Evans noticed that big pharmaceuticals companies were paying heavier and heavier criminal fines for illegally marketing some of their best-selling drugs, and he wondered why they would keep breaking the law so blatantly. In "Big Pharma's Crime Spree," Evans reports that even when drug companies pay huge penalties they have little economic incentive to stop the illegal activity.
First Place: Quality of Death - End of Life Care: Inside Out; Rachel Gotbaum, Anna Bensted and George Hicks, WBUR
This public radio documentary explores a health care system where more care is considered better care. But does a booming aging population in the U.S. combined with an endless array of medical interventions place too much stress on our health care budget and on our sickest patients? Medical care at the end of life accounts for one third of all Medicare spending, yet such spending and extensive treatment can easily decrease a patient's quality of life, and thus, their quality of death.
Second Place: Twice as Deadly: Chicago’s Race Gap in Breast Cancer Survival - A Special Program; Gabriel Spitzer, Cate Cahan and Natalie Moore, WBEZ-Chicago Public Radio
Several years ago, doctors and scientists faced a troubling fact: although black women in Chicago are less likely to get breast cancer than white women, they are much more likely to die from it. New research is starting to unravel the reasons why, and it's finding that the causes are woven deeply into the social fabric of the city. We explore those findings in this special, and show that they are likely to segregation, cultural factors and policy.
Third Place: Senior Insecurity; Kelley Weiss, Capital Public Radio
California's second most expensive health and human services program, Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, was designed to help the elderly and disabled afford basic necessities. It has an almost $3 billion price tag covered by taxpayers. And yet today a growing number of people in this program over the age of 55 can't afford enough food or are living on the streets.
First Place: Marshall Allen's 2009 Body of Work; Marshall Allen, Las Vegas Sun
Las Vegas Sun reporter Marshall Allen chronicles a hospital privacy leak, doctor pay fraud, hidden obesity surgery costs, and a surgery to cure epilepsy.
Second Place: Jim Landers' 2009 Body of Work; Jim Landers, The Dallas Morning News
The four stories in this entry from Jim Landers, of The Dallas Morning News, look at health care delivery in the United States and France; the broken market for medical care in Dallas; a column about lessons to learn about reducing health care costs; and a column about how Dallas and Texas are models for where the U.S. health care system is headed without major reform.
Third Place: Kelly Weiss' 2009 Body of Work; Kelley Weiss, Capital Public Radio
Reporter Kelley Weiss reports on the economy and its impact on health and health care for this beat. The first piece looked into the dental credit cards issue because of a proposed piece of legislation to protect consumers from signing up for a credit card unknowingly or getting charged for services they did not receive. The second article examined the rise in teenage prostitution and its correlation with funding cuts for youth support programs. The third story detailed the problems California's budget cuts created for low-income families. The final piece looked at the budget cuts with more depth, and highlighted the ways which state budget cuts decrease federal funding for the state.
First Place: Dubious Medicine; Trine Tsouderos and Patricia Callahan, Chicago Tribune
Chicago Tribune reporters examine Lupron – a testosterone inhibitor used to treat precocious puberty and to chemically castrate sex offenders – and its reputed ability to be a "miracle medicine" for a disease with few mainstream medical answers: autism.
Second Place: Jani's at the Mercy of her Mind; Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times
This story describes the efforts of a family to obtain an accurate diagnosis, satisfactory medical care and outpatient services for their severely mentally ill 6-year-old daughter. Following the family over nine months, the stories depict the devastating symptoms of the illness, the terrible toll on the family, the challenges for medical professionals in diagnosing and treating a rare case of psychotic illness in such a young child and the lack of outpatient services.
Second Place: Compromised Care; Chicago Tribune Staff with ProPublica
Through interviews and often-confidential documents, the Tribune pieced together a series of recent cases in which violent nursing home residents assaulted, raped and even murdered their elderly and disabled housemates. Illinois is an outlier among states in its reliance on nursing homes to house younger adults with mental illness, including thousands of gang members and felons whose disabilities qualify them for Medicaid-funded nursing care.
Honorable Mention: Kidney Failure: The Anarchy of Living Organ Donation; Josephine Marcotty, Star Tribune
Today, half of all kidney donors are living donors – altruistic individuals who can give a patient a kidney almost overnight, and a kidney that is much healthier than organs from the deceased. But unlike the carefully regulated system for allocating organs from deceased donors, there is no system for allocating organs from living donors. Instead, the search for a living donor is a free-for-all – a Wild West where desperate patients rent billboards, put their pleas in church bulletins, buy space on the Internet and tell their stories on TV talk shows.
First Place: Disabled and Denied; Evan George, Los Angeles Daily Journal
This investigation, which included a review of 576 lawsuits filed in federal court in California against the seven largest disability insurers, found that insurance companies regularly deny, or terminate, benefits to people even after they are found disabled by the federal government and approved for Social Security checks. The companies hire contract doctors who routinely reject the opinion of treating physicians without ever having seen the patients. Some insurers provide incentives to employees to deny and terminate claims, tying performance evaluations to meeting money-saving goals.
Second Place: Painkiller Clinics Use Legal Loopholes; Michael LaForgia, The Palm Beach Post
The stories highlighted loopholes in Florida law that make it possible for convicted drug smugglers and doctors with histories of major disciplinary problems to open cash-and-carry pain clinics in Palm Beach County. The stories outlined what other states do and what Florida doesn't do to combat overdose deaths, and revealed that state regulators often are hindered in making cases against problem doctors by poor communication and heavy workloads.
Third Place: Needless Deaths; Heidi Hall, The Tennessean
Tennessean education editor Heidi Hall spent five weeks examining why Tennessee ranks 22nd for cancer diagnoses – about the middle of the pack nationally – but has one of the worst cancer death rates.
First Place: The Alzheimer's Project; Maria Shriver, Sheila Nevins and John Hoffman, Home Box Office
While there is no cure for the disease, The Alzheimer's Project shows that there is reason to be optimistic. This multi-platform series looks at groundbreaking discoveries made by the country's leading scientists, as well as the effects of this debilitating and fatal disease on those with Alzheimer's and on their families.
Second Place: 'America's Forgotten Patients,' Al-Jazeera English; Josh Rushing, Jeremy Young and Hanaan Sarhan, Al-Jazeera English
This report explored the system in which mental illness is treated in America. Where state hospitals used to supply treatment for severe mental illness, nowadays local jails and state prisons have become the main prism through which we as a society deal with this issue. Police Departments have tried to adapt to more mentally ill on the streets while those working in jails and prisons have had to deal with an influx of sick people behind bars.
Third Place: My Mother's Garden; Cynthia Lester, MSNBC
This is the story of 61-year-old Eugenia Lester, whose hoarding disorder has taken a life-threatening turn. Lester lives among piles of debris and rotting garbage that have literally pushed her out of her house and into her garden. Upon learning that Eugenia is in danger of losing her home for violating city health codes, her children step in.
First Place: Tobacco Underground; International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Center for Public Integrity
The illicit trafficking of tobacco is a multibillion-dollar business, spurring addiction to a deadly product while fueling organized crime, corruption and terrorism, while robbing governments of needed tax money. So profitable is the trade that tobacco is the world's most widely smuggled legal substance.
Second Place: Are You Covered?; Peggy Girshman, Joe Neel and Kathleen Masterson, Kaiser Health News/National Public Radio
This project, jointly produced by Kaiser Health News and NPR, profiled nine types of consumers and explored the impact Congressional health bills could have on their lives. Each example included a radio story aired on NPR, a policy "explainer" written by a KHN reporter, a video or slide show and still photos.
Third Place: The Color of Health, Part 1: A Growing Solution to the Food Desert Crisis; Bianca Alexander and Michael Alexander, The Soul of Green
This series examines the growing divide between the health care "haves" and "have-nots" in racially segregated Chicago. A disproportionate number of people of color (specifically African Americans and non-white Latinos) are suffering from diabetes, breast cancer and other health problems at a much higher rate than non-Hispanic whites. Specifically, part I of this series examines the disparate levels of health between whites and people of color in the U.S., and takes a deeper look at one key factor that has been linked to this disparity: the rise of urban food deserts.
First Place: The Cost of Murder; Joe Carlson, Modern Healthcare
In recent years a growing number of trauma surgeons and have begun to question the social value of saving the lives of gunshot victims who wind up back in the ER a year or two later with similar injuries. Yet hospital administrators in communities besieged by violence limit their concern to the problems within their four walls. Although hospitals' tax-exempt status carries a mandate to provide real benefit to their local communities, many are running programs like anti-obesity clinics while leaving the problems of urban violence to the police and courts.
Second Place: How Can Small Hospitals Survive?; Jan Greene, Trustee Magazine
Some small hospitals find they can no longer afford to be independent institutions. The story explores potential solutions to this situation by highlighting hospitals that joined a larger health care system or formed a partnership with another hospital and looking at the benefits of signing with a hospital management firm.
Third Place: What Happens to a Donated Tumor?; Stephen Ornes, CR Magazine
This story follows a tumor from resection to research: when a person decides to donate tissue, how does it get from the operating room to the research laboratory? The journey of a donated tumor leads to a discussion of the obstacles – logistic and scientific – facing biospecimen science.
Honorable Mention: The Diabetes Prevention Program: How the Participants Did It; Susan Brink, Health Affairs
The Diabetes Prevention Project showed that people at risk for type 2 diabetes could slow or halt the progression to diabetes. This article showed, through stories of participants in the project, just how they pulled off the difficult work of changing their lifestyles.