Past winners

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.

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Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism: 2016 winners

Beat Reporting

First Place: April Dembosky's 2016 Body of Work; April Dembosky, KQED-San Francisco

April Dembosky's work this year demonstrates a range of reporting skills, from finding unique angles on otherwise predictable health policy stories, to developing original enterprise work that sheds light on systemic problems in health care, to breaking news about drug prices that has other media outlets jumping to follow up.

Her stories included the revelation that drug companies had more than doubled the price of the drug commonly used in assisted suicide. She uncovered how insurance companies sidestepped mental health laws, and regulators failed to hold them to account. Her reporting showed how Obamacare was giving rise to immigration concerns in California's farming industry. By demonstrating her journalistic skill and scientific understanding, she negotiated access to autistic adults participating in a controversial MDMA study.

Judges' comments: April Dembosky's work shows the true range of a great health care reporter. In one year, she conducted a detailed investigation, broke important news in a closely watched area, and crafted original, human features. Dembosky’s stories were compelling and well-crafted, providing, context, emotion, and character, often in just a few minutes. We were impressed by the creativity and breadth of her ideas, and the quality of her execution.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Second Place: Jordan Rau's 2016 Body of Work; Jordan Rau, Kaiser Health News

These stories examine systemic quality lapses at hospitals, nursing homes and home health agencies and how the government's efforts to stop them fall short. One story found that medication oversights occurred at a quarter of home health agencies, exposing some patients to the risk of taking dangerous or even deadly combinations of drugs. Another story showed that some hospitals fail to inform patients about the low quality of nursing homes they are going to. Two other pieces examined Medicare's effort to crack down on hospitals with high infection rates and other patient injuries.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Third Place: Kay Lazar's 2016 Body of Work; Kay Lazar, The Boston Globe

Massachusetts requires nursing home owners to file annual financial reports, but reporter Kay Lazar learned that regulators had not reviewed these documents for years -- even as Medicaid spends about $1 billion a year in the state's nursing homes. Lazar scoured the latest financial reports from all of the state's roughly 400 nursing homes -- the reports encompassed thousands of pages -- and compared them with inspection reports for each facility. She discovered that nursing home owners often reported a loss while directing cash to a constellation of subsidiaries, and paid hefty salaries to their executives, relatives, or board members. She also found that quality of care, even how much fresh fruits and vegetables patients might receive, often hinges on a factor few consider: whether a nursing home operates as a for-profit company. Keeping her spotlight trained on profits and care, Lazar's stories revealed the stark consequences when nursing homes cut corners and lives are at stake.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Trade Publications/Newsletters

First Place: Wounded Care; Bob Herman and Fan Fei, Modern Healthcare

The hospital that serves the Winnebago tribe (a Native American group in Nebraska), operated by the federal Indian Health Service, lost its Medicare and Medicaid funding because of widespread violations that put the health of patients in "immediate jeopardy." A member of the tribe described the care the tribe was receiving as "third world" health care.

In the course of investigating the situation, Modern Healthcare learned that many Native Americans feel betrayed by IHS and worry about care they are receiving from an underfunded, mismanaged agency -- which in many ways has created a health care crisis for a neglected portion of the U.S. population. They found that many Native American tribes, like the Winnebago in Nebraska, have actively taken over their local health care systems from the IHS in response to the poor care they believe they are receiving.

Judges' comments: “Wounded Care” uses the details of how and why the Indian Health Services' Winnebago hospital lost certification as a way to describe all the shortcomings of Native American health care in the United States. This report is an eye-opener for most of us about yet another indignity foisted on our Native peoples. The story is chock-full of statistics, but doesn’t lose the focus on people who suffered because of the challenges faced by cash-strapped hospitals. The web display, which includes maps, charts and video, bring the story to life and help the reader stick with the topic. As far as solutions journalism, “Wounded Care” shows how some tribes are working to stop the downward slide by taking control of their hospitals. We hope Mr. Herman will continue to report on this important topic.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Second Place: The Treasures of Monkey Island; Brendan Borrell, Spectrum

On Cayo Santiago island in Puerto Rico, scientists are tracking the alliances and power struggles of a colony of feral monkeys -- collecting data to generate new insights into the social challenges that people with autism face. Although the use of monkeys as research models has largely fallen out of favor among both researchers and the public, this story reveals how monkeys are superior to mice in helping us understand human social behavior and mental health problems.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Third Place: Tomorrow's children; Erika Check Hayden, Nature

In "Tomorrow’s children," Erika Check Hayden places people with disabilities at the center of the heated debate over whether doctors should repair defective genes in unborn children. Erika uses patients’ own stories together with published research to correct pervasive misconceptions about people with disabilities, showing why many say they would choose not to "fix" their own genetic glitches, even if they could.

The piece comes at a critical point, as scientists and doctors are deciding whether to use powerful new gene editing technologies, such as CRISPR, to rewrite faulty genes in embryos. Chinese researchers have twice used CRISPR to edit human embryos in the lab, while the global scientific community is debating whether to lift a self-imposed moratorium on using CRISPR in human embryos that are intended to yield a viable pregnancy. This discussion has ignored the voices of people who live with genetic diseases, and who will be most directly impacted by decisions about how to use these technologies. 

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Investigative (large)

First Place: Dangerous Doses; Sam Roe, Karisa King and Ray Long, Chicago Tribune

This innovative investigation into dangerous prescription drug interactions yielded groundbreaking science and sparked safety reforms at pharmacies nationwide. The Tribune collaborated with data scientists, pharmacologists and cellular researchers at Columbia University Medical Center in an attempt to discover prescription drug combinations that might be causing a potentially fatal heart arrhythmia. By mining the universe of big data in entirely new ways, then testing in a lab, the team found a way to identify and confirm previously unknown drug interactions. Reporters tested 255 pharmacies in the Chicago area to see how often they would dispense deadly drug combinations without warning patients. Fifty-two percent of the pharmacies sold the medications without mentioning the potential interactions. The Tribune told the harrowing story of Becki Conway and the dangers everyone faces from drug interactions.

Judges' comments: In an absolutely loaded field, Dangerous Doses stood out. The series had it all, beginning with a terrific, fresh premise; fantastic and thorough reporting and data analysis; clear, strong and engaging writing; and results that have the potential to save thousands of lives across the country. This is public service journalism at its finest.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Second Place: Suffering in Secret; Patricia Callahan and Michael J. Berens, Chicago Tribune

The 3,000 Medicaid-funded group homes were meant to be invisible. Over the decades, Illinois lawmakers had exempted the group home industry from basic health care regulations and public accountability. Neither the public nor family members -- not even group home residents -- were allowed to know whether the state had pursued complaints against a home or the caregivers it employed, the nature of investigations, the strength of evidence or what reforms, if any, were mandated or made.

Reporters Michael Berens and Patricia Callahan embarked on a yearlong investigation. They revealed that state officials, who touted the taxpayer dollars saved on this cheaper form of care, steered thousands of Illinois' poorest and most vulnerable adults with disabilities into private group homes, then cloaked harm and death with secrecy and silence. Drawing on records gleaned from more than 100 FOIA requests, the reporters circumvented state secrecy to show that many homes were underfunded, understaffed and dangerously unprepared for residents with complex needs.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Third Place: Investigating OxyContin; Harriet Ryan, Scott Glover and Lisa Girion, Los Angeles Times

A three-part investigation of the nation's bestselling painkiller, OxyContin, revealed how decisions by manufacturer Purdue Pharma, including the cover-up of a fundamental flaw in the drug's duration, contributed to the nation's ongoing opioid epidemic.

The damage wrought by the opioid epidemic has been well-documented over the last two decades, and OxyContin, the drug that started the crisis, was the subject of particularly intense media coverage in the early 2000s. Though the headlines faded, the deadly problems associated with the drug continued. So The Times decided to dig deeper into OxyContin.

It was a challenging assignment. Purdue is a privately held corporation, controlled by a family that eschews media coverage and requires employees to sign confidentiality agreements as a condition of employment. When questions about OxyContin had surfaced in the past in lawsuits by patients and competitors, the company persuaded judges to seal company documents and sworn testimony of executives.

The Times nevertheless obtained thousands of pages of confidential Purdue records spanning more than three decades and covering the drug's development and marketing.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Investigative (small)

First Place: Painkiller Profiteers; Eric Eyre, Charleston (W. Va.) Gazette-Mail

The Gazette-Mail tracked the deluge of prescription opioids into West Virginia, following them to individual counties, pharmacies and families. The newspaper's investigation found that drug distributors shipped 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to West Virginia in just six years, a period when 1,728 people fatally overdosed on those two painkillers. The wholesalers supplied ever-higher doses of the pills -- a telltale sign of growing addictions -- even as the death toll climbed. The largest shipments often went to mom-and-pop drugstores in poor, rural counties in southern West Virginia.

Judges' comments: We’ve read many stories about prescription opioid addiction, but this one offered a new and exceptionally dark perspective by focusing on commercial distribution of the pills. Reporter Eric Eyre showed how drug wholesalers routinely shipped vast quantities of pills to small, independent pharmacies and how West Virginia’s Board of Pharmacy failed to enforce regulations that could have limited those sales. His findings were so clear and compelling that various agencies, including the Board of Pharmacy, had to take action. The Charleston Gazette-Mail deserves great credit for investing the time and resources needed for this type of reporting, which is a pillar of our democracy.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Second Place: Instrumental Risk; Karen Bouffard and Joel Kurth, The Detroit News

A six-month Detroit News investigation revealed that five Detroit Medical Center hospitals were plagued with dirty, broken and missing surgical instruments for at least 11 years. Our report was based on 200 pages of emails and documents, photographs of dirty instruments, and dozens of interviews with surgeons, former administrators and unionized workers. Instrument problems complicated procedures from cleft palate repairs and spinal fusions, to infant heart repairs and brain surgeries. Patients were kept under anesthesia for an hour or longer while medical staff searched for replacement instruments; dozens of surgeries were cancelled, sometimes after the patients were already anesthetized.

Our findings were presented in the context of a growing national problem as hospitals everywhere struggle to keep up with an increase in the number and complexity of surgical instruments. We talked about outbreaks in other cities that were caused by dirty surgical instruments, and provided background on the sterile process and how instruments can harbor pathogens. We also focused on the regulatory gaps and lack of hospital transparency that allowed problems at the DMC to go undetected for more than a decade.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Third Place: At California Psychiatric Hospitals, Epidemic of Patients' Assaults on Staff Goes Untreated; Liza Gross, Independent Journalist

California's network of state psychiatric hospitals is charged with treating people with mental illness who pose a danger to themselves or others, but workers faced with ongoing assaults by patients have struggled to provide a therapeutic environment. After the murder of a psychiatric technician by a patient at Napa State Hospital in 2010, the state vowed to improve safety at its hospitals. My investigation shows that the state's measures were inadequate. Since the murder, workers at the state's five psychiatric hospitals, including Napa State Hospital, have suffered thousands of assaults a year and lost tens of thousands of workdays, forcing taxpayers to pay at least $135 million in workers' compensation and overtime costs.


AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Consumer/Feature (large)

First Place: The Power of Will; Billy Baker, The Boston Globe

"The Power of Will" is a five-part serial narrative about the parents of an infant boy stricken with a savage cancer with no cure and a research physician dedicated to finding a treatment to save him. Against all odds, they succeed. The boy’s cancer is reversed. With a drug that shows incredible promise, they refine the research and fight to bring the drug to as many children as they can, coming up against obstacles including the FDA and a pharmaceutical company that takes an interest in the drug and tries to thwart them, ultimately cutting off their supply. With stockpiles of the drug running low and children’s lives in the balance, they gamble on a long shot -- secretly starting their own drug company to manufacture their own supply. On this tense and suspenseful journey, readers see cracks and flaws in a system that all but overlooks pediatric cancer.

Judges' comments: A heartbreaking story that was beautifully told. Billy Baker was able to capture the desperation and determination that the Laceys and Dr. Sholler felt as they raced to find something to fight neuroblastoma – taking on a pharmaceutical company and the FDA to do so. This story was a compassionate and respectful portrayal of a family enduring an unimaginably difficult situation. The writing demonstrated an excellent blend of narration and facts, telling the decade-long story of just how far a father will go to save his child. Congratulations.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Second Place: Hooked: The Opioid Crisis; Jon Kamp, Jeanne Whalen and Arian Campo-Flores, The Wall Street Journal

As deaths from powerful opioid drugs exploded, a team of Wall Street Journal reporters uncovered how fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, often made in overseas chemical labs, had made America's drug problem far more lethal. Our reporting exposed the multiple factors that produced the epidemic. We laid bare the terrible human toll on addicts, families and entire communities who feel powerless against the hold these drugs have over their victims. And we showed why the Drug Enforcement Administration is in a high-stakes game of cat-and-mouse, with overseas labs churning out new synthetic drugs at a furious pace, often staying a step ahead of authorities and helping to fuel the rampant opioid crisis. The Journal was the first to examine the traumatic impact of addiction on the children left behind.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Third Place: Child's scraped knee a life or death matter in Venezuela; Hannah Dreier, The Associated Press

This narrative feature tells the story of how shortages of medicine in Venezuela turned a 3-year-old's scraped knee into a life or death ordeal. The main finding: "If Venezuela has become dangerous for the healthy, it is now deadly for those who fall ill."

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Consumer/Feature (small)

First Place: How shock therapy is saving some children with autism; Apoorva Mandavilli, Spectrum

The term "electroconvulsive therapy" conjures the infamous scene with Jack Nicholson from the movie "One flew over the Cuckoo's nest," or similar such brutal scenes from popular culture. But this reputation is seriously outdated. More importantly, it belies a procedure that is in fact mostly benign and enormously helpful to people who are severely depressed or suicidal. This article is about a new use for ECT: treating children with autism who harm themselves repeatedly, sometimes to the point of blindness or death. Right now, there are fewer than 50 children with autism who are being treated with ECT, but for these children, ECT is a desperately needed life-saving treatment, say the children's parents and the psychiatrists who administer the therapy.

Judges' comments: The Spectrum story on ECT for young people with autism was a new take on an old issue, and it helped dispel some common misconceptions about the controversial therapy. Focusing on the experiences of one young man and his family, it also revealed how beneficial this option can be for those who suffer some of the most disruptive symptoms of the illness. The article was fully reported and written with poignant detail, giving the reader an intimate understanding of the illness and its treatment. The additional video brought a nice dimension to the story.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Second Place: The puzzle solver: A researcher changes course to help his son; Tracie White, Stanford Medicine magazine

This is a feature on a researcher's race to solve the biochemical puzzle of chronic fatigue syndrome -- the disease afflicting his son. Ron Davis is a wizard at revealing what's invisible to the rest of the world. A renowned geneticist, in 2013, The Atlantic magazine ranked him among the world's greatest living inventors. His biotech methods helped launch the field of genomics, making terms like "artificial chromosomes" and "genome editing" part of the lexicon. A substantial number of the major genetic advances of the past 20 years can be traced back to Davis. Now the focus of his research is to find a cause and a cure for CFS, the disease that has crippled his son Whitney. 

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Third Place: On the Cusp of a Cure; Sam Kennedy, The (Allentown, Pa.) Morning Call

The Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania is perched on the front lines in a turning point on the war on cancer, with an upfront view of the action. Thanks to one doctor's extraordinary efforts, Lehigh Valley Hospital was one of eight sites nationally selected to participate in a clinical trial testing the effectiveness of combining two new immunotherapy drugs, nivolumab and ipilimumab. The trial would save the lives of a number of local cancer patients. 

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Health Policy (large)

First Place: Politics of Pain; Staff, The Center for Public Integrity and The Associated Press

This investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and The Associated Press examines the politics behind the nation's opioid addiction epidemic. Among the findings:

  • Drug companies and allied advocates spent more than $880 million on lobbying and political contributions over the past decade. 

  • The opioid industry and its allies contributed to roughly 7,100 candidates for state-level offices. 

  • For more than a decade, a group called the Pain Care Forum, coordinated by the chief lobbyist for Purdue Pharma, has met with some of the highest-ranking health officials in the federal government.

  • Such drugs are expected to cost government-funded health programs hundreds of millions of dollars in higher medication expenses while racking up billions in sales for the drugmakers.

Judges' comments: Geoff Mulvihill, Matthew Perrone, Liz Essley Whyte and Ben Wieder have written and reported a tour de force about the politics, lobbying, and influence peddling that have helped caused the American opioid epidemic. We agree that this is a golden example of exhaustive reporting that was not exhausting to read because the stories are well told, edited, and organized -- and tragically important. The reporters got outside the Beltway and reported on the money the opioid manufacturers have poured into state-level politics. They also documented that pharmaceutical companies are behind the groups like Pain Care Forum that fight new laws and regulations in the name of patients and science. And they tackled in a clear and convincing way the issues surrounding the abuse-deterrent opioids, formulations that may do little good but have high price tags and so will benefit pharma bottom lines. Anyone covering any aspect of the opioid epidemic must read these stories. Every health care journalist should aspire to do this kind of work.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Second Place: Obamacare's Sinking Safety Net; Paul Demko, Politico

Paul Demko's comprehensive investigation of the state of the Affordable Care Act's fledgling insurance marketplaces foreshadowed their struggles as the Obama administration comes to a close. Drawing on both data and narrative -- and avoiding the stale political rhetoric from both sides -- he documented their unsustainable losses, and described what it would take to change the trajectory, if only the political will had existed to change it. Anyone who read "Obamacare's Sinking Safety Net" wouldn't have been surprised by the unraveling of the marketplaces. They'd also have an understanding of what could be done by the next administration to strengthen the landmark health care law and ensure that the 11 million Americans who have purchased coverage through the exchanges continue to have access to health insurance.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Third Place: The Crisis Within; Nancy Cambria and Laurie Skrivan, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Reporter Nancy Cambria and photographer Laurie Skrivan spent seven months in Ferguson, Mo., in 2015 reporting on toxic stress experienced by children and families living within blocks of where Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in 2014, sparking months of protests and some violence. The report consisted of four stories focusing on poverty, toxic stress and public health.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Health Policy (small)

First Place: The Looming Threat of Factory-farm Superbugs; Melinda Wenner Moyer, Scientific American

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria from livestock pose a deadly risk to people. But the farm lobby won't let scientists track the danger. Antibiotics are used more heavily in farm animals than in people. This may be the largest source of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Drug-resistance genes spread more widely and rapidly on farms than scientists ever thought, new discoveries show. Melinda Wenner Moyer visited three farms, found how food companies compel farmers to keep scientists away, and unearthed documents showing the breadth of agriculture industry influence in Congress and over farmers.

Judges’ comments: This story provides a thorough, balanced and well-researched look at an issue of broad importance: the risk that large-scale animal farming may be fostering development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria of wide risk to people. The reporting is strong and the writing is clear. Readers will be rightly concerned. Government officials should be inspired to take action.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Second Place: Managed Care : An Iowa family's journey; Chelsea Keenan, The Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Gazette

Iowa transitioned almost the entirety of its Medicaid program from a state-run system to three managed-care organizations on April 1. The state ran into many hurdles in the lead up to managed care, the switch was twice delayed by CMS while a fourth MCO had its contract taken away. Many Medicaid recipients and providers felt like the move was happening too quickly, and the state's hospitals even asked a district judge to delay implementation. This series follows an Iowa family that has a child with physical and intellectual disabilities throughout the course of the first year of managed care. 

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Third Place: The Rumble & The Reversal; Kristen Schorsch and Claire Bushey, Crain's Chicago Business

Activists in the impoverished communities around University of Chicago Medicine on the South Side pleaded for years for the affluent system to open an adult trauma center. The catalyst behind their rage and grief: their friend and fellow activist died after having to trek to a center 10 miles north, though he was shot just blocks from U of C's sprawling medical campus. The system had closed its center decades earlier. The activists' momentum grew as the Black Lives Matter movement swept the nation. Add to that the city had shuttered mental health clinics and schools, impacting poor and minority communities the most. It took a five-year contentious battle, but U of C finally gave in. What prompted this change of heart from one of the biggest and most powerful health systems and universities in Chicago?

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Public Health (large)

First Place: The End of AIDS?; Jason Kane, William Brangham, Jon Cohen, PBS NewsHour, Science magazine, Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

As scientists and researchers were about to gather in South Africa for the International AIDS Conference last summer, the PBS NewsHour launched an ambitious six-part series to ask a bold question: is ending the AIDS epidemic within reach? Even with no vaccine and no cure in sight, some of the world's top researchers were increasingly confident that we now have the tools at hand to break the back of this epidemic.

Correspondent William Brangham and producer Jason Kane, in partnership with reporter Jon Cohen of Science Magazine, traveled to six places around the world that have big plans for ending their epidemics: San Francisco, Atlanta, New York, Kenya, Rwanda and South Africa.

In the series, the NewsHour was able to explain the complicated science behind the push to end AIDS, as well as explore the personal, sometimes harrowing stories of the people grappling with the virus.

Judges' comments: The judges felt all of the finalists in this category were outstanding in quality. But "The End of AIDS?" was in a class by itself for the richness of its storytelling and the depth of its reporting. The documentary produced new and compelling insights about the global battle to conquer AIDS. The monumental effort launched by PBS on this project is especially impressive given the dwindling amount of resources in journalism-land.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Second Place: The Uncounted; Staff, Reuters

Insidious "superbugs," spawned by the very drugs meant to kill them and thriving in health care settings, wreak havoc on individual lives and the health care system. But 15 years after declaring antibiotic resistance a grave health threat, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has done little beyond urging vigilance and offering an estimate of annual deaths: 23,000.

In 2015, a team of journalists at Reuters set out to answer a simple question: Just how bad is the problem? The shocking truth: The CDC's estimate of 23,000 deaths a year was, at best, "an impressionist painting," as one official put it, of no use for effective surveillance and probably off by many thousands. It turns out that America's vast epidemiological infrastructure, starting at the hospital bedside and extending all the way to the CDC, isn't actually counting and tracking "superbug" deaths and illnesses, with dire consequences for the public health.

And it's happening, Reuters discovered, for disturbing reasons: State and federal public health bureaucracies are unwilling or unable to impose real-time surveillance on a health care industry reluctant to document a problem it helped to create.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Third Place: Shoot to Kill; Justin George, The Baltimore Sun

With no dependable, uniform data on gun violence, it’s impossible to get even a simple tally of the number of shootings in the United States. So Baltimore Sun reporter Justin George and Marquette University students, as part of the O’Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism, spent months trying to understand how many people are shot and how often they survive. What they found is that the odds of survival for gunshot victims were getting worse in at least 10 of the nation’s largest cities, including Baltimore, New York and Chicago. George also culled data from the Baltimore morgue and from hospitals nationwide and found that victims are so riddled with bullets, often to the head, that doctors and decades of trauma care advancements couldn’t save them. 

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Public Health (small)

First Place: Heroin: Killer of a generation; Staff, The Palm Beach Post

On Nov. 20, The Post gave over its front page to a single image: the photographs of 216 teenagers, men and women who had died of a heroin-related overdose in Palm Beach County in 2015. Online, The Post republished their photographs and wrote their 216 individual stories. In print, a 12-page special section explained why so many were dying, explored the science behind the disease of addiction and documented the government inaction that enabled the epidemic to continue unabated. On Dec. 18, The Post published an analysis of 58 million Florida hospital records, the first and only statewide hard-dollar cost of Florida’s heroin epidemic: $1.1 billion in heroin-related hospital charges in just nine months, more than $4 million a day. The story poked holes in the widespread belief among state lawmakers that overdoses were a South Florida problem, or a problem confined to large urban hospitals. And The Post found that taxpayer-funded insurers, including the state’s perennially cash-strapped Medicaid program, were being billed hundreds of millions of dollars.

Judges' comments: This story truly put faces on heroin addiction. Few realize how widespread the problem is. The package was a mixture of excellent reporting and human interest. It was compellingly presented, a tremendous public service, an attempt to explore the costs of this horrible epidemic and to explain the grip of addiction and the failure of government to respond. The story's results mirrored its ambition and show what great journalism can achieve.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Second Place: For All They Know; Steve Friess, Undark

Months after the spotlight of the national media had moved on from Flint, Mich., Undark writer Steve Friess moved in. Throughout the spring and early summer of 2016, Friess anchored his reporting in the comings and goings Gina Luster, a 42-year-old single mother, and her 8-year-old daughter, Kennedy. Both mother and daughter had been severely poisoned by lead following a switch in the municipal water supply and inadequate treatment of the new source: the polluted Flint River. The culmination of Friess’s reporting -- which included spending nearly a month, all told, living with the Lusters, attending community meetings, and interviewing recovery officials, doctors, plant managers, and local and state leaders -- was a portrait of a community failed by everyone but, perhaps most tellingly, by science. 

What makes this piece so important is that it sheds light on the shocking number of things health experts and scientists still do not fully understand -- even as most Americans assume they do.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.


First Place: Life and Death: The Cost of the EpiPen; Staff, NBC News

In August 2016, NBC News reporter Ben Popken was scouring the Internet for story ideas. He stumbled upon a Reddit thread about the rising cost of EpiPens. Popken knew this was a growing concern among the three million Americans suffering from severe allergy attacks who rely on the life-saving drug to keep them from going into anaphylactic shock. Popken got to thinking about all the kids who need EpiPens. He'd been given an assignment to find a back-to-school story that went beyond the typical run on big box stores for school supplies. He thought maybe he'd found it. Popken knew the EpiPen expired every year. Wouldn't this be an unexpected back-to-school cost for millions of parents?

Judges' comments: NBC broke this important watchdog story in August and its persistent follow-up reporting helped make the EpiPen controversy one of 2016's highest-impact consumer stories in both health care and business news. Kudos to reporter Ben Popken who showed that even prosaic assignments can yield scoops. Popken found his after some enterprising digging in social media (Reddit) in search of a fresh idea for back-to-school season.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Second Place: Drinks, dinners, junkets and jobs: How the insurance industry courts state commissioners; Michael J. Mishak and Ben Wieder, The Center for Public Integrity

This Center for Public Integrity investigation uncovered the close ties between the nation's insurance commissioners and the industry they regulate. The lead story illustrated their cozy relationships, revolving doors and shady financial connections around the nation. The follow-up piece highlighted the millions of dollars in political giving that insurers made to sway 2016 races that determine who regulates the nation's insurance companies. The project also included a digital library with the most recent financial disclosures for 41 insurance commissioners from around the country -- a first-of-its-kind public resource. The initial story also included metrics for each state on the staffing and funding of their insurance oversight departments.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.

Third Place: Illness Inflation; John Fauber, Kristina Fiore and Matt Wynn, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and MedPage Today

The series was about the process known as medicalization, or how conditions of everyday life are turned into formal medical or psychiatric disorders that can be treated with dangerous and often expensive drugs. The series focused on eight such conditions: adult ADHD, pre-diabetes, binge-eating disorder, intermittent explosive disorder, low testosterone, female sexual interest/arousal disorder, overactive bladder and pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder.

AHCJ members: Log in to see the archived story and the questionnaire about how the entry was reported.