Dallas Morning News hospital investigation required extensive use of public records

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

To understand the scope of The Dallas Morning News‘ “First, Do No Harm” series of investigations into publicly funded hospitals, take a look at the landing page. Spend a few minutes reading headlines (“Parkland CEO: ‘I did 17 amputations’ before getting medical degree” is my personal favorite), checking dates and clicking through to stories and you start to see the bigger picture. On its own, that page tells the tale of how reporters grabbed hold of a story and just wouldn’t let go.

That page ties together no fewer than 25 stories, 16 blog posts, 15 separate primary documents and three videos with a simple introductory paragraph:

UT Southwestern Medical Center and Parkland Memorial Hospital are known for their contributions to medical research and public health. But those accomplishments have come at a price. The Dallas Morning News investigates allegations of billing fraud, lax resident supervision, preferential medical treatment and patient harm at the publicly funded institutions.

Some of the material dates back to the paper’s 2007 investigation of a hospital giving special treatment to VIPs, but the vast majority of the work was done in 2010.

Of special interest to journalists: Maud Beelman, the deputy managing editor at The Dallas Morning News who leads a team of investigative and special projects reporters, wrote about the project for Nieman Watchdog. She details some of the struggles they faced to do the project, including getting public records, efforts to derail the investigation and the backlash from the hospitals.

1 thought on “Dallas Morning News hospital investigation required extensive use of public records

  1. Parkland Stooges

    Thank you, AHCJ. This article was hard to find on the internet, but well worth the time to read. The Dallas Morning News (DMN) coverage and accuracy of reporting of this amazing healthcare journalistic series are among the best (if not the best) in the nation in any healthcare coverage, alongside great journalists who cover healthcare such as Charlie Ornstein of ProPublica.

    The secret to their investigative reporting has to do with the their ability to acquire key documents through the Texas Public Information Act and understanding the background story from many key inside informants from within Parkland and UT Southwestern from day one, many of whom are doctors within both institutions. The DMN had the complete background story from inside informants for at least a year ahead of the investigative series being officially christening around March/April 2010.

    After the series was well under way, the victims of Parkland and UTSW and even more informants heard about the same stories they experienced firsthand, put the pieces of the puzzle together, and came forward to the DMN to tell their own stories, in droves. At this point, the cat is out of the bag about all the improprieties at Parkland and UTSW, and both institutions are now starting to cave in about all the years of corruption that have gone on at both institutions for could have been decades. At this point, there is no doubt about the accuracy and completeness about the stories about Parkland and UTSW. The truth has been told.

    What should be surprising, however, to even the most avid readers and followers of this investigative series is that what has been revealed so far is still only the tip of the iceberg. Those key original informants have said much more about the improprieties about Parkland and UTSW to the DMN, and they are holding back their complete stories until the time is right.

    This investigative series indeed is far from over. Parkland has a $1.27 billion luxury hospital in the works to build, and UTSW has a similar $800 million luxury hospital in the works. Both of the future hospitals’ financial successes were predicated on the old business model of exploiting unlicensed, uncredentialed, and unsupervised resident trainees to carry the vast majority of patient load on their own without any licensed and credentialed physicians seeing patients.

    Likely, due to the constraints of this questionable and immoral business model, business will be “as usual” with both hospitals regarding the same issues brought up by the DMN today. It will be up to the DMN to see how much of the iceberg is under the water in future articles to ensure that these two “trusted” public institutions are kept on the straight and narrow. The only way to keep them honest would be to oust the current leaderships at both institutions, force Parkland and UTSW to part ways as “partners-in-crime”, cut loose UTSW from Parkland in providing their Medical Staff, find new professional and more responsible alliances for Parkland, and scrap the plans for building behemoth new hospitals in favor of several smaller hospitals throughout the city that is more in touch with the community. In other word, it’s best for Parkland to start over from scratch.

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