Hospital association official confuses news reporting with lobbying

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Blythe Bernhard and Jeremy Kohler have been writing in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about Missouri hospitals’ unwillingness to publicly disclose medical errors.

So, when the St. Louis Metropolitan Hospital Council released a statement opposing public reporting of medical errors at hospitals, the reporters sent the statement to Missouri legislators and asked them for their comments.

I can only imagine the surprise Bernhard and Kohler felt when Daniel Landon, senior vice president of governmental relations for the Missouri Hospital Association, sent an e-mail to health professionals that characterized the reporters’ actions as coming “close to the definition of what constitutes lobbying, which is defined by the Missouri Ethics Commission and requires lobbyist registration.”

Landon said hospital association staff members planned to raise these concerns with legislators and had considered a complaint with the ethics commission.

“We think it is useful to put the Post-Dispatch on notice that someone is watching their actions in this regard,” Landon’s e-mail said. “Otherwise, the reporters will continue to push the envelope between reporting and promoting public policy changes to support their editorial positions.”

Another representative of the association later said the message was “regrettable.”

A Post-Dispatch editorial about the incident made clear to readers the difference between the editorial page and the news department, explaining that it “maintains strict church-state separation between the editorial page and the news department.”

When newspaper reporters or editorial writers communicate with legislators, we do so as journalists, acting in what we believe is the public interest. And regardless of whether public reporting of medical errors would serve hospitals’ interests, it clearly would serve the public interest.

Related

Kohler wrote an article for AHCJ about how he and Bernhard investigated medical errors and the lack of public information available to help consumers choose their health care providers: Public handicapped by lack of information on medical errors.

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