Investigative series on troubling death casts a wider net over hospice care

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in, Journal of Active Aging, Cancer Today, Kaiser Health News, the Connecticut Health I-Team and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at George Washington University and co-produces the HealthCetera podcast.

A well-known, prominent California physician. Allegations of a suspicious death. Family feuds. A recovering addict and possible affair. Elder abuse. A controversial investigation by the coroner.

Charles Piller

While it may sound like a made-for-TV movie or the latest John Grisham novel, this life-and-death true story took journalist Charles Piller more than 10 months to investigate. Not only did Piller track and verify conflicting accounts of Jerome Lackner’s final months, but he also had to somehow navigate privacy roadblocks thrown up by hospitals, providers, the hospice facility and lawyers.

In this fascinating “How I did it,” Piller describes his five-part Sacramento Bee investigative series that may raise as many questions as it answers. He explains his efforts to answer basic questions about the roles and responsibilities of caregivers, hospitals, and hospices, and how he had to unravel a web of finger pointing by family, ex-spouses, friends and health professionals.

Without seeming to take sides, how does a reporter sift through mounds of conflicting evidence to create an engaging and coherent narrative? How can you track down reluctant key players in such a saga? How do you separate fact from fiction when family members accuse caregivers of indifference, neglect – or worse? Read about how Piller did it when investigating the death of Dr. Jerome Lackner.

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