AHCJ announces winners of 2021 health journalism contest 

The winners of the 2021 Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism were announced Friday by AHCJ.

Now in its 18th year, the contest recognizes the best of print, broadcast and online health care journalism. The 2021 contest drew 439 entries in 14 categories; there were 14 first-place winners.

“We were thrilled to see so many journalists continuing to produce sterling work in 2021, which was the grueling second year of the pandemic,” said Tony Leys, a Des Moines Register reporter and AHCJ board member.

“Many pieces focused on COVID-19 concerns, but reporters also kept digging into the countless other vital areas of health care coverage.”

A new audio category this year highlighted great health care reporting for radio and podcasts. Dan Gorenstein, founder and executive editor of Tradeoffs, and Blake Farmer, a health care reporter for WPLN News and Nashville Public Radio, received top honors for their radio pieces.

Gorenstein’s project, which won the large-division award, shed light on how America’s largest health insurance companies moonlight “as obscure middlemen, managing billions of dollars in health care spending for many of the country’s biggest employers.” His radio story includes anecdotes that illustrate what can go wrong when employers outsource important spending to third-party administrators.

Farmer’s radio piece, which won the small-division award, spotlighted three stories about nurse burnout and the “upheaval created by the travel nursing bonanza.”

ProPublica won awards in multiple categories including consumer/feature, investigative and public health.

ProPublica reporters Bernice Yeung, Michael Grabell, Irena Hwang, Mollie Simon, Andrea Suozzo, and Ash Ngu, won first place in the consumer/feature reporting category (large division). The team not only reported on food-safety system’s past problems with salmonella but also provided consumers with a tool to help them become more informed.

The large-outlet section of the investigative category was won by a partnership including ProPublica, The Texas Tribune and NBC News. The staff produced a series covering the devastating toll carbon monoxide poisoning is having on vulnerable families in Texas and other states.

The winning student entry was produced by Eli Cahan, a medical student at New York University’s Medical School. His investigation highlighted the story of a then 35-year-old patient whose leg had to be amputated because of diabetes complications. The story drew attention to how the pandemic affected patients with severe chronic conditions.

ProPublica, in partnership with The Texas Tribune and Mountain State Spotlight, won the large-outlet section of the public health category for coverage of cancer-causing industrial air pollution.

STAT Reporter Usha Lee McFarling won first place in the beat category for her reporting on health disparities and structural racism. In her reporting, she showed how systematic racism exists at every level, from medical school admissions to faculty hiring in orthopedics.

Entries were judged by 75 volunteers who are current or retired journalists or journalism professors.

All prizes will be presented during the Health Journalism 2022 awards luncheon on April 30 in Austin. First-place winners will receive $500 and complimentary lodging for two nights and registration for one person at the annual conference.

Check out the complete list of winners and read questionnaires to learn more about how the journalists produced their work.

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