Tag Archives: #ahcj22

Gaps in medical, legal systems may allow other ‘Dr. Deaths’ to practice, panelists say

Panelists of “Dr. Death” session (from left to right): Matt Grant of KXAN, Kay Van Wey, an attorney of medical malpractice at Van Wey Law PLLC; Laura Beil, an independent journalist and award-winning host and reporter of “Dr. Death” podcast; Lisa B. Robin of the Federation of State Medical Boards and Ware Wendell of Texas Watch (Photo courtesy of KXAN and Chris Nelson.)

Journalists must draw attention to the failures in the U.S. medical and legal systems that allowed Christopher Duntsch, the subject of journalist Laura Beil’s well-regarded “Dr. Death” podcast series, to injure dozens of patients, members of an expert panel said at the “10 years after ‘Dr. Death’: Are patients any safer from bad doctors?” panel at Health Journalism 2022 in Austin.

Despite the publicity generated by Beil’s work and that of other journalists about this case, there’s still too little protection for patients against doctors who already have been proven incompetent, said speakers at the April 30 session. Doctors may change hospitals or even states and continue to practice after harming patients, due in large part to a reluctance among physicians and hospital administrators to report harms, they said.

Matt Grant of KXAN Austin presented highlights from his “Still Practicing” series, which looked at how doctors with problematic histories have been able to transfer to new hospitals.

In the website that houses the videos from the series, Grant and colleagues note that February 2022 marked the fifth anniversary of the conviction of Duntsch for injury to an elderly person, which resulted in a life sentence.

Grant and KXAN colleagues pulled thousands of physician disciplinary records from medical boards across the United States. The records were then checked against the Texas Medical Board’s physician portal one name at a time. The KXAN team said they found at least 49 doctors who had disciplinary actions in other states — including having their medical licenses suspended, revoked or surrendered — who were still practicing or able to in Texas. Some of the physicians were repeat offenders with actions in multiple states. Criminal charges previously filed against doctors included ones for driving drunk, domestic violence, possession of a controlled substance and operating a firearm while intoxicated.

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Fungal infections are next chapter in reporting on superbugs

A medical illustration of Candida sp. fungal organisms. (Photo courtesy of the CDC Public Health Image Library)

Reporters looking to write about the next chapter in antimicrobial resistance should get up to speed on fungal infections.

“The future is going to be a fungal problem,” said Tom Chiller, M.D., M.P.H.T.M., chief of CDC’s mycotic diseases branch, during the “Antimicrobial resistance during and after COVID-19” panel at Health Journalism 2022 in Austin.

Fungi are spore-producing organisms like yeast, molds and mushrooms. About 100 of them are known to cause disease in humans. Deadly antimicrobial resistant fungal infection cases,  already rising in nursing homes and hospitals before the pandemic,  accelerated during the past two years, according to the CDC.

Hospital overuse of antibiotics, especially during the first year of the pandemic when there were few options for treating patients, plus the use of steroids to treat lung inflammation caused by COVID-19, both contributed to increases in resistant fungal infections with high mortality rates.

“COVID … introduced a bit of an unfortunate perfect storm” that enabled more and broader transmission of fungal infections in hospitals, Chiller said.

In 2017, according to the most recent CDC data, 75,000 people were hospitalized in the U.S. for fungal infections, but that’s likely an underestimate. These infections often go undiagnosed and there is no national public health surveillance of common fungal infections, according to the CDC. Globally, about 13.5 million severe fungal infections — and 1.6 million deaths — are reported annually to public health officials, according to the non-profit Global Action for Fungal Infections.

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How to cover opioid lawsuits and settlement money

Taylor Knopf, a North Carolina health news reporter and moderator of the “Following the opioid settle money” panel session at Health Journalism 2022 in Austin.

Billions of dollars are soon to be rolling out in the states to settle thousands of lawsuits filed against opioid manufacturers, distributors and retailers.

Journalists will play an essential role in shedding light on whether the dollars will actually go towards addressing the opioid crisis, which killed an estimated 80,816 Americans in 2021, and more than 500,000 since 1999, according to CDC data. Overall drug overdose deaths were 107,622 in 2021, up 15% from 2020.

To help reporters cover this topic, Taylor Knopf, a North Carolina health news reporter, Shelly Weizman, a lawyer at the Georgetown University O’Neill Institute for National and Global Law center and Albie Park, an addiction counselor, offered resources and tips during a May 1 session at Health Journalism 2022 in Austin.

“If we are going to get this right with these opioid settlements, it’s going to take a great deal of accountability and transparency and staying on top of this,” said Weizman, who is also associate director of addiction and public policy initiative at the O’Neill Institute.

Earlier this year, the nation’s three largest drug distributors and a drug manufacturer agreed to pay $26 billion to settle thousands of state and local lawsuits, while Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, agreed to pay as much as $6 billion to settle lawsuits and emerge from bankruptcy protection. Other lawsuits are still pending, but money from the cases settled are expected to begin flowing in 2022.

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Spotlight Q&A with Marlene Harris-Taylor of Ideastream Public Media, Cleveland

Marlen Harris-Taylor, AHCJ Board Member

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

How long have you been an AHCJ member, and who or what inspired you to join? 

I started as a health journalist in 2013 and joined AHCJ about a year after that, when I attended a fellowship at the National Institutes of Health. I wanted to increase my knowledge and I heard about AHCJ through an advertisement. 

Where are you from and how far did you travel to this year’s  conference?

I am originally from Toledo, Ohio. I now live and work in Cleveland.

What do you think is the biggest asset of AHCJ and why?

I appreciate the AHCJ conferences because the panels have a mixture of journalists and professionals sharing their expertise. This national meeting brings journalists to a wonderful space to learn.

How have the resources AHCJ provides impacted your career?

One of the wonderful things that AHCJ does year-round is host training sessions. They also provide financial assistance for journalists to attend the sessions which is appreciated. I remember the first training that I attended. It included not only learning, but networking with journalists from across the country.

What keeps you coming back to these conferences? 

One of my favorite parts of the conference is that you always come away with ideas for a new story. At the AHCJ 2022 conference this weekend, I met an African American panelist from Chicago who started a company that assists Black and brown people in health care. Coincidentally, he is looking to expand to Cleveland. You’re learning and getting deeper knowledge, but you’re also getting the immediate benefit of stories that you can write.

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Health Journalism 2022 — a safe, informative (and fun) gathering

Photo by Paola RodriguezAttendees listening to CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure’s keynote address at Health Journalism 2022.

Board President of AHCJ

Some 500 people gathered in Austin, Texas, two weeks ago for AHCJ’s first in-person conference in three years. Based on my observations and every comment I received, it was a great success.

Trepidation about socializing after pandemic isolation? It evaporated. The usual high-energy collegiality pervaded the four-day conference, which featured two field trips, 47 panel discussions and workshops, two dinner receptions, and the annual awards luncheon.

While attendance was lower than our last conference in Baltimore, which attracted 800 people, it was greater than expected considering high airfares and virus uncertainties. Although the precise number isn’t yet available, the conference seemed to have more first-time attendees than ever. They packed the room at the first-timers session on Thursday.

AHCJ’s signature event for freelancers, PitchFest, was fully subscribed, with 47 writers pitching their story ideas to 21 editors from 16 publications, including AARP, MindSite News, WebMD, and Kaiser Health News. “Writers and editors were enthusiastic, and we were all so happy to meet in person again,” Jeanne Erdmann, chair of the Freelance Committee, said

AHCJ took steps to prevent COVID-19 transmission, requiring proof of vaccination and booster shots to enter the event. Masks were also required, and as far as I could tell, everyone complied.

It paid off. Only four people who attended the conference reported testing positive afterward – three attendees and the spouse of one of those attendees. That strongly suggests that there was little or no spread of the virus at this conference. Thanks to all!

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