Tag Archives: detroit

Member close-up: Patricia Anstett

Pat Anstett began her journalism career when she took a job in the women’s department of Chicago Today, a daily tabloid.

That was 43 years ago.

The last half of her career has been spent as a health and medical journalist at the Detroit Free Press.

She’s retiring at age 65.

Anstett talks of her most memorable story, what she enjoyed about her job, and gives advice to health journalists in this Q&A.



Patricia Anstett

Patricia Anstett



Medical writing was a turn I took at age 42, after I had the first two of my three children. I found that indeed I was capable of learning new, even complicated things. I loved medicine, everything about it.


  • Pediatric sedation controversies
  • Health exchange developments in Michigan
  • An ADHD day camp for boys, story and web chat


My beat taught me so much about our nation’s health, as well as my health and the health insurance industry, which gave me an eye to one of the most powerful stories in America at a critical time.


The blurring of lines between editorial and advertising, as newspapers get desperate for every print ad and Web dollar. We need to be honest as an industry to point out this problem and help provide guidance on how some members handle these issues.


In the early 1990s, I got a tip from an insider at the University of Michigan that Dr. Joseph Oesterling, chief urologist, had scammed the university on expenses and pocketed money from prostate cancer foundations he created. He used the money to build himself a mighty fine mansion. Through FOIA, I and reporter Maryanne George, who was a cub reporter I edited while we both were at the Michigan State News, got reams of information about his expense records showing he double- and triple-billed the university for expenses drug and medical device companies gave him. He resigned in disgrace but only served a brief stint of community service.

We ran a big story including a photo of the house that my newspaper got by hiring a helicopter (with our lawyer’s OK) and shooting it from above. (The house was on a private road with a chain fence that said no trespassing). Turns out the picture we ran was of the back of the house, but that entrance looked so posh it was taken as the front entrance. I used the photo in speeches and the back entrance comment always got good laughs.

The story opened my eyes to the poor oversight of medical professionals by most states. For the rest of my career, I wrote about disciplinary issues and lack of oversight of the professions. Oversight of medical professionals is cursory at best today and remains an important story for journalists to cover.


Chicago Today, reporter; Chicago Sun-Times, reporter; Congressional Quarterly, reporter; National Observer, summer copy editor and freelance writer; Features & News Inc., a Chicago-based news service run by Colleen and Bob Dishon; Detroit News, rewrite, night city editor, day slot, projects team editor. Detroit Free Press: 30 years of employment, the first 8 spent as an editor in features and metro.


I always told myself to spend each year with a couple new mini-beats. Then learn it from the ground up. Go after all the stories and build your base of expertise. I picked a wide range of new beats to learn within my beat. One year it was health insurance; another, the brain/neurology. Others included spinal cord injury; HIV/AIDS; community health; menopause; genetics.


I got my passport this week, which is the official document for my new Entirely Enjoying It Too Much retirement club.

I have worked 50 years except for three maternity leaves. I am going to Costa Rica with my daughters in late November; plan to take a master gardening class; and play more tennis.

My general plan is to be healthier and happier.


I have always wanted to be a journalist so now I will find out whatever other skills and interests I have.

I promise you won’t see me on “Dancing with the Stars.”


“Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House.” This is an encyclopedic but fascinating account of housekeeping that my husband purchased for himself (I won’t go there…) about everything about the home and everything I haven’t done. I hope it has a chapter on cobwebs.


Beyond that I have cobwebs in my house?


I love the list-serve discussions. We have some great people in the organization.


10 Health Journalism Tips from Veteran Health Writer Pat Anstett

Why Detroit’s emergency services are lagging

The Detroit News‘ Charlie LeDuff tried to figure out his city’s abysmal ambulance response times, and had a tough time finding excuses for why they are so far behind the national average, though staffing cuts and budget shortages certainly played a role. He wears his frustration on his sleeve and the article’s brutally incisive as a result. I’ll do my best to summarize, but it’s certainly worth a read.

One problem, according to a 2004 city audit of the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) system, is that Detroit is the only major American city that does not allow a firefighter or a police officer to aid a victim before the ambulance arrives. Another problem is substandard communication equipment. Since that report was issued, at least two hospitals have closed and the EMS system has been decimated by staffing cuts causing ambulances to drive farther.

The national standard for ambulance response is eight minutes, and some Detroit suburbs have it down around five. Nobody’s sure how long Detroit ambulances take, but it’s clear that it’s well beyond the acceptable threshold. Fire Commissioner James Mack Jr. said the departments doing the best it can to maximize resources amid budget constraints, LeDuff reports.

Mack made a claim to Fox 2 News a few weeks ago that the average response time in Detroit for an ambulance to arrive on a 911 call is 12 minutes — even while admitting that often there are no units available to get to calls.

According to that 2004 audit, the two-year average at that time was about 12 minutes. And that was before the city cut its paramedics and emergency medical technicians by nearly 40 percent.

Lead poisoning hurts Detroit kids’ academics

Detroit Free Press reporters Tina Lam and Kristi Tanner-White report that data compiled by the city shows that “More than half of the students tested in Detroit Public Schools have a history of lead poisoning, which affects brain function for life.” Lead poisoning is bad news, but it gets much worse:detroit

Now, a landmark study by the city health department and Detroit Public Schools of lead data and test scores shows that the higher the lead level, the worse a student’s scores on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program exam, or MEAP.

Overall, 58% of roughly 39,000 DPS students tested – 22,755 children – had a history of lead poisoning, according to the study.

Perhaps more startling: Of the 39,199 students tested as young children, only 23 had no lead in their bodies.

There are confounding factors, of course, but this chart shows the correlation between lead exposure and weaker academic skills. It’s yet another blow for a school district whose students were already some of the worst performing in the nation.

The story ran with an excellent graphic on lead poisoning levels throughout the city over time, as well as a school-by-school database of lead poisoning statistics.

Feds want to fight food deserts

The Detroit News‘ Nathan Hurst reports from D.C. on the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, proposed legislation that would commit between $400 million and $1 billion dollars to “building and improving stores where access to fresh food is limited.”

It’s modeled on a Pennsylvania program which provided start-up costs to grocery stores that promised to offer fresh food in low-to-moderate-income areas which didn’t yet have adequate access to such things. Detroit is the sort of city that would benefit most from a boost in urban groceries, Hurst writes.

vegetablesPhoto by paige_eliz via Flickr

Carr said the prospect of federal subsidies to increase the number of grocery stores could be a boon to a city where large areas for years have had limited access to fresh produce and meats. In 2003, a University of Michigan study showed Detroit could easily support 41 large supermarkets — which measure more than 40,000 square feet — but at the time had only five with more than 20,000 square feet, and at least two of those have closed since the study was done.

How do these food deserts emerge in the first place? The Cincinnati Enquirer‘s Laura Baverman explains by looking into that city’s shrinking grocery selection. Baverman explores several contributing factors, including a lack of the huge lots preferred by big box stores, booming suburbs and struggling independent stores, but in the end she comes back to brutal economic reality:

“You don’t get the sales levels in the inner city that you do out in the suburbs,” said Matt Casey, president of Matthew P. Casey & Associates, a New Jersey-based grocery industry consultant. “You tend to have a lower-income customer base, so they’re not spending as much. They don’t make the impulse buy.”