Tag Archives: georgia

Innovative project enables Georgia journalism students to shine a light on rural health issues

Susan Heavey

About Susan Heavey

Susan Heavey, (@susanheavey) a Washington, D.C.-based journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on social determinants of health and curates related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on resources and tip sheets at determinants@healthjournalism.org.

Photo: Patricia Thomas, University of GeorgiaJournalism students from the University of Georgia share highlights of their days reporting on rural health issues.

If you think reporting in remote areas of the country is hard – think access, time and travel – try doing it with nearly a dozen people, half a dozen cars and a tight deadline.

That’s what Patricia Thomas did earlier this year, leading nine students and one editor into southwestern Georgia, a rural and remote part of the state where geography can significantly affect residents’ health and challenge providers and local officials. Continue reading

Coverage of legislative fight over hygienists spotlights work of regional health news service

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health and the author of "Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America." She can be reached at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Image by Official U.S. Navy Page via flickr.

Photo: Official U.S. Navy Page via Flickr.

Through public fights, complicated amendments and rumors of passage, Andy Miller of Georgia Health News followed the drama of House Bill 684.

And when the bill recently died a sudden death in the Georgia statehouse, Miller was there to let readers know.

“A bill to allow Georgia dental hygienists to work in safety-net settings without a dentist present appeared to get a strong push forward when it was approved by a House health committee,” he wrote. “But the chamber’s rules committee then blocked House Bill 684 from a vote on the floor, effectively killing it for the year.” Continue reading

Reporter digs into nonprofit hospital CEO pay

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

At The Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s M.B. Pell has assembled a look at CEO pay at local nonprofit hospitals. Pell hits hard at the top of the story, pointing out that top executives are pulling in ever-growing six- and seven-digit salaries in a time of cutbacks and job losses, and demonstrating that the state loses millions in tax revenue thanks to the hospitals’ exempt status.

It’s the sort of meaty accountability work that we expect to see on a tax filing-based story. Slightly more surprising? Pell endeavored to complete the picture with a healthy dose of perspective, reminding readers that in urban areas like Atlanta, even nonprofit hospitals are often complicated billion-dollar conglomerates. In Georgia, Pell writes, “hospitals report to 27 state and federal agencies and engage in multimillion-dollar building projects. The larger hospital systems have billions in revenue and are among the largest employers in their communities. Many also operate for-profit subsidiaries.” Those “billions” provide valuable context when discussing a $600,000 pay package.

Hospital executives and industry experts consider the examination of salaries a titillating issue for the public, but a subject lacking in substance.

Even if salaries were cut dramatically, the savings would not add significantly to hospitals’ charitable missions, Parker said.

Tax exempt hospitals in the metro area provided $932 million in charitable care in 2009, according to an analysis of financial survey data reported to the state by hospitals. The hospitals spent $61 million to pay officers, directors, trustees and key employees, tax forms show.

Of the uncompensated care, nearly a third, or $287.5 million, was provided by one hospital, Grady Memorial. Grady CEO Michael Young, who left the hospital in June, made $833,646 in 2009.

But for-profit hospitals in the Atlanta area pay taxes and they provided uncompensated care totaling $87 million in 2009, according to financial survey data.

For a counterpoint, Pell turned to a few outspoken patient advocates and a 2009 study conducted by University of Connecticut researchers. It’s another data point that demonstrates the depth of Pell’s research.

CEOs of nonprofit hospitals in Connecticut who increased the number of beds at their facilities by 10 percent typically got pay increases of just under 8 percent, shows a study of nonprofit hospitals by two professors at the University of Connecticut.

A 10 percent increase in the amount of charity care provided, however, typically resulted in a 1.5 percent decrease in the CEO’s pay, the study shows.

Pell’s story takes the national picture into account, but if you’re just looking to get up to speed on the national debate over nonprofit hospitals, charity care and tax exemption as it relates to executive pay, I recommend you scroll down to the final subhead: “Eyeing tax exemption.”

Corporate clinics scored scarce H1N1 shots

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

USA Today‘s Alison Young reviewed state H1N1 vaccine distribution information from Florida, Texas and Georgia, finding that “When the swine flu vaccine was most scarce, health officials gave thousands of doses to corporate clinics at Walt Disney World, Toyota, defense contractors, oil companies and cruise lines.”

Young is working on getting the same data for New York and California. The officials Young talked to stressed that they were doing their best to distribute vaccines fairly, but Young quoted legislators and activists who questioned state health department’s ability to ensure that, once vaccines were given to corporations, they were delivered to the folks who needed them most.

Elderly prison population booming

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

CNN’s Stephanie Chen considers the issues that surround elderly prisoners, a fast-growing group that has generally flown under the radar. According to Chen, “An analysis of Bureau of Justice Statistics data found that the male prison population over age 55 ballooned by 82 percent in eight years, from 48,800 inmates in 1999 to 89,900 in 2007.”

These older inmates are typically more expensive and in poorer health than their younger peers. In Georgia, Chen reports, “the state spends about $8,500 on medical costs for inmates over 65, compared with about an average of $950 for those who are younger.”

Every inmate here has a medical condition; dementia, hypertension and diabetes are the most common, the warden says. “With the elderly population, we’re beginning to run something comparable to nursing homes,” says Sharon Lewis, medical director for the Georgia Department of Corrections. “This is one of the unhealthiest populations found anywhere. They really lived life hard.”

The boom in geriatric prisoners has stressed state budgets, especially in states where money was already tight. In response, Chen writes, some states are considering softening their stance on older prisoners.

To ease budget woes in California, one bill up for debate would allow nonviolent elderly prisoners to be released into hospice care or monitored with ankle bracelets. In the past few years, Georgia officials say, the state has released more frail and dying inmates on medical reprieve than ever before. Other states, including New York and Virginia, have also allowed early release of ailing elderly inmates.

For tips about reporting on jails and prisons, be sure to read Naseem Sowti Miller’s tip sheet, Covering health care in jails, and her presentation on the topic from the 2008 Urban Health Journalism Workshop. For tips and tools on reporting on America’s graying population, check out reports from last month’s Aging in the 21st Century workshop.

Documentary exposes hospital billing practices

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Do No Harm, a documentary that focuses on questionable billing practices at a nonprofit hospital in Georgia, premiered last month and will soon be screened in several more cities around the country. Its subjects aim to bring national attention to what they see as “corrupt” hospital billing strategies.phoebe-sign

The film, directed by Rebecca Schanberg and supported by Chicago nonprofit the Kindling Group, follows two whistleblowers who uncovered a tax-exempt hospital’s aggressive billing practices toward the uninsured. Their actions prompted dozens of class action lawsuits filed on behalf of uninsured patients across the country. AHCJ member Andy Miller makes a cameo appearance in the documentary and was spotted in the audience at the Chicago premier.

There, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan called the documentary “stranger than fiction,” Alex Parker reported in the Chi Town Daily News. Madigan was quick to draw parallels to her own state.

“In the absence of laws to protect health care consumers from overly aggressive billing and collection practices, many Illinois hospitals employed strategies similar to those at Phoebe Putney,” said Madigan, a leader in the state’s efforts to curb expensive billing practices.