Tag Archives: georgia

Elderly prison population booming

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

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.

Students look at rural health care in north Ga.

Students at the University of Georgia spent the past few months assembling a 19-story package on health in six rural counties near the school’s Athens, Ga., campus. The package, done by students from Pat Thomas’ health and medical reporting class and Mark E. Johnson’s documentary photography course, makes extensive use of video and multimedia slide shows.

The stories focus on particular areas of interest in each county and help tell stories ranging from the challenges of starting a family in economically disadvantaged rural areas to the influence of gangs on the lives of folks living in those areas. In other counties, the reporters covered the prison system, the struggles of aging residents and the senior centers that serve them, and emergency services and rural medicine.

The stories show the breadth of reporting possible within the health care beat and paint a picture of rural health using varied approaches to storytelling.