David Wolman, writing in Wired, chronicles the efforts of an Illinois physics professor, George Gollin (bio), to topple a $7 million fake-degree empire. It’s a fun story, and well worth a read, but the part that will most interest health journalists pops up at the very end: The professor who took down the operation that granted about 9,600 fake degrees used by everyone from schoolteachers to Bush White House staffers is now looking into what he thinks is a phony online medical school.
Wolman ends with this sketch of the professor at work:
He erases equations from a blackboard and scribbles a spider’s web of names, notes, and online sites all relating to an outfit called St. Luke School of Medicine, which he believes sells bogus medical degrees. “You get a real rise out of people when you talk about fake MDs,” he says.
The outfit in question, St. Luke School of Medicine, has now posted a message announcing it’s no longer accepting new students. However, if Gollin’s previous work (in his own words) is any indication, St. Luke is probably just one entry point into a universe of dubious medical degrees.
NOTE: As the Wired story makes clear, media outlets played a major role in the effort to expose the first diploma mill, especially by shaming public institutions into investigating and prosecuting the offenders. Reporters like The Spokesman-Review‘s Bill Morlin and Jim Camden helped connect the dots and expose the full reach of the story.
In the latest installment of the Chicago Tribune‘s investigation into Illinois nursing homes, Sam Roe and ProPublica’s Christina Jewett investigate Dr. Michael Reinstein, an impressively prolific prescriber who, in 2007, wrote more prescriptions for clozapine (“a potent psychotropic medication that carries five ‘black box’ warnings”) than all physicians in Texas put together.
In that same year, he prescribed medications to 4,141 Medicaid patients. Furthermore, while the average American doctor sees about 35 patients each with, Reinstein sees an incredible 60 patients each day. Reinstein’s workload may have something to do with the fact that he’s the psychiatric director at 13 different nursing homes, but Roe and Jewett write that the ultimate blame lies on systemic problems in Illinois.
Check out AHCJ’s latest volume in its ongoing Slim Guide series. This reporting guide gives a head start to journalists who want to pursue stories about one of the most vulnerable populations – nursing home residents. It offers advice about Web sites, datasets, research and other resources. After reading this book, journalists can have more confidence in deciphering nursing home inspection reports, interviewing advocacy groups on all sides of an issue, locating key data, and more. The book includes story examples and ideas.
AHCJ publishes these reporting guides, with the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, to help journalists understand and accurately report on specific subjects.
AHCJ’s Aging in the 21st Century workshop, held Oct. 16 and 17 in Miami, addressed many topics raised by the Tribune’s reports, as well as the changing picture of aging Americans and key research and issues related to this growing population. Tip sheets and presentations from that workshop are available to AHCJ members, as are these related tip sheets:
America’s 400-plus designated Community Research Sites receive much less attention than the massive academic research hospitals, but conduct the bulk of the nation’s cancer research.
The New York Times’ Duff Wilson turns the spotlight on these sites, considering problems an HHS investigation uncovered at an institution in Urbana, Ill., that may show that oversight is lacking and “the community centers may not always be adhering to the rigorous protocols of research medicine that the National Cancer Institute expects them to follow.”
If that’s true, Wilson writes, it will draw the very validity of many research conclusions into question. If you’re curious about the specific nature of the research site’s violations rather than the larger systemic implications, check out the second page of Wilson’s story.
The Chicago Tribune‘s Gary Marx and David Jackson examined the effectiveness of Illinois regulations implemented in 2006 to protect nursing home residents from potentially dangerous peers. They’ve pulled together some alarming anecdotes and data that show the law is not as effective as hoped.
For example, the reporters focus on the man with a criminal record who attacked by another resident with an ice pick. Just a year after the attack, he ended up in the same facility as his victim again. This time, he slashed him with a box cutter. Obviously, there was a hole somewhere in the new system. Marx and Jackson lay out the facts:
With growing numbers of mentally ill felons entering Illinois nursing homes, the state in 2006 became the first to require criminal background checks as part of an overall risk assessment of new residents. The screenings by state contractors are used to identify high-risk individuals who should live in private rooms and be closely monitored.
But a review of confidential reports in 45 recent cases shows that in many instances the assessments were incomplete, leaving out some criminal convictions and other crucial details.
The project includes a searchable database of safety reports on nursing homes in Illinois, including information not searchable on government sites. Readers can use the database to find out the number of residents at a facility who are convicted felons and sex offenders, crimes reported at Chicago nursing homes and fines levied because of deficiencies in care. Head over to the investigation’s homepage to follow the story and its results.
A study from the the Citizen Advocacy Center finds that open government laws in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota have systemic barriers that chill public participation and access to government.
The Center analyzed each state’s Freedom of Information and Open Meetings Acts and found striking similarities between all states, including:
- Open government laws are sporadically enforced, which means public bodies are more likely to be unresponsive to records requests and employ exemptions to keep meetings closed.
- No state surveyed has a government office with statutory authority specifically created to oversee and enforce sunshine laws.
- State employees are not adequately trained to carry out open government policies and may be unintentionally violating the laws.
- Citizens may be able to attend meetings, but there are very few opportunities to participate.
The Midwest Open Goverment Project is a comprehensive study of the Freedom of Information and Open Meetings Acts in those five states, under the auspices of the Citizen Advocacy Center.