It is a scenario that regularly plays out in statehouses during times of fiscal austerity: funding for Medicaid dental services goes on the chopping block. A shortage of Medicaid dental providers already is a major problem in many communities and dentists often blame low reimbursement rates and budget cuts for making the problem worse.
John Jernigan, M.D., M.S., the CDC’s clinical team lead on the multistate meningitis outbreak and director of the CDC’s Office of Health Associated Infections Prevention Research and Evaluation, briefed AHCJ members, including the 2012-13 Regional Health Journalism Fellows, in Atlanta about the agency’s response to the multistate fungal meningitis outbreak.
Thanks to AHCJ board member Maryn McKenna, who used Storify to share information from the briefing as well as a blog post. UPDATE: Tom Wilemon of The Tennessean and Tom Corwin of The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle, both Regional Health Journalism fellows, also wrote about the briefing. Click through to see McKenna’s Storify about the event. Continue reading
The Atlanta chapter of AHCJ met on Sept. 25 to hear Otis Brawley, M.D., speak on various health care topics.
WebMD’s Dan DeNoon introduced Brawley, an American Cancer Society executive and physician who earlier in the year addressed AHCJ’s annual conference in Atlanta.
Brawley spoke about cancer treatment, waste in medical spending – including in prescription drugs – and the health reform law in an hourlong talk to 15 to 20 chapter members.
He then fielded several questions from attendees, and stuck around for an informal chat with members afterward.
As always, Brawley was a dynamic speaker, stirring chapter members with compelling facts and insights about the health care system.
AHCJ’s Atlanta chapter will next meet on Dec. 3, when journalists will hear from the CDC’s John Jernigan, M.D., M.S. As the clinical team leader on the Multistate Meningitis Outbreak and director of the CDC’s Office of Health Associated Infections Prevention Research and Evaluation, he will talk about the agency’s response to the recent fungal meningitis outbreak.
The Redding (Calif.) Record Searchlight‘s Ryan Sabalow put together a local take on ongoing inconsistencies in how local health departments release outbreak-related information to the public.
Sabalow brings the story home with examples from local health departments and the story of a child who died from bacterial meningitis in an area where a previous case had gone unannounced. In the first story, Sabalow explains the nuances of when and how certain health departments choose to disclose infections, and in the second he shows just how messy and inconsistent those standards can be in practice.
At issue is the struggle to find a balance between transparency and panic-causing cries of “wolf.” It’s an issue AHCJ has tackled before, most notably during the 2009 H1N1 outbreak when disclosure varied wildly from department to department.
Felice J. Freyer, a health reporter at the Providence Journal in Rhode Island who heads the Association of Health Care Journalists’ Right to Know Committee, said a perception of secrecy is the last thing health officials need when they’re urging people to take steps to protect themselves from a disease.
“You can’t sustain the public’s trust if you run and hide,” Freyer said. “That’s what it looks like, whether that’s what’s happening or not.”
Freyer said AHCJ members have been in talks with the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. The nonprofit health organization has agreed to meet with the AHCJ to determine whether a nonbinding set of national guidelines can be developed.
Somewhere at the other end of the spectrum is Dr. Rob Hamilton, head of a Redding hospital’s emergency department.
Hamilton said he empathizes with public health officials in holding back until a case is confirmed.
One false alarm about a suspected meningitis case could potentially flood an already crowded emergency medical system with dozens of scared patients who don’t have meningitis but are demanding expensive, potentially dangerous and time-consuming spinal taps, he said.
Kim Archer of the Tulsa World has been covering an outbreak of meningitis that has killed two children and made at least five others sick. She talked to school and health officials about the public health response to the outbreak and compiled a timeline of the outbreak and response.