Tag Archives: Sarasota Health News

Reporters use county rankings for analysis

On Feb. 17, rankings of the relative health of counties in each American state were released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin. The rankings used data from 13 distinct (mostly federal) sources, including the National Center for Health Statistics, the Census Bureau and the Dartmouth Atlas. With that data, researchers computed eight separate composite scores, which were then weighted to produce one overall score. The ratings are navigated by clicking through a national map to the state and county level. Enough clicks will even bring you to the raw data itself. The state only compares counties, not states, because data collection varies from state to state and isn’t always standardized.

logo1It’s a combination of data, analysis and an intuitive interface, and journalists have been quick to localize the story. Many reporters reached beyond the easy numbers (“our county is 67th!”) to use the system for deeper stories.

For example, Robin Erb of the Detroit Free Press dissected the ratings process and how individual factors and disparities played into them before launching into the standard state breakdown.

Writing for Health News Florida, David Gulliver took a broader state view and considered how various socioeconomic factors played into the rankings of Florida counties. Gulliver’s analysis:

The strong-performing coastal counties, like Collier, St. John’s Sarasota, Charlotte, Palm Beach and Broward, all benefit from having heavy concentrations of retirees who have guaranteed health care access via Medicare. …

[Dr. Kevin Sherin, director of public health for Orange County] said that in Florida’s tourism and service industries, workers tend to be transient and less likely to have insurance or consistent primary care.

He noted the low-ranked counties were some of the poorest in Florida, like Union and Bradford in the rural north, and Glades and Okeechobee, with heavy populations of migrant workers. Those counties also tend to have more people who speak only Spanish, Creole or other languages.

Gulliver localized the story on a county level for his Sarasota Health News site.

In USA Today, Mary Brophy Marcus took the national view and looked for broad trends and generalizations. Marcus’ story was accompanied by a map by Frank Pompa highlighting each state’s healthiest and least healthy counties.

Sarasota site hits milestone, wins unusual honor

It’s been three months since AHCJ member David Gulliver launched the nonprofit, online Sarasota Health News, and the site’s celebrating its first quarter with an unusual honor in an annual awards issue from Creative Loafing, the local alternative weekly.03cover_forweb

Gulliver’s award? Best Reporter Cojones. Creative Loafing explained the honor thus:

Accustomed to the bureaucracy of a large newsroom, Gulliver now makes all the decisions: deciding which stories to cover, what the site should look like, how best to give readers content he believes in. There are plenty of ex-reporters out there, but there’s only one Sarasota Health News.

Gulliver, who says the award may be one of his favorite honors ever, is in good company. Other awards handed out by the weekly included:

Under 1959 law, hospitals claim right to bill county for charity care

David Gulliver of Sarasota Health News found an almost-surreal local story that demonstrates just how desperate some recession-bitten hospitals have become. There are four major hospitals in the Sarasota area, three for-profit institutions and Memorial Hospital, which receives some subsidies and provides additional services. The three for-profit hospitals, citing an obscure 1959 law, have billed the country for $30.7 million in charity care since December of 2008.

Sarasota Memorial Hospital, photo by srqpix via Flickr

The legislation in question, an amendment to the 1949 law establishing the Sarasota Hospital District (now Memorial Hospital), says that the county should reimburse any other hospitals in the county for charity care just as they do for Memorial. Nobody’s ever tried to take advantage of the provision before, and it may even be defunct. In fact, it’s sometimes difficult to tell just how seriously the parties are taking the whole mess. Fortunately, in Gulliver’s exhaustive chronicle of the dispute, he manages to tease apart the different threads of discord, unearth the real bones of contention and relate it to big-picture health economics, starting at the local level.

County officials say they have no intention of paying the bills, as the law was “superseded in the 1968 revision of the state constitution.” Furthermore, officials estimate that a $1 per $1,000 property tax increase would be required to cover the charity-care expenditures of the other three institutions, a tax officials say which would violate the state’s constitutional prohibition on raising taxes to subsidize for-profit industries.

For their part, hospitals say the bills are a means of drawing attention to the tax revenue funneled into Memorial — $47 million last year — and asking for a more “equitable distribution” of taxpayer money among area hospitals. In his story, Gulliver lays out this he-said, she-said, then digs into state laws, politics and more to show readers what’s really going on.

Primer on reform draws from AHCJ presentation

Sarasota Health News reporter and editor David Gulliver released his own evaluation of health care reform, drawing on the Dartmouth Atlas and the speech Princeton economist Uwe Reinhardt delivered in “brilliant – and, believe it or not, hysterically funny – style at the Association for Health Care Journalists national conference in April.”

Uwe Reinhardt

Uwe Reinhardt

After sketching a clear and convincing portrait of a failing system, Gulliver takes his assessment even further, venturing authoritative predictions on what a final health care reform package will look like. Gulliver goes into some detail, with the general idea being that the final product will include a universal insurance mandate, a public option that would only go into effect if that mandate’s goals were not met and increased regulation of the insurance industry. Gulliver’s straightforward, un-muddled approach makes the piece both accessible to a broad audience and interesting even to those who read and write about health for a living.

Find a copy of Reinhardt’s Health Journalism 2009 presentation here.

Novel H1N1 ‘remarkably similar’ to seasonal flu

Sarasota Health News editor and reporter David Gulliver talked to experts and listened to press conferences to produce a primer on H1N1 influenza, finding that in severity and contagiousness, it’s not really all that different from the seasonal flus that sweep the nation annually.

A few highlights from Gulliver’s report, which can serve as a model for H1N1 primers in other local markets as well:

  • H1N1 is only unusual in that it hits young adults harder than most flu strains and is most severe in middle-aged adults.
  • If you have the flu this season, it’s highly likely that you have H1N1.
  • Autumn and winter should bring a surge in H1N1, but experts say there should be no reason to panic, as that common sense should get folks through flu season safely.