Tag Archives: seattle times

Berens adds Poe Award to honors for ‘Seniors for Sale’

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 its annual dinner on Saturday, the White House Correspondents’ Association will present AHCJ member and Seattle Times reporter Michael Berens with the Edgar A. Poe Award and $2,500. The award “honors excellence in news coverage of subjects and events of significant national or regional importance to the American people.”

Berens earned the prize for his “Seniors for Sale” series, which focused on Washington State’s booming adult home industry and the dangers of the regulatory gray area it often seems to fall into.

Mike Berens (left) accepts his Award for Excellence in Health Care Journalism from AHCJ Board President Charles Ornstein.

Mike Berens (left) accepts his Award for Excellence in Health Care Journalism from AHCJ Board President Charles Ornstein on April 16.

According to the WHCA release, “the judges were impressed by the depth of reporting and the ability to tell a highly charged story with clarity.”

“Michael Berens’ stories not only revealed a systemic failure in the health care system, but led to a shake-up of the agency involved, regulatory changes to improve oversight and accountability and landed some caregivers in jail,” said the judges.

This is the second Poe Award for Berens; he shared the first in 2009 with Ken Armstrong for their investigation into MRSA in Washington hospitals.

Berens won first place in the metro category of the Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism for the series. As mentioned in past posts, we’ve featured quite a bit of the series here on Covering Health, and here are a few posts to help you catch up on Berens’ award-winning work:

Washington’s “adult homes” have less regulation, more neglect

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.

After analyzing 4,703 death certificates of folks who died at adult homes during a five-year span, The Seattle Times‘ Michael Berens found “at least 236 deaths that indicate neglect or abuse in these homes but were not reported to the state or investigated.”

In a sidebar, he explains that Times staff searched for cases that indicated neglect or low quality of care, and that the journalists’ careful standards and reliance on death certificates (none of which involved autopsies) means their estimate is likely on the low end.

There are almost 3,000 adult homes in Washington State. In the past decade, they’ve earned the state a national reputation for elder care innovation, but also opened a gaping hole in the regulatory fabric, as Berens has reported previously. On the whole, they’re billed as cheaper and more neighborhood-like than nursing homes. They’re also less regulated and, Berens found, more likely to fatally neglect patients. Here are his numbers:

… adult-home deaths indicating neglect occur at strikingly higher rates than comparable deaths at nursing homes:

  • Pressure-sore deaths in adult homes occur at a rate more than 3.5 times higher.
  • The rate of deaths from falls is four times higher.
  • For choking deaths, the rate is 15 times higher.

Beyond the highlights, Berens’ piece is exhaustively researched, and most definitely required reading for anyone reporting from one of the dozens of states seeking to emulate Washington’s adult home system.

Covering the Health of Local Nursing HomesSlim guide:

Covering the Health of Local Nursing Homes

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 resources

Other resources