Tag Archives: washington

Members’ investigations prompt bills in Wash.

Three health-related bills moving through the Washington legislature came about as a result of articles reported by AHCJ members at The Seattle Times and InvestigateWest.

One bill is part of a “proposed overhaul of laws on long-term care of elderly adults” that was prompted by “Seniors for Sale,” a series by Seattle Times reporter and AHCJ member Mike Berens that detailed problems in the state’s adult family homes.

Another bill, unanimously approved by the state senate, will push a state agency to create standards on how to handle chemotherapy drugs. It was prompted by reporting from AHCJ member Carol Smith of InvestigateWest, a nonprofit journalism organization, that revealed that nurses who handle those drugs are exposed to health problems.

A related bill, intended to identify potential links between occupational exposures and cancer outcomes, also was unanimously approved by the senate. It would “require that a cancer patient’s occupation be reported to the registry, and that if the patient is retired, the patient’s primary occupation before retirement be reported,” InvestigateWest reports.

Wash. hospital executive salaries may threaten nonprofit status

KUOW’s John Ryan, who has been using public records to investigate pay for nonprofit hospital executives, dove deeper into the series when he discovered a law on the state’s books that appears to limit the pay of nonprofit execs to something near that paid to equivalent employees in the public sector. On the face of it, it appears many execs aren’t satisfying this requirement, which may place their hospitals’ tax breaks in jeopardy.

KUOW has learned that 15 hospital executives in Washington made $1 million or more in 2009. That elite group includes 14 nonprofit executives and one head of a government hospital.

For their part, hospital spokespeople pointed out that there may be no equivalent in Washington’s public sector to the work they do, and that some state hospital executives do pretty well for themselves anyway. Those claims haven’t stopped legislators from taking action based on Ryan’s work.

After learning of KUOW’s findings, state senators Cheryl Pflug and Karen Keiser co-sponsored a bill that would require nonprofit hospitals to publish their top executives’ incomes each year. They’d also have to provide proof to tax collectors that the paychecks aren’t out of line with comparable pay in the public sector.

If you’re looking to re-create Ryan’s work in your neck of the woods, he’s written a nifty little “How I did it” that should get you started, although he tells Covering Health that Washington’s law requiring nonprofit executive pay to be comparable to public-sector pay might be unique. But for looking into all kinds of executive compensation stories, AHCJ members should refer to tip sheets such as:

Wash. health data now includes infection rates

Washington state has solidified its position as a leader in health data transparency with the publication this year of hospital surgery infection rates. The data is broken down hospital-by-hospital and includes numbers for the rates of certain infections following cardiac surgery, orthopedic surgery and hysterectomy, as well as for compliance with infection prevention numbers. For more numbers, including some which have been published for several years now, visit the state hospital association’s transparency center.

The unexpected highlight of this year’s data? A press release, pointed out by blogger and hospital executive Paul Levy, in which the Washington State Hospital Association official proudly announces that “Washington’s hospitals are enthusiastic participants in providing this new information about surgical infection rates.” Credit for this transparency lies with state lawmakers, but the hospitals deserve some props for publicly embracing the effort as well.

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

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

How prescription drugs dethroned heroin in Seattle

Heather Bosch, of Seattle radio station KIRO, dedicated a five-part series to explaining why “Prescription drugs – used incorrectly – are killing more people in King County than all other illegal drugs, combined.”

It’s the latest in a string of prescription drug localizations; one which distinguishes itself with an emphasis on the move from heroin to prescription pills.

In part one, Bosch explains how prescription opiates overcame their illicit cousin, heroin, to become the drug of choice in the Seattle area. In part three, she talks to a recovering opiate addict about the toll the pills took on his life and psyche. And in part four, Bosch looks into how ready access has made it easier for teens to become addicted to prescription drugs.