Tag Archives: Wisconsin

Reporter looks at black infant mortality in Wis.

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.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel‘s Crocker Stephenson took a look at disparities in infant mortality in that area and explored both their cases and ramifications. In Wisconsin, black babies die at twice the rate of white babies, a finding which may just be the tip of the iceberg. For national and international comparisons, see the companion infographic. According to Stephenson, infant mortality rates are an early indicator of a community’s degeneration. When mortality rises, so do other dire indicators.

The bottom third – the group of ZIP codes with the most poverty and lowest college graduation rates – had the highest infant mortality rate.

It also had the highest premature death rate, chlamydia rate, HIV rate and teen birthrate.

It had the greatest percentage of low birth weights; preterm births; uninsured adults; people who hadn’t seen a dentist in a year; births to mothers who received no prenatal care during their first trimester; smokers; pregnant smokers; obesity; violent assaults within the past year; single-parent households; and children who tested positive for lead poisoning.

Milwaukee’s health commissioner called it a “crisis,” one that Stephenson found is as much a social matter as it is one of access to proper care. For more, see the “Problem Areas” section of the story.

N.M. midwives deliver a model for rural health

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.

We’ve been following Wisconsin State Journal reporter David Wahlberg’s series on the future of rural health in his state, particularly because Wahlberg’s willing to look pretty far afield for examples that put rural Wisconsin in perspective, and which point to possible solutions to local rural health issues. His latest story, on rural midwifery and child delivery, took him to the mountainous areas around Las Vegas, New Mexico. In a way, it seeks to answer the key dilemma raised in the Montana piece: How do you provide care in areas so remote that the population can’t support an obstetrician and delivery facilities?

ratonPhoto by adventurejournalist via Flickr

Midwives have the potential to at least answer part of that equation, especially when they are used as obstetrician extenders. New Mexico is the nation’s leader in births overseen by midwives. Midwives account for 31 percent of births in New Mexico, a number that dwarfs the 8 percent national average.

Jaymi McKay, New Mexico’s maternal health program manager, said Hispanic midwives have long been a tradition in the state and activists pushed for midwife-friendly laws decades ago.

New Mexico still faces rural maternity care challenges, as 16 of its 33 counties have no hospital that delivers babies, McKay said. But without so many midwives, “it would be a lot worse,” she said. “They fill an important niche. That happens more in New Mexico than in other places.”

In addition to its culture, the New Mexico system stands out for its midwife licensing procedures. Wahlberg goes into greater detail, but here’s the national perspective:

All states offer licenses for nurse midwives. Most private insurers and Medicaid, the state-federal health plan for the poor, pay for their care.
Just 27 states license other midwives – including Wisconsin, which started doing so in 2006. Ten states ban them. Medicaid covers their care in 10 states, not including Wisconsin, and some private insurers cover them.

Rural health on the frontier

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.

A defining feature of reporter David Wahlberg’s ongoing look at rural health care for the Wisconsin State Journal has been his willingness to look beyond the state’s borders, as with his recent piece on health care navigators in Kentucky.

In his latest installment, he looks to Montana, not just for a model, but for perspective. In Montana, he finds that all rural health challenges are created equally, and that the rural areas of the Mountain West and western Great Plains are so remote that the term “rural health” just doesn’t do their situation justice. Instead, they deal with “frontier health,” where the only hospital in driving distance can’t afford to deliver babies, and hospitals have to fly patients hundreds of miles just so they can have access to adequate blood supplies.

Only 4 percent of Wisconsin residents live in frontier counties. In Montana, that number is 54 percent. Wyoming is even higher. “Frontier” counties are generally considered to be those with a population density of fewer than seven people per square mile. For those interested, the State Journal included a map of such counties alongside the story.

J-S settles records suit; docs rebel against COI rules

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.

As a result of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel‘s now-settled lawsuit against the University of Wisconsin, John Fauber was able to review newly public e-mails which show just how angry a segment of the faculty became when faced with the university’s new, stricter conflict of interest regulations. The regulations came, of course, in the wake of Fauber’s investigative reporting on the subject.

The newspaper’s lawsuit argued that the faculty comments were public records under Wisconsin law and sought a court order to obtain them. To settle the lawsuit, the newspaper agreed to accept the 41 e-mails with the names of the doctors blacked out. The foundation also provided a separate list with the names of the 28 doctors who wrote the e-mails.

The (UW Medical Foundation) also agreed to pay the newspaper’s attorneys’ fees of about $12,400.

The e-mails make for good reading, and Fauber wastes no time in deploying the liveliest phrases in his story.

For example, some physicians complained about the 18-month exemption for orthopedic surgeons and other implanters of medical devices, including one who said “Allowing our docs to shill for device companies is a complete perversion.” An orthopedic surgeon responded with a different take, saying it was “clearly ridiculous” to limit his hourly take from device makers to just $500.

For an explanation from Fauber on how he has been able to consistently produce groundbreaking stories on the conflict-of-interest beat, see the article he wrote for AHCJ.

Journal Sentinel creates overdose database

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.

Tom Kertscher of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel analyzed 1,200 fatal overdoses that occurred in the greater Milwaukee area over the past eight years and discovered that the majority of them were prescription drug-related. Kertscher puts the statistics in the context of the high-profile death of a local teenager, one which drew significant media attention to prescription drug abuse in the area.

Of the 1,200 deaths, which do not include suicides, just more than half were caused by prescription drugs.

An additional 19% of the deaths were caused by a mix of pharmaceuticals and illegal drugs, such as heroin.

…The victims of the most potent prescription drugs range from urban teens using anti-anxiety medications to get high to middle-age suburbanites who get hooked on narcotic painkillers after being injured on the job. They include residents of all 19 Milwaukee County communities and suburban county residents from Belgium to Kewaskum to Mukwonago.

Kertscher’s overdose database is available online and can be sorted through a search tool or overlaid on a Google map. The map can be sorted by race, age, sex, year and drug type.

Journal editor linked to spinal implant royalties

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.

John Fauber of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel continues his coverage of conflicts of interest in medical research and journals with a look at journal editors. First, Fauber lays out the case in question:

  • For seven years, a University of Wisconsin orthopedic surgeon (university bio | hospital bio) has been editor-in-chief of the Journal of Spinal Disorders & Techniques.
  • During that time, he’s received more than $20 million in patent royalties thanks to spinal implants sold by Medtronic.
  • Also during that time, an average of more than one Medtronic-related article appeared in each issue of the journal, most of them positive. Some were even co-authored by the editor/surgeon himself and related to the implant for which he gets royalties.
  • Despite these coincidences, the journal never disclosed the potential conflict of interest.

Fauber then goes on to explore why journal editors aren’t mentioned more often in conflict-of-interest scandals, and then to explain exactly why those editors hold the sort of power that makes these conflicts particularly distressing. As Fauber explains, editors of medical journals can accept or reject manuscripts of studies involving drugs or devices – something that can make or break the product.

They can send a study out to peer reviewers who may be sympathetic to a particular drug or device by virtue of their own financial relationships with the companies that make those products. They can give authors more leeway to say positive things about a drug. They can turn down studies that say bad things about the product of a company they get money from.

The author of “On The Take: How Medicine’s Complicity with Big Business Can Endanger Your Health,” Jerome Kassirer, says that “Once an editor makes a decision, there is no recourse; they are like a king.”

Earlier coverage: