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2014 National Fellows to tackle timely, in-depth health stories

2014 National Fellows to tackle timely, in-depth health stories

Picture of Ryan White
Mariano Garcia rests at home in Camden, N.J.
Mariano Garcia rests at home in Camden, N.J. (Photo by Jessica Kourkounis)

It’s that time of year again at Reporting on Health when we welcome the 2014 National Health Journalism Fellows and Dennis A. Hunt Health Journalism Fund Grantees.

The coming week will be chockablock full of expert panels, workshops and field-trips, and we’ll be broadcasting some of the lessons learned on the blog here and our social media channels.

Each of our fellows, and their editors, commit to produce a major project for their news outlet as part of their participation in our program. Over the next six months to a year, they will work with us to share ambitious and important journalism with their communities. Here’s a quick preview of some of the great projects our National Fellows will work on this year:

As you might expect, themes from Obamacare will color more than a few of this year’s projects. Marketplace’s Dan Gorenstein and Timothy Darragh of Allentown, Penn.’s The Morning Call are independently looking at the fate of “frequent fliers” or “super-utilizers” – patients who keep ending up back in the hospital, driving up system-wide health costs. In a fee-for-service world, such patients pad hospitals’ bottom lines, but with bundled payments and shifting incentives, some innovative providers and insurers are confronting the challenge of curbing readmissions. Writes Gorenstein:

What the healthcare system is beginning to learn is that often medical care just isn't enough to help their "super-utilizer" patients remain healthy. … Everybody is talking about the importance of ‘social determinants’ of health these days. As I begin this series of stories, I'm looking forward to learning about the providers who are pushing the boundaries of ‘health care’ and whether they are saving money and improving people's lives.

Similarly, Darragh will look at one prominent strategy for grounding frequent-fliers: “One of the bigger trends now is ‘hot-spotting,’ the practice of using data to identify those who are the ‘super utilizers’ of the health care system and surrounding them with services in an attempt to cut health care spending.”

Amanda Ramirez of Univision 34 in Atlanta will take on an explanatory role for  immigrants bewildered by process of obtaining health coverage. “Through interviews with experts and Latinos who have already purchased coverage, I will explain the process and key points consumers need to keep in mind when they obtain health insurance,” she writes.

In Texas, Veronica Zaragovia, state government reporter for Austin’s NPR-affiliate KUT, will look at the next wave of challenges of the Obamacare rollout in Texas, including “whether more Latinos are getting insured, since Latinos compose the majority of the uninsured in Texas and they’ll be the majority population by 2020.”

Lisa Bernard-Kuhn of WCPO in Cincinnati reports in an area comprising 15 counties where Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana converge. The patchwork offers a unique series of test cases for the Obamacare roll-out, with neighbors living in states that have or have not expanded Medicaid:

Each state has embraced Obamacare with varying degrees of acceptance and rejection. That means neighbors living just a few miles apart have vastly different options, and possibly health outcomes, depending on which side of the state line they fall.

The changing health care landscape, which offers no new insurance options for the undocumented, provided an opportunity Sam Murillo, a reporter for La Voz Arizona, to delve into the shadowy black market for medical services that’s cropped up along the U.S.-Mexico borderlands:

The socioeconomic disparity in border communities for decades has meant that there is a culture of ‘pirate’ or unregulated clinics offered on both sides of the border services.

And in an unprecedented northern bounty, three fellows will focus on the health of The Last Frontier’s most vulnerable populations.

Joaqlin Estus, news director for KNBA in Anchorage, Alaska, will look at how the lack of clean water and modern sanitation may be contributing to poorer health and shorter life expectancy among Alaska natives. The state may be flush with cash, but it’s not all going to clean water for villages. Reports Estus:

The state of Alaska is one of the wealthiest, with $40 billion in its savings account. In fiscal year 2014, the state budget totaled $13.2 billion. Of that, $51.5 million went to village safe water. Is that enough?

Our other far-flung correspondents include reporter Kyle Hopkins of the Alaska Dispatch/Anchorage Daily News, who is teaming up with photographer Marc Lester to depict the grueling realities of being homeless in Alaska. “With this project, photojournalist Marc Lester and I hope to better explore the lives and deaths of Alaska homeless,” Hopkins writes. Lester points to some the challenges in his post:

The truth is, officials say, many have simply succumbed to a combination that is simple to describe, yet hard to overcome: the bitter conditions outdoors in the sub-Arctic and severe alcoholism that left them extremely vulnerable.

There’s no way to do justice to all our fellows’ projects in one post, but here’s a few more teasers to illustrate the range of interests among this year’s group.

  • Freelancer Madeline Ostrander will examine how the Pacific Northwest’s love of and dependence on seafood may be impacted by changes to water pollution regulations. Northwest native communities are especially reliant on the local catch.
  • Reporter Jay Price, of the News & Observer in Raleigh is “examining the information that African American men do and don't get on prostate cancer, and how it affects their cases.”
  • Reporter Bob Ortega of the Arizona Republic will “examine the reasons behind the disproportionately low use of child car-seats by Latino (and particularly Spanish-speaking) populations along the Southwestern border and explore ways to address that gap.”
  • Jazelle Hunt of the National Newspaper Publishers Association “will explore rape in the Black American community through the lens of … cultural factors, via survivors, their families, and their communities.”
  • Freelance reporter Susan Ruckman will do a six-part series on Obamacare in Indian Country.
  • Daniel Chang, staff writer for The Miami Herald, will “follow the uninsured through Miami-Dade County’s safety net healthcare system, illustrating the barriers they encounter, and examining the publicly-funded efforts to serve this population.”
  • Augusta Chronicle reporter Thomas Joseph Corwin is “investigating scores of deaths that happened last year to patients of the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities who were being treated in community settings.”

Check back here for blog posts covering next week’s presentations, or track us on Twitter (hashtag #NHJF14) or Facebook.

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Got a great idea for a reporting project on the health of underserved communities in California or on the performance of the state's health and social safety nets?  We're offering reporting grants of $2,000 to $10,000, plus six months of mentoring, to up to eight individual journalists, newsrooms or cross-newsroom collaboratives.  Deadline to apply:  September 20.

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