Dallas and Las Vegas special journalism projects investigate local hospital quality/safety issues

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This is a Monday catchup effort – catching up on two big journalism projects that are worthy of more attention.

Dallas Morning News deputy managing editor explains on the Nieman Watchdog site that the paper’s “First, Do No Harm” project published 15 times over 9 months on two local sacred cows. She writes:

“Every place has its sacred cows – individuals or institutions so prominent and respected that over time they become part of a community’s identity and culture. Questioning them is an affront to civic pride, and investigating them can be a high-stakes gamble.

The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Parkland Memorial Hospital are two such icons of Dallas.

The medical center boasts of “world-class” research and residency programs that have turned out generations of excellent doctors. Parkland, which received a mortally wounded President John F. Kennedy, is the main training ground for the school’s new doctors. As a public hospital and major trauma center, it is also a safety net for the region’s most vulnerable patients.

Over the years, the two institutions have enjoyed largely positive press, some of it by design. Their leaders cultivated national profiles and courted some of the wealthiest and most influential Dallas residents, including media leaders, as advisers and donors. But after receiving a few insider tips and learning of the allegations in a whistleblower lawsuit, the newspaper decided it was time to investigate.

What we found was a system that for decades had deceived virtually all of its patients, put many at risk and, by the hospital’s own estimate, seriously and often needlessly harmed on average two people a day. Internal records from the two institutions, sworn testimony by current and former employees and federal inquiries also documented instances of a cowboy mentality among loosely supervised residents, a class-based culture of care and possible Medicare billing fraud.”


The Las Vegas Sun launched a two-year investigation of local hospital care, starting with a record of every Nevada hospital inpatient visit going back a decade — 2.9 million in all.

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The prologue to their “Do No Harm” project reads:

“There’s a running joke about hospitals here: “Where do you go for great health care in Las Vegas?”

“The airport.”

The implication is everyone knows hospital care in Southern Nevada is substandard.

The reality, however is that only a small circle of hospital officials, insurance executives, regulators and politicians have had access to meaningful information about the quality of hospitals in Las Vegas. Until now.”

Yes, deep health care investigative journalism still has a pulse.

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January 17, 2011 at 4:22 pm

Thank Gary,
Beelman has written a great piece.
I’m writing about it on HealthBeat(www.healthbeatblog.org)
Beelman’s report illustrates why most local newspapers don’t try to write investigative pieces about their premiere hospitals. (The Boston Globe is an important exception.)
But if local media did investigate hopsitals, more Americans would understand why we need health care reform.
I applaud the work that the Dallas Morning News is doing.
It takes political courage to take on a sacred cow.

Gregory D. Pawelski

January 18, 2011 at 12:27 pm

“Where do you go for great health care in Las Vegas?” LOL! The best advice I’ve ever gotten about medical care here in Berks County, Pennsylvania came from the wife of my doctor-brother. “Get out of town!”
“When Berks County’s biggest employer loses its two top leaders, one on the heels of the other, we have to pause, look and wonder,” says an editorial in our local Reading Eagle Newspaper. “When that employer is the major provider of health care in Berks County, we have to be concerned.”
Editorial answer: “Does this mean the hospital is itself a candidate for urgent care? Not necessarily, but it does mean the board of directors, among them some of the most influential people in Berks County, needs to keep a steady hand on the tiller and work to assure managerial stability so that Berks Countians do not suffer any deterioration in the quality of health care provided to them.”
End of investigation!

Pamela C. Baxter

July 1, 2011 at 9:31 pm

I applaud the courage it must take to investigate and report the truth about the deplorable healthcare situation in Las Vegas Valley. As a healthcare provider, I must tell you there is a huge aspect that is missing.
I can honestly say most healthcare providers chose their field with passion, so they can make a difference for the better. In my opinion, with the level of corporate greed and concern for the bottom line, no one appears to care for the patients well being. The administrators that draw the line of what we can and can’t do which directly impacts how well we are able to care for a patient.
Many nurses and allied staff work in a department overflowing with tyranny from their direct supervisors or upper management. There is a level of fear and intimidation that would shock you. When you realize that your supervisors, managers and directors do not have your back. When it’s clear to everyone that if a error occurs due to administrative policies and oversights, your head will be the one to roll. You lower you head and that advocate you were is no more. You don’t want your own family to starve muchless go homeless.
Continue your exemplary work. There are so many without a voice.