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Investigative journalism is good for the nation’s health

Despite seemingly never-ending reports of layoffs in American newsrooms, a new model of investigative journalism has emerged and health care falls squarely into its areas worthy of significant scrutiny.Propublica

ProPublica is a nonprofit, investigative journalism organization that launched this year with promises to focus its efforts on "truly important stories, stories with moral force." Its Web site is up and filled with great content, including a section on health and science.

The founders/funders of ProPublica — led by the Sandler Foundation — believe "investigative journalism is at risk," and are pioneering this new model. Paul Steiger, a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, is at the helm.

What does this have to do with health care? ProPublica has targeted health care as an area worthy of investigation. That’s evident by the recent recruitment announcement of Charles Ornstein and Tracy Weber from the L.A. Times.

Ornstein and Weber won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005 for a series detailing the mismanagement and patient safety issues at L.A. County’s King/Drew hospital. In 2007, federal regulators forced the closure of the teaching hospital, which originally began following the 1965 Watts riots as a symbol of healing.

Ornstein and Weber also chronicled lapses in the nation’s organ transplant system that led to new regulations. They uncovered how the mismanagement of Kaiser ‘s kidney transplant program put patients at risk.

Most recently, Ornstein reported on the multiple breaches in patient confidentiality at UCLA Medical Center. Starting with Britney Spears, he traced staff snooping to Maria Shriver, Cher, Tom Cruise and Mariah Carey.

No doubt, L.A. hospital executives feel slightly relieved these muckrakers are moving to New York.

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