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Health Care Reporting and a Little Murder at the Biltmore

Health Care Reporting and a Little Murder at the Biltmore

Picture of Annette Fuentes

Here we were, a couple dozen reporters from some of the best, sharpest news outlets around the state, veteran journalists with a nose for news and a passion for learning how we could improve, sharpen and expand our skills and knowledge of health care reporting. We convened at the Millenium Biltmore hotel in downtown Los Angeles for an extraordinary three-and-a-half day fellowship experience to talk shop, listen to some of the country's experts in public health and health journalism and form our own network of sorts as professionals on a common mission.

And then the news intruded and we found ourselves learning about health care with the backdrop of a bizarre and horrifying event: a woman's body was found in a stairwell of the hotel early Saturday morning, October 24, her demise perhaps accidental, perhaps homicide. Police officers were scattered around, an eerie mood fell over the place. But to make the scenario even stranger, hundreds of people had massed at the hotel at the same time to audition for the TV show, "America's Got Talent." Who could make up such a story line?

But with this leit motif of death and show biz mania buzzing in the background, we were amazingly focused and engaged in the offerings of the fellowship. Perhaps we were even more focused by the strange events, finding a sort of comaraderie as journalists on a mission to investigate, not one woman's tragic demise, but the factors that affect hundreds, thousands of our readers around the state who are vulnerable to more insidious, less sensational health risks.

The theme that ran as a common thread throughout the lectures--from the discussion of public health approaches to urban health in Philadelphia by Carolyn Cannuscio to the talk about health disparities by Dr. Leonard Syme to Michael Lu's presentation of his theory of preventive health care that begins in the womb and extends into old age--was the powerful impact of environmental factors on individual and community health. The consensus seemed clear that a focus on individual disease and treatments was no longer meaningful; what would change health outcomes in the long run would be prevention based on real understanding of how people's daily lives and stressors can strip away years from their lives and foster chronic disease.

Meanwhile, we are all following the outcome of the story of one woman, 48 years old, who met her untimely end by means as yet unknown. We are journalists, after all, and our job is to ask questions and find out the answers.

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