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Sneak Preview: The Next Big Stories in Health

Sneak Preview: The Next Big Stories in Health

Picture of Angilee Shah

We are two weeks out from the dynamic week of seminars and conversations where this year's USC/California Endowment National Health Journalism Fellows and Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism grant recipients met each other and dived deeply into their reporting projects. If you're curious about what they're working on, here's a rundown. (Read more by clicking on fellows' names, and comment to give them ideas for their work.)

Alicia DeLeon-Torres: "I'm excited to be provided support and platform to share public health issues [about gangs and gambling] in the Asian American, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander communities. The highly diverse ethnic 'clusters' are often over-looked or under reported. The small amount of information that is out there is either aggragate, skewing and hiding the issues - OR - lacks the cultural competence to give a true picture of the story and the community."

Pedro Frisneda: "Experts have expressed concern at the fact that diabetes is becoming a major economic problem within the Latino community. U.S. Hispanics are young, and if they begin to become incapacitated, their level of productivity and its future are compromised. It is very tragic to see a lot of Latino people 42 years going blind, without legs, with children to support, or people who are having heart attack at age 32. Moreover, many Hispanics in this country are uninsured, exacerbating the situation... One of the communities most at risk is Mexican-immigrants, and I have chosen to study this community in New York City.  I will explain the "immigrant health paradox" focusing my story on diabetes and obesity."

Christina Hernandez: "Camden, New Jersey, which sits across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, is known as one of the nation's most violent and impoverished cities. But as Camden's mostly black and Latino residents navigate dangerous streets and crushing poverty, they also face a broken healthcare system...I'll examine Camden's troubled healthcare system through the eyes of patients, doctors, hospital administrators, policymakers, community leaders and others. My reporting will explore the waste created by the city's disjointed healthcare system, including repeated medical tests and over-prescribed medications."

Joy Horowitz: "California's Central Valley, once called 'the richest agricultural region in the history of the world,' is a 400-mile-long swath of some of the world's most productive agricultural land. About one-fourth of the produce consumed in the United States is grown in the Central Valley -- and nearly half of all pesticides used in this country are sprayed on crops in the region. I'll be investigating what farm workers, residents, doctors, environmental advocates, community organizers and scientists in the Central Valley are teaching us about the link between pesticide exposures and neurodegenerative disease, such as Parkinson's disease."

Danielle Ivory: "Health reform will greatly expand the existing Medicaid program to provide health care to millions more Americans below the poverty line. It seems like a good idea on its face, but under the current system, patients covered by Medicaid generally are the unhealthiest people in the country. It's a case where having insurance coverage does not necessarily mean that you have access to good care. It begs the question: If we add more people to an already overloaded system, will this exacerbate existing problems?"

Lisa Jones: "It is a well-documented fact that from the late 1800s on, Native American tribes on the high plains were forced to abandon hunting and foraging as their primary means of feeding themselves. Instead, they started eating unhealthy processed 'commodity foods' supplied by the federal government. My project will focus on a trio of agricultural tribes on North Dakota's Fort Berthold Reservation, whose robust health lasted into the middle of the 20th century. But the subsequent construction of a hydroelectric dam consigned them to less-fertile land, commodity food, and declining health."

Alisa Knezevich: "Prescription drug abuse is growing nationwide... But West Virginians are more likely than residents of any other state to die from a prescription drug overdose, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention... My project will explore how prescription drug abuse has changed West Virginia's communities and why it is such a hard problem to control."

Kari Lydersen:  "Watching trains run behind my apartment and barges on the canals nearby gazing at huge container ships docking in San Diego, Seattle and Anchorage oil tankers on the Hudson, the Mississippi and the Detroit River 'salties' dramatically entering Duluth Harbor's narrow mouth from far-flung parts of the world and less romantically the trucks rumbling and spewing through my neighborhood at all hours I'm entranced by the non-stop efforts to move an endless stream of objects from one spot to another – and the effects these efforts have on our communities."

Maureen O'Hagan: "Our project will focus on childhood obesity and the role food and beverage marketing plays in it. We'll look at how the junk-food marketing world has changed over the years, and dig into the latest trends in Internet marketing."

Mary Otto: "It has been more than three years since my first report on the death of a homeless Maryland boy from complications of an untreated dental infection was published in The Washington Post.  It was challenging and heartbreaking to write about the death of that gentle boy who I had gotten to know, along with his struggling mother in the last weeks of his life. Yet for me, the larger challenge of understanding the broken oral health care system in Maryland only began with that story. In spite of other journalistic responsibilities, writing about dental care, and the lack of it, has been a subject that has haunted and preoccupied me, as a reporter and writer, ever since."

Linda Perez: "A group of 30 end-stage renal patients of Grady Memorial Hospital, in Atlanta, face death as their dialysis treatment is scheduled to be cut soon. Many of these patients are undocumented Latino immigrants who do not have insurance and do not qualify for public benefits...I will follow three of these patients in the weeks before and after the contract with their current dialysis treatment provider expires."

Emily Ramshaw: "Nearly half a million Texans live in substandard conditions in colonias -2,300 unincorporated and isolated border towns with limited access to potable water, sewer systems, electricity, sanitary housing or health care. These predominantly Hispanic, overwhelmingly impoverished villages, which dot the 1,248-mile Texas-Mexico border from the Gulf of Mexico to El Paso, present a state public health nightmare... Through research and reporting, multimedia elements and interactive mapping and graphics, I hope to discover why the best intentions of Texas lawmakers, local government officials and border health advocates have been largely ineffective."

Elizabeth Simpson: "I recently met with two women who review infant deaths in the region. They interview mothers who have had a baby die. They had terrific insight into the myriad of factors that play into high rates of baby deaths in some areas. Hope to look into the problems of poor dental care, obesity, and bouncing on and off Medicaid. Public health folks have been focusing on getting women healthy before they get pregnant, a bit trickier than improving access to prenatal care."

Carol Smith: "The Duwamish is not only Seattle's only river, and the original home of its first Native American people, it is now also an industrial waterway classified as one of the nation's worst toxic waste sites and one of the few federal Superfund cleanup sites in the country to bisect a major urban area. Through this project, I hope to examine how this confluence of factors – location, history and industry – has shaped the health of the communities that have grown up around the river. While reams of data have looked at the health of the river, much less is known about the health of the people who depend on or live near its waters."

Frank Sotomayor: "A wide disparity exists between the large number of people on transplant lists, waiting for vital organs, such as a kidney, liver, heart, lung or pancreas, and the limited availability of those organs. Why is that? And can anything be done to close the imbalance? For my project in the National Health Journalism Fellowship program, I'm delving into the subject of organ donation. My geographic focus will be the Greater Los Angeles region. Given the demographic diversity of this region, I will concentrate on organ donation among Latinos, African Americans, Asians and Native Americans.

Daniela Velazquez: " I will be looking at the obstacles that keep some in the lower-income communties of color in Tampa from developing healthy diet and exercise habits. While good health isn't determined by just these two behaviors, a slew of diseases that have an impact on these communities, including diabetes and heart disease, are preventable through diet and exercise. More than often the obstacle isn't in getting out information (the message is already one that many people already know), it's addressing some of the social and envirommental factors that affect the everyday choices people make."

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