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ProPublica Investigation on Newark Hospital Transplant Team Wins Deadline Club Award

The New York City chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists announced that ProPublica’s reporting won the Deadline Club Award in the science, technology, medical or environmental reporting category. The awards, which recognize the best work produced by journalists and news organizations in the New York City area, recognized Caroline Chen’s investigation on how the heart transplant team at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center kept a vegetative patient on life support to boost its lagging survival rate.

Co-published with New Jersey Advance Media and WNYC, Chen’s investigation found that Newark Beth Israel’s transplant team was determined to treat the patient, Darryl Young, aggressively without adequately consulting his family members or offering them the option of palliative care, which focuses on comfort. Young suffered brain damage during his heart transplant operation, and the medical team believed he would never wake up again, Chen’s reporting found. Yet the transplant director told staff to keep Young alive and avoid conversations with his family about his prognosis because of worries about the program’s survival rate, the proportion of people undergoing transplants who are still alive a year after their operations.

Federal regulators focus on this statistic to evaluate — and sometimes penalize — transplant programs, giving hospitals across the country a reputational and financial incentive to game it. Newark Beth Israel’s one-year survival rate for heart transplants had dipped, and if Young were to die too soon, the program’s standing and even its own survival might be in jeopardy.

In response to Chen’s article, multiple federal and state regulators started investigations, including the FBI, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the New Jersey Department of Health and the state’s Board of Medical Examiners. The hospital also hired independent consultants to conduct an internal review and placed Dr. Mark Zucker, director of the hospital’s heart and lung transplant programs, on administrative leave.

Two other ProPublica projects were Deadline Club Award finalists. The “Trump, Inc.” podcast, a collaboration with WNYC, was a finalist for radio or audio investigative reporting. “The Real Bosses of New Jersey” from WNYC, a project of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network, was a finalist for business investigative reporting.

See a list of all the 2019 Deadline Club Award winners here.

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