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ProPublica Wins Two New York Press Club Journalism Awards

ProPublica on Wednesday won two New York Press Club Journalism Awards, which recognize the best work produced by journalists and news organizations in New York media.

Caroline Chen won in the category of Features Reporting - Science, Medicine, Technology for her 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 focused 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.

Trump, Inc.,” a collaboration between ProPublica and WNYC, won in the podcast category. The podcast, which focuses on the business dealings of President Donald Trump and his family, submitted the episode “The Numbers Don’t Match,” which surfaced never-seen-before tax documents showing the president’s business made itself appear more profitable to lenders and less profitable to tax officials. One expert calls the differing numbers “versions of fraud.”

The reporting was spurred by ProPublica reporter Heather Vogell’s curiosity about something former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen said in his testimony before Congress in February 2019. “It was my experience that Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes,” Cohen said. “Such as trying to be listed amongst the wealthiest people in Forbes and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes.”

Vogell compared Trump’s statements to tax authorities about his buildings’ expenses and income with statements made to investors in commercial mortgage-backed securities filings concerning the same buildings. It took months of painstaking work to establish that the discrepancies between the two sets of filings were not merely cosmetic. They were material — and very significant. Vogell brought her findings to the office of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. “The city is looking into this property,” a spokeswoman said. “And if there has been any underreporting we will take appropriate action.”

See a list of all this year’s New York Press Club Award winners here.

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