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Picking up where the mainstream media left off

Mainstream journalism crowned the annual winners of its prestigious Pulitzer Prize yesterday, except with a twist: This time, for the first time, a non mainstream media company took home top honors — ProPublica, a nonprofit organization that does journalism in the public interest. ProPublica’s Sheri Fink won a Pulitzer for investigative reporting for her joint project with the New York Times that “chronicles the urgent life-and-death decisions made by one hospital’s exhausted doctors when they were cut off by the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina.”

But that’s not all. ProPublica not only took home the top prize but snared a coveted “finalist” designation in Public Service for Charles Ornstein’s and Tracy Weber’s outstanding series of stories examining California’s failure to properly oversee its nurses.

One of their stories published earlier this year (published after the cutoff for the Pulitzer entry), spotlighted problems with the National Practitioner Data Bank, a federal database that is supposed to track doctors who break rules and are seriously disciplined by their hospitals. A Public Citizen report last year found that “hospitals routinely exploit loopholes to avoid government requirements, with nearly half of all hospitals not submitting a single doctor’s name to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) in the more than 17 years it has existed.”

From the ProPublica article:

With an incomplete database, however, employers could be given “a false sense of security that somebody who may be really dangerous isn’t, because their name isn’t there,” said Dr. Sidney M. Wolfe, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group.

The federal government has had plenty of time to make it right, said Wolfe, whose Washington-based group advocates for patient safety. “It’s really just embarrassing.”

Examining the level of doctor discipline has been one of Public Citizen’s mainstays, which includes releasing an annual report that tracks and ranks how effective the 50 states and the District of Columbia are at disciplining bad doctors.