Post Episode 24: Nursing homes investigated during times of crisis

Post Episode 24: Nursing homes investigated during times of crisis

From documenting and counting COVID-19 cases in long-term care facilities to reporting on the hurricane evacuation of hundreds of nursing home residents to a warehouse, this episode of POST discusses reporting on vulnerable populations during crisis

In Episode 24, journalists discuss reporting on nursing homes during emergencies and times of crisis. The vulnerable people who reside in long-term care facilities face even more danger during these times, and reporters over the last year have quickly taken up their plight.

COVID-19 nursing home data reporting

For example, The Seattle Times investigated the COVID-19 pandemic very early on after an outbreak was reported at a nursing home in Washington in March 2020. The paper quickly used public records, including 911 calls, to show the outbreak may well have begun much earlier than initially thought.

IRE Director of Data Services, Charles Minshew, said the use of those sensitive tapes was handled well and helped shed light on what was happening inside the nursing home where the Associated Press ultimately reported connections to at least 40 coronavirus deaths.

“It’s really important to understand the cries for help that were coming from this nursing home in particular and understanding the response. And we wouldn’t get that without actually hearing these calls and knowing what was in these calls,” Minshew said.

In addition to local coronavirus stories, many outlets sought to look at the broader picture through nationwide data collection and analysis.

Minshew, who has also worked on COVID-19 data projects with the InvestigateTV team, said early data collection likely had undercounts and flaws because states were reporting information in different ways and early counts likely didn’t include asymptomatic people.

“In a pandemic like this, it’s a firehose of information that doesn’t make a lot of sense until you’ve had time. We’ll probably ten years from now be finally making sense of some of the beginnings of the pandemic,” Minshew said.

Hurricane evacuation to warehouse in Louisiana

In southeast Louisiana, more than 850 nursing home residents were evacuated to a warehouse facility to ride out Hurricane Ida in August 2021. Very quickly, local reporters began hearing about deplorable conditions from the residents and workers inside.

Lee Zurik, an anchor and investigative reporter in New Orleans – and also the director of investigations for InvestigateTV, joined Post to discuss his reporting on the conditions and the fallout.

When asked about things for both journalists and the average person to take away from this story, Zurik said preparation is key.

“There are ways to be prepared beforehand, and I think that’s probably one of the lessons here. If you have family in a nursing home, and they’re in a place that might need to be evacuated at some point for something, ask the facility for a copy of its evacuation plan. Know before what is happening to see if this seems right or something that you would want your relative to go through,” Zurik said.

During and immediately following an event or emergency, Zurik had a concise to-do list for both journalists and citizens seeking answers.

“Listen. Read everything. Ask questions. And request documents,” Zurik said.

He also noted that limiting requests to very specific documents makes the requests more likely to be fulfilled quickly during an emergency.

Links to stories discussed in Episode 24

Post is a media review program from InvestigateTV, Gray Television’s streaming channel dedicated to in-depth and watchdog reporting. Post is presented in partnership with the journalism organization Investigative Reporters and Editors. The monthly program is taped at the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, a partner of InvestigateTV.

Episode written and produced by: Jamie Grey, InvestigateTV

Production by: Director Travis McMillen, RJI, production assistant Jeb Goldman, RJI, and production assistant Cory Johnson, InvestigateTV

Editing by: Owen Hornstein and Jamie Grey, InvestigateTV

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