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Charlotte Observer hospital series a Pulitzer Prize finalist

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An investigative series on North Carolina’s nonprofit hospitals by The Charlotte Observer and The News & Observer of Raleigh was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize on Monday.

“Prognosis: Profits,” a 2012 series jointly produced by the newspapers, was one of two runners-up in the category of local reporting, the Pulitzer board announced. The winner was the Minneapolis Star Tribune for reports on infant deaths in day-care homes. Also a runner-up was the Orlando Sentinel for coverage of marching band hazing rituals at Florida A&M University.

“Prognosis: Profits,” which took 18 months to report, explored how the growing market power of hospitals has driven up prices. The stories examined soaring profits at nonprofit hospitals, huge executive salaries, minimal spending on charity care and efforts by the hospitals to sue uninsured patients delinquent on their bills or turn over the accounts to collection agencies.

“We are extremely proud of these journalists and their ground-breaking work,” said Observer editor Rick Thames. “Affordable health care is one of the great challenges of our times. This series shed important light on these escalating costs.”

Follow-up stories revealed that hospitals were marking up prices on cancer drugs as much as 10 times over cost and showed how hospitals’ acquisitions of doctors’ practices has pushed up the cost of care.

The series has also been honored in several other competitions: the Local Accountability Reporting Award from the American Society of News Editors; the Bronze Medal in the Barlett and Steele Awards for Investigative Business Journalism; the investigative reporting award for mid-sized dailies from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers; the public service award from the N.C. Press Association; and second place in investigative reporting from the Association of Health Care Journalists. Last week, the series was named a finalist in the Investigative Reporters and Editors contest.

Observer investigative reporter Ames Alexander and medical reporter Karen Garloch reported and wrote the series, which was edited by senior editor Jim Walser. In Raleigh, N&O investigative reporter Joseph Neff and database editor David Raynor reported and wrote the stories, which were edited by senior editor Steve Riley.

The Observer has won four Pulitzer Prizes: In 1968, Gene Payne for editorial cartoons; in 1981, the Gold Medal for public service for “Brown Lung: A Case of Deadly Neglect,” which chronicled how state inspectors failed to protect textile workers from the ravages of cotton dust; in 1988, another Gold Medal for public service for revealing misuse of funds by the PTL television ministry; and the same year for Doug Marlette’s editorial cartoons.

Three other times, the Observer was a Pulitzer finalist: In 1995 for the series “Taking Back Our Neighborhoods,” which helped organize citizens to take civic action to improve conditions in declining neighborhoods; in 2005 for the columns of Tommy Tomlinson; and in 2008 in public service for “Sold a Nightmare,” a series that found that Beazer Homes sold houses and arranged mortgages for customers who couldn’t afford them.

Washburn: 704-358-5007
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