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Charlotte Observer hospital series wins a Loeb award

An investigative series on North Carolina’s nonprofit hospitals by The Charlotte Observer and The News & Observer of Raleigh has won a top prize in the Gerald Loeb Awards, which honors the nation’s best business reporting.

“Prognosis: Profits,” a 2012 series jointly produced by the newspapers, was named winner in the competition’s small and medium newspaper category at an award ceremony in New York. The series was also chosen as a finalist in the investigative category.

The stories explored how the growing market power of hospitals has driven up prices. The series examined soaring profits at nonprofit hospitals, 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.

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 a dozen other competitions. Among the other prizes: the Sigma Delta Chi award for investigative reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Local Accountability Reporting Award from the American Society of News Editors, and the Bronze Medal in the Barlett and Steele Awards for Investigative Business Journalism. The series was also named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

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.

Also receiving a Loeb for small and medium newspapers was “The Ghost Workers,” a three-part N&O series that revealed how some businesses were cheating on required tax payments for employees by labeling them as contractors. The series also showed how such designations were harming injured workers.

“Beef’s Raw Edges,” a series on the beef industry published in The Kansas City Star last year, won the Loeb Award for explanatory journalism. The Observer, the N&O and the Kansas City Star are all owned by McClatchy, the nation’s third-largest newspaper publisher.

Staff reports

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