The story was there. Healthcare Risk Management Editor Greg Freeman just had to draw the lines.
“(Freeman’s reporting) shows how enterprising journalism comes from connecting the dots and revealing the picture that appears,” said the judges. “At worst, this work reveals an attack in the works. At best, it reveals lapses in security that can only lead to trouble. Neither option is pleasant.”
The first dot: a few reports detailing how impostors had been visiting hospitals claiming to be members of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.
The second dot: research showing that JCAHO impostors had been making appearances nationwide.
The third dot: reports of a pattern among these impostors, including a common questioning of the hospitals’ emergency room capacities and location of radioactive material.
“When Healthcare Risk Management started looking into odd reports of people posing as quality inspectors to try to gain access to hospitals across the country, we wondered why anyone would go to that much trouble to see the inner workings of a hospital,” said Joy Daughtery Dickinson, the medical newsletter’s senior managing editor.
But through Freeman’s aggressive reporting, the important points were illuminated and an unnerving story, one the newsletter would later title “Impostors could be targeting hospitals to gain information for terrorist attacks,” began to come into focus.
“Freeman convinced the sources that Healthcare Risk Management readers needed to know the truth about these attempts to breach hospital security so they could do their best to counter them,” Dickinson said. “The effort resulted in a report that revealed a much darker explanation, and a much more urgent need to react, than most people had expected.”
The 27-year-old monthly publication was the first to report the JCAHO impostors’ possible connection to terrorism. According to Dickinson, Freeman’s article is still “the most complete account ever published.”
Freeman’s glad that someone made the connection.
“It’s been gratifying to see that we uncovered information that would not have been available otherwise,” Freeman said. “A very limited number of people knew what was going on, and they weren’t spreading the word until Healthcare Risk Management stepped in.
“We knew we needed to warn our readers about this very serious threat, but at the same time we needed to avoid going overboard and scaring them with exaggeration. Our bottom line message was this: No one is 100 percent sure what these impostors are doing, but the most likely explanation is terrorism.”