A COVID-19 patient on a ventilator
(AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)
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The Center for Public Integrity’s Liz Essley Whyte has won the American Society of Journalists and Authors’ (ASJA) Crisis Coverage Award for her story on harmful and discriminatory policies against people with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Effectively, these policies put people with disabilities last in line for ventilators and life-saving treatment in many U.S. states.

These revelations caused an uproar among the country’s disability advocates and led U.S. Senator Ben Sasse, R-Neb., to introduce a bill to remedy the issue. He cited Public Integrity’s work in his press release. 

Public Integrity was the first news outlet to seek out every state’s ventilator rationing policy and evaluate it in light of concerns over the coronavirus outbreak.

For the story, Essley Whyte tracked down 30 obscure state rationing policies through records requests and internet sleuthing. Essley Whyte asked officials  in all 50 states for comment and tracked their responses; posed questions to 39 state hospital associations and 151 hospitals; interviewed about a dozen people at length and read 30 detailed policies and compared them to a federal complaint filed by disability advocates. 

She discovered many states — including Alabama, Florida, Texas and California — had rationing policies with the types of provisions that disability advocates feared would send people with disabilities to the back of the line for breathing machines. Many other states had no policies in place, leaving open the possibility that doctors would be forced to make their own decisions on who receives life-saving treatment.

Public Integrity followed up with a call for health care workers and members of the disability community to share stories of discrimination they have witnessed or experienced relating to COVID-19 treatment.

The ASJA award recognizes the vital work of journalists as they help people understand and navigate the coronavirus pandemic. It is given by the nation’s largest professional organization of independent nonfiction writers.

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