Earlier this summer, I linked to a KQED Health Dialogues show on the state of prison health care in California. Another public-radio reporter, Julie Small, has since tackled the topic, and her five-part investigative report aired on Southern California Public Radio last week.
While the topic is interesting in and of itself, I was most fascinated by the challenges Small faced when working on such a complicated, sensitive and politically loaded story. In a recent Q&A with Reporting on Health, she explained one of her biggest hurdles:
I was surprised by how unwilling people are to talk about what goes on in prisons. People who work there don’t want to lose their jobs. It was amazing that there was no whistleblower. No one was willing to go on record. A lot of people expressed fear about retribution...
And something else that made her job difficult:
A big part of the challenge is that there’s no real good measurement of what’s going on with prison medical care. All parties involved (in the lawsuit) agree that the way they’re trying to measure improvement isn’t that accurate. The number of people dying went down but the number of people who may have lived longer with better medical care has risen. It’s very confusing. The attorneys who brought this class action lawsuit also have trouble keeping track of progress. There’s a lack of a concrete way to say "yes, it’s succeeding" or "no, it’s not."
As for Small's take on whether the health-care system is succeeding? "There's been a lot of progress, but there's a lot further to go," she said.