The 2007 Michener Award finalists talk about their award winning stories and the people who helped make them happen – Michener Awards Ceremony, June 13, 2008
The Toronto Star was a recipient of a Michener Citation of Merit for a series called ‘Medical Secrets’ that detailed errors made by medical professionals in Ontario hospitals. The Star’s Tanya Talaga and Rob Cribb were the reporters on the series which began in October 2006 and included nearly a dozen stories. Following publication of the stories, the Ontario provincial government announced reforms to boost public access to information on adverse events in the medical system and improve patient rights.
YOUR EXCELLENCIES, DISTINGUISHED GUESTS,
We’re grateful for the honour of being here with you alongside colleagues for whom we have deep respect. At a time when this kind of work faces so many challenges, this is a reminder of the value of public service journalism.
I am very proud to be here with my colleague Tanya Talaga with whom I’ve worked over the past year on a series of stories called “Medical Secrets”. It represents the culmination of more than five years of work at the Star into medical incompetence and its impact on lives.
I last stood in this spot in 2003 to speak about a Toronto Star series that went by the same name: “Medical Secrets”.
That project raised the curtain on often gut-wrenching cases of patient abuse that we found triggered little or no accountability. Doctors whose incompetence left patients injured or dead were frequently given little more than a slap on the wrist.
While that series triggered demands for greater access to physician disciplinary records, it did not result in the kind of transparency we thought the public deserved.
At the Star, we asked ourselves why members of the public can’t get answers to simple questions. What are hospital born infection rates like at our local hospitals? What are death rates for certain procedures? Why can’t we know the full record of the physician or hospital about to care for us? Why does such information sit inside filing cabinets the public can’t see?
Ask such questions enough times and you begin to get the same answer. It goes something like this: “The records of doctors and hospitals are secret because they’ve always been secret and always will be secret because they are secret.”
Over a series of 12 articles last year, we asked why a beautiful, healthy young Toronto mother died during a plastic surgery procedure? We discovered a startling lack of qualifications required for doctors performing such procedures – a regulatory vacuum that even the college of physicians agreed was a risk to the public.
In another story, we reported on a Scarborough gynecologist with dramatically high complication rates who we found was the subject of more than a dozen lawsuits. Within days of publishing harrowing allegations of incompetence, dozens more women came forward.
They spoke with us about their most personal and humiliating tragedies. They lifted their clothes to reveal scars, deformities and colostomy bags they will wear for the rest of their lives.
Earlier this year, they signed a class action lawsuit against the physician and the Toronto hospital where he worked.
Each woman told the same story: They had no idea about their doctor’s record. They assumed the system watched out for them. They felt they should have been told.
After decades of inaction, medical officials finally agreed.
Over the past several months, Ontario has seen the most radical evolution in patient rights ever. Ontario announced it was opening up the histories of all health professionals – from doctors to naturopaths to dentists – beginning this year. Everything from malpractice judgments to disciplinary records will be accessible on public websites.
Our stories also prompted Ontario to force all hospitals – from small community centres to big teaching hospitals – to publicly report their death rates.
It’s a broad attack on secrecy that, for the first time, will engage patients in their care, empower them to make informed choices and hold some of our most vital institutions to account.
Experts have hailed the changes as a dramatic step forward in patient care that will elevate quality across the board.
After years of working on this, we are, over the moon.
I’m blessed to call myself a colleague of Tanya Talaga. She’s as thoughtful, passionate and tireless a journalist as you’ll find anywhere on the planet. Together, we are grateful to our editors at the Star, Lynn McAuley – your blue pen is wicked and to Fred Kuntz for playing it big – and for the patience and time they afforded us to dig deep.
Finally, we share this honour with those who really deserve it: The patients who revealed their personal indignities with us and millions of readers. Their courage ultimately shattered entrenched institutional secrecy. We are all deeply in their debt.
Michener Awards Ceremony
June 13, 2008
Toronto Star Editorial Staff
The Toronto Star exposed a number of problems in Ontario hospitals including details of errors made by medical professionals. Following publication of the stories, the Ontario government announced that the public will be able to access patient safety information.
L-R back row: Toronto Star editor-in-chief Fred Kuntz; Tanya Talaga, reporter; Robert Cribb, reporter; Lynn McAuley, City Editor; Jagoda Pike, publisher Toronto Star.
Front row; Her Excellency Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada, His Excellency Jean-Daniel Lafond.