The News Leaders Association (NLA) awarded KFF’s Kaiser Health News (KHN) and Guardian US the 2021 Batten Medal for Coverage of the Coronavirus Pandemic for their year-long “Lost on the Frontline” investigation documenting the lives of more than 3,600 health care workers in the U.S. who died of COVID-19 after contracting the disease on the job.
The project honored their lives and asked, “Did so many have to die?” by investigating the circumstances of their exposure, examining the sometimes-unnecessary risks borne by those on the front lines of care.
The Batten Medal is one of the highest honors awarded by the NLA, recognizing coverage of the pandemic that reflects the previously unthinkable challenges that newsrooms had to overcome in the face of this once-in-a-generation crisis, named in memory of James K. Batten, a reporter, editor and ultimately Knight Ridder’s chief executive officer.
The project began in April 2020 after the death of Frank Gabrin, the first emergency room doctor known to have died of COVID-19. A reporter for the KHN/Guardian project obtained text messages about Gabrin’s deep concerns about shortages of personal protective equipment as he treated a crush of COVID-19 patients in New York City and northern New Jersey. Yet in the days after his death, the ER chiefs at his hospitals offered full-throated denials of any PPE problems.
From there, the project documented the lives and COVID-related deaths of health care workers, many of whom faced daily risks that employers charged with protecting them were often quick to dismiss or deny.
As part of the project, more than 70 reporters spent nearly a year filing public records requests, cross-connecting governmental and private data sources, scouring obituaries and online posts. Frequently, relatives spoke about their deceased family members with the team for the first time.
Ultimately, the team tracked more than 3,600 deaths in an interactive database and published hundreds of in-depth profiles of those lost on the frontlines, the nation’s most-complete accounting of the pandemic’s toll on health care workers. The profiles not only feature doctors, nurses and other medical professions, but also others working at hospitals, nursing homes and other medical facilities, including aides, administrative employees, and cleaning and maintenance staff.
As the project evolved, the team of journalists published multiple investigative stories examining why workers died and assembled a clearer picture of who was hit hardest: Workers of color, younger staffers, and low-paid employees with extensive patient contact working in the shadows of American health care.
“The government wasn’t counting or investigating health care worker deaths, so journalists filled the void,” said Elisabeth Rosenthal, KHN’s editor-in-chief. “As a result, readers and families of the victims have a memorial to those lost. Equally important, we pursued accountability from all the institutions that failed to protect the safety of these workers, who were forced to put their lives on the line.”
“These workers fought the hardest and the longest on behalf of others over the last year. ‘Lost on the Frontline’ was the most expansive piece of journalism the Guardian undertook in 2020 and hopefully it will serve as a historical record that marks their service and remembers their lives,” said John Mulholland, editor of Guardian US.
About KFF and KHN
KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.
About Guardian News & Media
Guardian US is renowned for its Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation into widespread secret surveillance by the National Security Agency, and for other award-winning work, including The Paradise Papers. Guardian US has bureaus in New York, Washington, New Orleans and Oakland, California, covering the climate crisis, politics, race and immigration, gender, national security and more.
Guardian News & Media (GNM), publisher of theguardian.com, is one of the largest English-speaking newspaper websites in the world. Since launching its U.S. and Australian digital editions in 2011 and 2013, respectively, traffic from outside of the U.K. now represents over two-thirds of The Guardian’s total digital audience.