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Association of Health Care Journalists Convenes in Baltimore


image by Larry Canner

All photos courtesy Larry Canner. 

Over 760 health care journalists—a record attendance—arrived in Baltimore on Thursday, May 2, for the Association of Health Care Journalists annual conference. The Bloomberg School, along with the schools of Nursing and Medicine and Johns Hopkins University, was a sponsor of the event.

Field Trips—Public Health In Action 

On the opening day, the Bloomberg School hosted a field trip for a group of 30 journalists which included a visit to the SPARC Center in Baltimore’s Pigtown neighborhood; and, at the School’s East Baltimore campus, a tour of the Malaria Research Institute insectary and a demonstration from the Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health. The Bloomberg American Health Initiative then hosted a lunchtime discussion with faculty.

The SPARC Center provides women, particularly sex workers, with drop-in services including laundry, lockers and showers, as well as opioid medication-assisted treatment, legal aid, counseling, nursing and more. Following a tour of the facilities, Center director Emily Clouse, MScPH, led a discussion about the Center’s range of services and its holistic approach. Journalists learned more about women the Center serves—women who are often invisible to others—and about the opioid epidemic’s impact on Baltimore communities. (See more)

photo by Larry CannerAt the Insectary Core Facility, one of the largest in the U.S., facility manager Chris Kizito, ScM, and researchers Peter Agre, MD, Conor McMeniman, PhD, and Marcelo-Jacobs Lorena, PhD, MSc, discussed global impacts of malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases. Journalists got a close look at some of the insectary’s live collection inside a walk-in incubator and viewed video demos of laboratory processes like genetic modification of mosquitoes.

photo by Larry CannerAt the field trip to the Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health, launched in 2018, researchers Frank Lin, MD, PhD ’08, Jennifer Deal, PhD ’13, MHS ’07, and Amber Willink, PhD ’15, MPH, discussed hearing loss as a public health issue that impacts many older adults’ lives and mental and physical health. The researchers also demonstrated hearing aid devices that will soon be available over the counter.

Following the field trips, The Bloomberg American Health Initiative hosted a lunch discussion with Josh Sharfstein, MD, Daniel Webster, ScD ’91, MPH, Michelle Spencer, MS, Shannon Frattaroli, PhD ’99, MPH ’94, and Josh Horwitz, executive director of The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. The discussion covered each of the Initiative’s five impact areas—obesity and the food system, addiction and overdose, violence, environmental challenges and risks to adolescent health, as well as recent research on how to improve public health policy to address these issues.

Amanda Eisenberg, a POLITICO health care reporter and first-time AHCJ conference attendee, attended the field trips. “Not only was it helpful to meet with policy experts from Hopkins throughout the weekend,” she said, “it was very cool to see how the work plays out on the ground in Baltimore and outside of Maryland.”

Public Health Discourse 

The Health Journalism conference kicked off at the Hilton Baltimore Inner Harbor Hotel on Thursday evening with keynote speaker Otis Brawley, MD, introduced by Dean Ellen J. MacKenzie, PhD ’79, ScM ’75. Brawley, a Bloomberg Distinguished professor with expertise in cancer screening and prevention and health disparities, commended journalism for its vital role: “It is through education of the public that we change things. At this time, we see the incredible importance of a free press.”

photo by Larry Canner

Brawley discussed the American health care system’s failure to provide quality care to all people, regardless of geography, income, education, race or other characteristics. The emphasis on innovation is far too much on diagnosis and treatment, Brawley also said, with not enough on prevention.

Brawley closed with an anecdote about time he spent on a military ship with the motto “Leave no man behind” prominently displayed. In the context of the health care system, Brawley realized, “we, as Americans, leave a lot of people behind.”

The theme would resurface throughout the conference, including at a session about health disparities experienced by minority women.

photo by Larry Canner“Everyone dies from the same stuff,” said Darrell Gaskin, PhD, William C. and Nancy F. Richardson Professor in Health Policy and Management and director of the Center for Health Disparities Solutions. “There aren’t race-specific or ethnic-specific diseases driving disparities. But certain geographical, racial and ethnic groups have higher chances of developing and dying from certain diseases than others.”

photo by Larry CannerTanjala S. Purnell, PhD, MPH, an assistant professor of surgery at the School of Medicine with joint appointments at the Bloomberg School (Epidemiology and Health, Behavior and Society), challenged attendees to address health disparities in their roles as health journalists and community members. “This is not just a medical problem, it’s not just a public health problem,” she said. “It affects all of us and it will take all of our knowledge and expertise to address it.”

Bloomberg faculty participated in other panels on topics including autism from childhood to adulthood, the genetics of mental illness, drug pricing, gun violence, global health, treating cancer, tobacco regulation and the global crisis of antibiotic resistance.

Overall, 27 Bloomberg School faculty participated in AHCJ conference sessions and field trips over the four-day conference, providing a unique opportunity to highlight the School’s depth and breadth of thought leadership and evidence-based expertise. Faculty made valuable connections with top health journalists from across the country, while journalists had the opportunity to meet expert sources to feature in their reporting.

photo by Larry Canner

(Left to right) Otis Brawley, PhD, keynote speaker and panelist; Jessica Leighton, PhD, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Public Health Team; Ellen J. MacKenzie, PhD’79, ScM’75; Len Bruzzese, Executive Director of the Association of Health Care Journalists; Ivan Oransky, Board President, Association of Health Care Journalists.