Veteran Palm Beach Post reporter Stacey Singer spent nine months following a trail of public records to learn where multi-drug-resistant “nightmare germs” like CRE were striking in the state.
She found that state health officials didn’t really have a clear picture. Infections like CRE hadn’t been “reportable conditions” under Florida law.
Singer learned that the CDC had been in Florida in 2011 to contain an outbreak of CRE in the Tampa Bay area, one that had never made the news. It had affected 115 people, at one point colonizing or infecting 60 patients in one hospital, yet the public, and even, apparently, those patients, didn’t know.
How many other outbreaks like that had been occurring in Florida hospitals without the public’s knowledge, she wondered. It turned out that 12 could be documented.
She pieced together scattered investigation records from the state Department of Health, county health departments and scientific papers, plus inspection reports and final orders from the Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration.
Telling the human story of these outbreaks proved considerably more difficult, because of medical privacy laws. Singer used newspaper obituaries and her knowledge of outbreak dates to find affected families. Two of the families went so far as to share their loved ones’ complete medical records, in the hopes of raising the awareness of health care workers and the public.