Tampa Bay Times staff writers Kathleen McGrory and Neil Bedi have won the George Polk Award, one of journalism's top honors, for their stories on problems that resulted in the deaths of at least 11 children at the Heart Institute inside Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital.
In awarding the prize for local reporting Tuesday to McGrory and Bedi, the Polk judges praised their year-long investigation, "Heartbroken,'' for showing that the hospital was "risking young lives.'' The stories, directed by Adam Playford, deputy editor for investigations, led to the resignations of six top officials of the St. Petersburg hospital. They also prompted an investigation by federal regulators, who identified serious safety problems and threatened to withhold funding if the issues were not immediately addressed.
"This award is wonderful recognition of the dogged reporting by Kathleen and Neil under Adam's leadership,'' said Mark Katches, the Times' executive editor. "Their journalism already has had a clear and profound impact on our community."
Katches added: "A lot of people may not realize the difficulty of producing this story. There was no roadmap or trail of lawsuits to follow. Many people were afraid to talk. Kathleen and Neil meticulously found all the dots and connected them for readers.''
Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins, one of the nation's top hospitals, took control of All Children's in 2011 with a goal to make it the best in the nation. But from medical data, McGrory and Bedi determined that no Florida hospital had a worse record for children's heart surgeries in 2017 even though the problems had begun to surface in 2015.
McGrory and Bedi found cases where sutures inexplicably burst and patches covering holes in little hearts had failed. More than once, surgeons lost track of needles left behind in children's chests. Infections mounted. And surgeons didn't always own up to their mistakes.
As one result of the Times stories, the hospital's CEO, three vice presidents and two surgeons resigned. The chairman of the surgery department stepped down from that position but remains at the hospital.
State and federal inspectors visited the hospital after the Times' reports, and federal investigators declared the hospital had put patients in "immediate jeopardy" of harm.
McGrory, 35, is the Times' deputy investigations editor. Before joining the staff in 2015, she spent seven years as a metro reporter for the Miami Herald and two years as a government reporter in the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee Bureau
Bedi, 25, is an investigative reporter at the Times. He joined the newspaper in 2016 as a data reporter. Previously, he was a technology analyst at JPMorgan Chase in New York.
The George Polk awards, presented by Long Island University and named for an American journalist killed in 1948 during the Greek civil war, honor reporting in several categories. Recipients have included Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow.
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Contact Susan Taylor Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.