Virgin Island news wins award for coverage of EMS problems

A three-part investigative journalism series revealed poor management, slow response times, and inadequate equipment and supplies


By Aldeth Lewin
The Virgin Islands Daily News

ST. THOMAS -- The Daily News has received its ninth Public Service Award for journalism excellence from the Associated Press Media Editors organization for its investigative report "EMS in Chaos," about the rampant dysfunction of emergency medical services on St. Thomas.

The Daily News won the annual Public Service Award in the under-40,000 circulation category for the third year in a row and the ninth time overall; the newspaper has been a finalist for the prize in three additional years.

The 2013 report "EMS in Chaos" was a three-part series that revealed poor management in the Health Department's Emergency Medical Service division on St. Thomas.

During the course of a four-month investigation, The Daily News found that response times are slow; staff shortages and bad management limit the number of ambulances available for emergency calls; ambulances lack equipment and supplies; and patients cannot get pain medication until they arrive at the hospital.

The report also uncovered sexual harassment allegations against supervisors and a Health Department administration that seems to turn a blind eye to the problems within the unit.

Many of the reported problems still plague the division.

In testimony given at the Senate Finance Committee hearing last week, Health Commissioner Darice Plaskett said she needs $450,000 to replace two ambulances that are more than 10 years old.

Currently, only five ambulances are in service territorywide -- two on St. Croix and three in the St. Thomas-St. John District.

Last October, three EMTs on St. Thomas left the already understaffed division citing disgust at a lack of response to complaints about sexual harassment and mismanagement.

J. Lowe Davis, editor at-large and project editor for "EMS in Chaos," said the award recognizes the bravery of those who came forward to talk about the problems within the division.

"This project would not have been possible without the courage and commitment to public service shown by the many people who were willing to talk on the record about serious, life-threatening abuses and problems within the EMS system that we all must count on," she said.

Daily News Publisher Jason Robbins said reports such as "EMS in Chaos" are necessary to keep the public informed.

"The Daily News is privileged to serve the Virgin Islands community. We devote tremendous resources and energy to investigative reports that bring to light issues that the people of our islands need to know about and that merit serious attention and action from our leaders. Seeing positive change result from our reporting is our ultimate goal, but it's certainly a proud moment to have recognition from our journalism peers who recognize the quality and consistency of this newspaper's hard work," Robbins said.

"Once again the Virgin Islands' staff shines with its tenacity and reporting," said the APME judges, who noted the paper also won the Public Service award for its circulation category last year.

It also won the Tom Curley First Amendment Sweepstakes award last year for its efforts to get access to public documents at the V.I. Legislature.

APME is an association of editors and content leaders at newspapers, broadcast outlets and digital newsrooms as well as journalism educators and student leaders in the United States and Canada. APME works closely with The Associated Press to foster journalism excellence.

The Daily News has been in continuous operation since its founding on St. Thomas on Aug. 1, 1930. The newspaper has earned dozens of other national honors, including the American Bar Association Silver Gavel Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, the highest award in American journalism. The newspaper is a subsidiary of Times-Shamrock Communications, a family-owned and operated media conglomerate based in Scranton, Pa., with media properties in 10 states.

APME is planning to present this year's awards formally at a luncheon in Chicago in September during the group's annual convention.

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©2014 The Virgin Islands Daily News (St. Thomas, VIR)

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