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Joint AP/‘Frontline’ investigation reveals deadly failures in US medical supply chain

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This week’s award recognizes AP investigative reporters Martha Mendoza and Juliet Linderman, whose exceptional multiformat journalism exposed the collapse of the U.S. medical equipment supply chain, leading to deadly shortages of crucial personal protective equipment (PPE) that left workers vulnerable to COVID-19.

In collaboration with public television’s “Frontline,” the Center for Global Reporting and AP reporters worldwide, “America’s Medical Supply Crisis” offered a sweeping examination of the nation’s fragmented medical supply chain, identifying a series of missteps in government and the healthcare system that contributed to one of the highest death rates per capita in the world.

The investigation elicited praise from public health experts and response from bipartisan members of Congress who are pushing legislation to solve dangerous shortages of masks,gloves, test swabs and other essential items in the United States.

The all-formats project included:

– The mainbar story and an abridged version.

– A ‘Frontline’ film reported by Linderman and Mendoza.

– An AP video on counterfeit masks by Allen Breed.

– A photo package.

– An interactive graphic page.

– A five-takeaways piece.

– An investigative ‘Frontline Dispatch’ podcast.

– An extended recorded interview with White House trade adviser Peter Navarro.

– A Pulitzer Center lesson plan on the subject for teachers.

Edited by AP’s Jerry Schwartz,Chris Hulme,Alison Kodjak and Ron Nixon,this ambitious company-wide effort would have been a major challenge in any year. But with COVID-19-related mask and distance requirements and travel restrictions,the reporters had to be even more resourceful and collaborative.

Throughout the reporting this year,Linderman and Mendoza interviewed more than 100 people including nurses and doctors,medical and supply chain experts,manufacturers of personal protective equipment,and officials from the Bush,Clinton, Obama and Trump administrations. They filed Freedom of Information Act requests and pressed agencies and companies for documents.

They had several scoops for the “Deadly Shortages” series including:

– The contract for the most needles and syringes went to a new company with an untested, unapproved device and no factory.

– Imports of critical medical supplies abruptly stopped when cases across the nation began to soar.

– Counterfeit PPE flooded the U.S. market.

As well as praise from across the political spectrum,the story garnered nearly 100,000 pageviews on AP News. The “Frontline” piece was highlighted in the Washington Post,the Los Angeles Times,Reality Blurred and Poynter,and the reporters were interviewed on a half-dozen local radio stations around the U.S.

For breaking down a complex topic and showing the critical importance of medical supply chains during the pandemic,and the human costs when those supply chains fail, Linderman and Mendoza share AP’s Best of the Week award.

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