The COVID pandemic continues in NC, while the flawed U.S. health care system is examined
After nearly two full years of the coronavirus pandemic altering life as we once knew it, it’s no wonder that COVID-19 stories continued to dominate the headlines and the airwaves of WFAE in 2021.
We had the vaccine rollout early in the year. And then the glimmer of hope as cases and deaths began to recede. The national guidance on wearing masks in public gathering places was lifted.
Then came the delta variant. And boosters. And now, omicron.
COVID-19 seemed to be a part of every story in 2021 — health and otherwise. Here are a handful of WFAE’s top health-related stories from the year.
Of course, even though the pandemic touches everything, there are non-COVID health stories that are urgently important. In September, WFAE’s Gracyn Doctor reported on one: According to an annual report by the Trevor Project, suicide is the second leading cause of death in 13- to 24-year-olds. And this year, 62% of LGBTQ youths reported symptoms of depression, with 2 out of 3 identifying as transgender or nonbinary. And for LGBTQ youth of color, the numbers are even more alarming. Doctor looked into what’s being done about it in Charlotte and across North Carolina.
When it comes to detecting COVID-19 and identifying which strain is most dominant in the community, there are specific labs that do most of the work. WFAE health reporter Claire Donnelly spent time at the UNC Charlotte lab in August to find out how it’s coordinating with the Mecklenburg County Health Department to look for these variants and to try to predict the virus’ next local move.
Donnelly and WFAE’s Steve Harrison teamed up to report on how one of COVID-19’s most dangerous comorbidities, obesity, has rarely been mentioned by local leaders. In September, Donnelly and Harrison wrote that North Carolina's top health official, Mandy Cohen, hadn't talked about obesity in six months during her coronavirus news briefings with Gov. Roy Cooper. Was it the stigma of obesity, or simply an oversight?
Donnelly has reported on numerous COVID briefings, trends and breaking news stories throughout the year, and she somehow discovered a way to find a fun twist with one coronavirus story. Donnelly told the story of Bojangles Coliseum’s history as it prepared to hold its last vaccine clinic (of course, as the pandemic raged on, the clinics ended up continuing). It was a rare chance to combine audio from Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones and the top health official in Mecklenburg County.
As Donnelly focused on the coronavirus, Dana Miller Ervin, WFAE’s Holly and Paul Freestone Health Care Reporting fellow, examined the U.S. health care system. That meant a deep dive into the flaws in the system through our series The Price We Pay.
In 2021, Americans will spend more than $4 trillion on health care, and the federal government expects that number to rise even more in the coming years. Costs are growing faster than the economy, and employers and people with commercial insurance coverage are covering a big portion of those bills. In Part 4 of WFAE's series The Price We Pay, Miller Ervin explores why, starting with rising hospital costs.
It's estimated Americans spend $1 trillion a year on health care administration — more than we spend on Medicare. A study shows a quarter to half is wasted on things only necessary due to the complexity of our health care system.
Finally, Medicaid is complicated. Miller Ervin wrote back in March about how a growing number of doctors —including some who advised Joe Biden’s presidential campaign — believe the only way to improve health and cut costs is to address the social factors which contribute to poor health. North Carolina's Medicaid transformation is testing that, potentially paving the way for changes across the country.
The Camino Health Center has served Charlotte, specifically the Latino community, for 18 years, providing myriad services in both English and Spanish. Now, the center is expanding its wellness branch to include one-on-one physical training and nutrition services. In September, Gracyn Doctor took a visit to the facility to report on why its wellness program is a crucial service to many.