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AJAs 2016 Finalists

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Slug/Label Green whitecoats
Date Aired or Published December 3 2020
Media outlet where first aired or published: The Coast
Name of Program:
If co-produced, list partner:
Location: Halifax, Nova Scotia
List awards, grants:
Running time (TV/Radio):

Short explanation of the story and how it developed:

The story is about the environmental impact of Nova Scotia’s healthcare system, and some of the people who are working to find solutions and change harmful practices, all in the context of a global pandemic. I first started working on this story in late February/early March 2020. At the time, I was working as a part-time freelance journalist for The Coast, writing about an article a week on environment-related topics. The story idea was suggested by a roommate of mine, who was involved with Dalhousie University’s Healthy Populations Institute for work that winter. She put me in touch with the Managing Director, Gillian Ritcey, and I met with her on February 28, 2020. At first, I was hesitant to write an article on the environmental impact of the healthcare system, because I thought of it as a necessary evil. I worried that people would frown upon a story that criticized practices like using disposable items in hospitals, because the perception would be that these were essential to ensuring patient and staff safety. The conversation with Ritcey changed my outlook. She opened my eyes to the sheer scale of the healthcare system’s environmental impact and pointed out many inefficiencies and areas for improvement. She discussed the delicate nature of addressing environmental concerns without ever compromising patient care. Ritcey was armed with statistics, examples, resources and passion. During that discussion, she pointed out how the burgeoning COVID-19 crisis was an example of more epidemics to come if we kept destroying our planet. Neither of us could have known that only a few weeks later, COVID-19 would be declared a full-blown pandemic. The day after the WHO announced that COVID-19 was now considered a pandemic, on March 12, I interviewed neurosurgeon Dr. Sean Christie at the Halifax Infirmary. Christie spoke about his concern for next generations, provided me with concrete examples from his practice, and discussed the steps his team was taking to improve the situation. He spoke with honesty and insight about the difficulties and challenges around finding alternatives and the clear need to chart a better, greener course, but also highlighted the reality of having to recognize that some measure of waste and environmentally harmful practices have to be accepted for the sake of patient safety. Unfortunately, the story was put on hold shortly thereafter due to the evolving pandemic. In August 2020, I contacted my sources again, plus an additional source suggested by Ritcey, a student in the medical program called Emma McDermott. The follow-up interviews were done by phone, and I took personal time out of my schedule to conduct them and write the story while also working full time. I asked my sources to reflect upon what the environmental impact of the healthcare system was within the context of the pandemic, and how COVID-19 had changed things. I worked with the news editor at The Coast, Caora McKenna, to finalize the story and fine-tune the details. By September, we had a draft, but the publication of the story was delayed in order to get photographs and find the optimal publication time within The Coast’s schedule. The article was finally published in early December 2020, about 9 months after initially starting to work on it. It was received with many positive comments, including from the sources I had worked with and other people working in the healthcare field.

Resources of the newsroom (money and time) available to complete the story:

Throughout the process, I had very limited resources for the story: I had no funding, used my own equipment (e.g., microphone, notebook, personal computer, software, etc.) and sacrificed a considerable amount of personal time to work on it. During the follow-up period in August, I was working full time, and during the final draft stages in the fall, I had started graduate studies, so the time I had available to work on the story was also scarce. The support I did receive came from The Coast in the shape of encouragement, help with finalizing drafts and editing throughout the process and was essential to the completion and publication of the story. Because of the pandemic, The Coast had to cut its freelance budget. This meant the story was put on the backburner, but the discussions with Gillian Ritcey and Sean Christie came back to mind often. During a conversation with a friend and student at my workplace who was planning to go to university to become a nurse, she encouraged me to write the article anyway. I took her enthusiasm and interest to heart and contacted The Coast to ask if they would still like to run the story. They were keen, but had no funds to pay me, so I agreed to write the story for free.

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