Dying Alone: Coronavirus in America's nursing homes

Before the novel coronavirus brought America to a standstill, it ravaged a suburban nursing home in the state of Washington. At Life Care Center of Kirkland, two-thirds of the residents and nearly 50 staff fell ill, and at least 37 died.

In March, our team at the Medill Investigative Lab started probing the emerging health crisis in nursing homes as well as long-standing, systemic breakdowns that can compromise sick and elderly residents already more at risk of dying from the highly infectious virus.

We started working with The Washington Post to compile a list of nursing homes with cases of the coronavirus, eventually pulling in the names of more than 4,000 facilities. We also conducted an extensive data analysis of federal records on nursing homes and reached out to families, employees, public health officials and industry groups.

The links to the stories are below, along with our first student-produced piece about the massive need for testing in nursing homes.

At a time of crisis, we hope these stories shed light on a system responsible for caring for the most vulnerable among us.

— Joel Jacobs, Shawn Mulcahy and Sidnee King

Published Stories

Debbie Cenziper

Debbie Cenziper is an associate professor and the director of investigative reporting at Medill. She also oversees the Medill Investigative Lab. Besides teaching, Cenziper is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter and nonfiction author who writes for The Washington Post. She spent three years at The George Washington University before joining the faculty of Medill.

Over the years, Cenziper’s investigative stories have exposed wrongdoing, prompted Congressional hearings and led to changes in federal and local laws. In her classes at Medill, Cenziper and her students focus on social justice investigative reporting.

Cenziper has won dozens of awards in American print journalism, including the Robert F. Kennedy Award for reporting about human rights and the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting from Harvard University. She received the Pulitzer Prize in 2007 at The Miami Herald for a series of stories about corrupt affordable housing developers who were stealing from the poor. A year before that, she was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for stories about dangerous breakdowns in the nation’s hurricane-tracking system.

Cenziper is a frequent speaker at universities, writing conferences and book events. Her first book, “Love Wins: The Lovers and Lawyers Who Fought the Landmark Case for Marriage Equality,” (William Morrow, 2016) was named one of the most notable books of the year by The Washington Post. Her second book, “Citizen 865: The Hunt for Hitler’s Hidden Soldiers in America,” was released by Hachette Books in November 2019.

Cenziper is based on Medill’s Washington, D.C. campus, working with undergraduate and graduate students on investigative stories.