Wichita Eagle reporters Chance Swaim and Michael Stavola have won the 2022 Victor Murdock Award for their investigative series exploring problems in the Sedgwick County Emergency Medical Services Department.
The Murdock Award, named after late Eagle editor Victor Murdock, is an annual honor bestowed by the Kansas Press Association that recognizes journalistic excellence in a story or series published in a Kansas newspaper.
Swaim and Stavola’s three-part series documented a number of serious problems in the EMS system, including:
▪ slow and misreported response times to medical emergencies.
▪ a secret plan to reduce costs by replacing paramedics with less-capable but cheaper emergency medical technicians.
▪ an exodus of paramedics who felt they were being mistreated on the job.
▪ a decision by the department’s director not to transport a patient who had shot himself in the head to the hospital, although the man did not die until more than 10 hours after the shooting.
The Eagle’s reporting led to the removal of John Gallagher as county EMS director.
Swaim and Stavola were also named finalists for the prestigious Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting, which is presented annually by Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.
Swaim and fellow Eagle journalist Dion Leftler won last year’s Murdock Award for their investigation revealing a plot by local officials to smear then-mayoral candidate Brandon Whipple and frame the local GOP chairman for their misdeeds.
At Saturday night’s ceremony, Swaim and Stavola also were named the recipients of the Burton W. Marvin Kansas News Enterprise Award from the William Allen White School of Journalism & Mass Communications for the same series.
The KPA’s 2022 honors also include the induction of former Eagle investigative editor Jean Hays into the Kansas Newspaper Hall of Fame.
Hays’ Eagle career spanned 45 years. Her first two decades were spent working as a reporter, primarily covering environmental issues. Hays wrote major stories highlighting how defunct mines and industries left a poisonous legacy in southeast Kansas and how saltwater was polluting the Equus Beds aquifer.
As an editor, she was responsible for numerous coverage areas and steadily rose to the No. 2 position in the newsroom.
Hays retired a year after editing the work that brought the Eagle the highest journalism award in its history, The Polk Award, for coverage of the backdoor influence peddling around Wichita’s new water plant.