“Shut the front door!” Blanche Jordan exclaimed into the phone in April. 

I had just told her the lawsuit filed against her over unpaid medical bills had been dropped. The bills were from a hysterectomy related to her cancer treatment in 2016. She hadn’t realized at the time the hospital did not accept her insurance.

Jordan’s suit was among several dozen that were dismissed after a Wisconsin Watch analysis in April found more than 100 small claims suits filed by Wisconsin hospitals against patients in the first three weeks of the pandemic. Jordan was served lawsuit papers in person at her front door by a person without a mask on. Learning the suit was dismissed was a relief.

Bram Sable-Smith, WPR Mike Simonson Memorial Investigative Reporting Fellow, reports from the COVID unit at the UW Hospital on Nov. 17, 2020. Credit: Angela Major / WPR

“I don’t even know how to feel right now,” Jordan said. “My heart is racing. I’m shaking right now, because these doctors bills have literally taken over my whole life.”

This pandemic has upended life in Wisconsin, as it has around the globe. Each day in this state thousands of people are diagnosed with COVID-19, dozens of people die and many, many more struggle to keep a roof over their heads and food on their tables. This new reality has added greater weight to the journalism we produce at Wisconsin Watch to protect the vulnerable, expose wrongdoing and explore solutions.

We’re proud of our work. 
 

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Our spotlighting of the ban on recipients of Social Security Disability Insurance from also receiving unemployment aid helped lead to policy change, allowing some of those laid off workers with disabilities to receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. Our News414 partnership is delivering news via text to thousands in Milwaukee, helping connect Milwaukeans with resources available in their communities. Our dogged reporting on Wisconsin’s election systems shined light on one of the most consequential and unusual elections of our lifetimes. 

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Bram Sable-Smith joined the Center in 2019 as the Wisconsin Public Radio Mike Simonson Memorial Investigative Reporting Fellow. Before moving to Wisconsin he spent five years reporting on health care at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri and as a founding reporter of Side Effects Public Media, a public media reporting collaborative in the Midwest. He also taught radio journalism at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Bram’s contributed stories to National Public Radio’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered, American Public Media’s Marketplace and Kaiser Health News. His reporting has received two national Edward R. Murrow awards, two national Sigma Delta Chi awards, a health policy award from the Association of Health Care Journalists among others. Bram is a proficient Spanish speaker and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis.