Brace yourselves, this is actually a First Amendment news story that restores a little faith in humanity!
According to a New Hampshire newspaper, a former spinal cord specialist and whistleblower at the Manchester VA Medical Center has just been awarded the 17th Annual Nackey S. Loeb First Amendment Award. The award was “established to honor New Hampshire individuals or groups who stand out in their defense of or their use of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” something Dr. William Kois certainly deserved.
A little over two years ago, Kois began to notice serious mistreatment of veterans in his hospital. Ignored patient-conditions, unsterile surgical instruments, and an overall lack of proper hospital care finally led Kois to head to take action.
And as it turns out, Kois wasn’t alone. He and 10 other members of the medical staff had attempted to exploit and challenge the hospital’s practices by complaining to the US Office of Special Counsel, a federal whistleblower agency of sorts.
But as we all know, official channels seldom work for whistleblowing––so Kois went to the press too.
Kois reached out to Boston Globe Spotlight journalist, Jonathon Saltzman, who decided to get the information on the ill-equipped hospital, printed A.S.A.P. (Spotlight is the investigative special-reporting team at the Globe). The story told the raw truth of the harrowing conditions within the hospital by citing patient experiences, former employee encounters, administrative-official knowledge, and more.
As expected, the piece immediately got some attention.
Within hours of the story’s publication, “the federal government removed two top officials at the Manchester VA Medical Center and ordered a ‘top-to-bottom’ review of the hospital.”
Although Koi got to experience the raw power of institutional accountability, he never actually got to receive his award. Koi passed away last July in Hampton at the age of 62, and as a result, his wife accepted the award on his behalf.
Amidst big national security headliners ––I think we forget that whistleblowers don’t always fall under the same occupational scope. As Emily Bell wrote,”leaks are hardly the territory of the Edward Snowdens or Chelsea Mannings of the world.” Leakers don’t have to be cyber geniuses and the evidence isn’t always technological.
Government surveillance, personal privacy, and data-hacking are all super important, but this story reminds us that there are abuses deserving of justice occurring in our hometowns too. Sometimes it truly is physical mistreatment and human-error that needs to be called out.
And this needs to be a bigger deal.
Why have I never heard of a whistleblower award before? Why don’t I read about leaked information in the industries/facilities that I interact with everyday? If we normalize this kind of action, if we give out more awards, if we treat whistleblowing like the commendable deed that it is––perhaps we’d see more of them.