WPMI-TV, Mobile, Ala.: ‘For Lauren’s Sake’

Jan 16, 2006  •  Post A Comment

WPMI-TV reporter Bruce Mildwurf received an e-mail in the summer of 2004 from a mother in Mobile, Ala., asking for help for her chronically ill teenage daughter. The girl’s doctors said she could die from a common cold, Mr. Mildwurf said.

As a reporter for the Clear Channel-owned NBC affiliate located in Mobile, Mr. Mildwurf had been contacted before with requests to help people in need. But this case seemed different from the start due to the severity of the girl’s needs.

The girl is Lauren Rainey. She is deaf and has asthma, an enlarged heart, bone problems and scoliosis and was the size of a 3-year-old at age 13. Her airway is so tiny that she must be suctioned several times an hour. She needs 24-hour-a-day nursing care.

But Medicaid was threatening to end her home nursing care. In explanation, Medicaid would only say she didn’t meet the criteria, Mr. Mildwurf said.

Lauren’s mother, her doctors and Mr. Mildwurf had a hard time believing someone who needed constant care did not qualify, so WPMI began telling her story and challenging Medicaid executives about their decision.

The station ran a half-dozen pieces from November 2004 to May 2005. Mr. Mildwurf learned that Lauren was not alone and that Alabama had a statewide policy that was affecting children in similar situations.

After the first WPMI report a team of lawyers with the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program agreed to represent Lauren in her case against Medicaid, Mr. Mildwurf said. Shortly thereafter Medicaid underwent a 90-day review of its policy; Medicaid ultimately decided to change its regulations, enabling Lauren and other children to get the care they need.

The story stirred responses from across the globe, including messages from Europe, Australia and Canada, in part because it was linked on filmmaker Michael Moore’s Web site. “I have never gotten a response from a story like this,” Mr. Mildwurf said. “What really makes it special is I just got a holiday card from Lauren and her mom and it says, ‘Thanks for everything.’ And that right there says it all and gives me chills that because of what we did their life is better for it-and not just those families, but others in the future.”