10 KXAN investigations that made a difference in 2020


AUSTIN (KXAN) — KXAN investigators worked tirelessly during the pandemic to answer viewers’ questions and concerns — and while those stories are at the top of our list, a number of other topics also shone through.

From getting a police officer’s family his sick pay to investigating racism allegations at a local high school, here are the top 10 investigations that made a difference this year.

1. Locked in Limbo: A Catalyst Project

Every year, thousands of mentally ill men and women languish in Texas’ county jails. Incapable of standing trial, they wait in line behind hundreds of other people — sometimes over a year — for a bed in a state hospital to get the help they need.

As Texas’ population booms, its leaders have recognized this problem is also growing, but their efforts to shrink the backlog have failed.

In 2019, the number of people stuck on the state’s waitlist — with their cases stalled and constitutional rights possibly violated — reached historic levels. These are the stories of the families caught up in this broken system and the state’s struggle to find solutions.

2. Nursing home COVID-19 investigations

As COVID-19 cases spread across Texas, another startling trend is growing inside facilities housing some of the state’s most vulnerable.

Experts say residents in nursing homes and retirement centers are at great risk due to their age, often-compromised immune systems and close-living quarters. While state health officials have refused to publicly release which of those sites have confirmed tested, infected, quarantined or deceased residents and staff, KXAN investigators are tracking and confirming these cases independently in Central Texas. 

3. Pandemic workforce complaint investigations

The fallout from COVID-19 stretches far beyond health and safety. Job loss and financial impact are hitting Texans hard, and the state has struggled to keep up with the number of people filing unemployment claims.

KXAN has fielded hundreds of complaints from viewers about the Texas Workforce Commission’s inadequate technology, lagging customer service and lack of preparedness for the wave of workers seeking help – along with other concerns about Central Texas companies and their unfair treatment of employees during the pandemic.

4. Denied no more: Austin police sick pay

Norman Bujanos
Norman, Jordyn and Amy Bujanos (Courtesy: Amy Bujanos)

When an Austin police detective died after experiencing a rare side effect of a common medication used to treat depression, his family discovered his final paycheck was missing $29,000 worth of sick time.

KXAN’s investigation prompted the city of Austin to pay police officers the sick pay they were denied in 2018 while officers were operating without a contract.

5. Pipeline exposure

A tip led KXAN to a storage yard holding hundreds of pipeline segments in Blanco. The segments will become the Permian Highway Pipeline.

The group fighting the pipeline is concerned the anti-corrosion coating on the pipes has been outside, uncovered for far too long. Our investigation found there are no regulations to determine how long is too long before UV radiation begins to degrade the pipe coating.

6. Dead & Undone: A Catalyst Project

When someone dies in the custody of Texas law enforcement, state law requires that agency to submit a specific report to the attorney general detailing the incident. The report is meant to promote transparency and accountability, but a KXAN investigation finds hundreds of reports in recent years filed incomplete or late, leaving the public and families without answers.

7. The Accused: Tracking hidden & abusive priests one year later

In 2019, all Roman Catholic dioceses in Texas had released their lists of priests “credibly accused of sexually abusing a minor.”

The lists do not indicate those individuals who were charged or convicted of any crimes, though the names spanned nearly 70 years, joining a growing number of allegations against clergy nationwide.

KXAN spoke with accusers, police and state leaders to investigate the system for reporting abuse against children. But one year later, very few additional accusers have come forward, as KXAN discovered the church’s lists were incomplete, sometimes misleading and even wrong.

Our research has also filled in many blanks and reveal dozens of previously unmentioned accused priests.

8. Protests over police brutality and racial injustice

Demonstrators walk down 2nd Street at a protest in Austin on May 31, 2020. (KXAN/ Alyssa Goard).

Following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, and the police shooting death of Mike Ramos in Austin, thousands of people took to the streets nationwide and in Austin to demand changes to policing.

KXAN investigators dug into a number of groups law enforcement accused of violence, including one named after Mike Ramos that Ramos’ mother has said she and her family do not support and another whose members are accused of looting a Target.

Investigators also dug into the danger even less-lethal rounds police use can pose, including seriously injuring at least three protesters. KXAN also looked into what led a group of mobile paramedics to formed in response to the protests and help out.

9. Racism at Westlake High School

Current and former Westlake High School students discuss their experiences with racism (KXAN Photo/Alex Caprariello)
Current and former Westlake High School students discuss their experiences with racism (KXAN/Alex Caprariello)

An anonymous Instagram account started posting stories of racism experienced by students at Westlake High School. KXAN spoke with a number of students about their personal experience and what they think needs to change in the school’s culture, and dug into concrete solutions the district is currently pursuing.

10. Nurse practitioners’ limitations in Texas

David Bushnell said in Big Lake they are the only option for healthcare for patients (Courtesy David Bushnell)
David Bushnell said in Big Lake they are the only option for healthcare for patients (Courtesy David Bushnell)

A lack of access to healthcare and the pandemic have intensified the push for nurse practitioners to work independently, without a supervising doctor.

Supporters say rural areas especially could benefit from having more healthcare workers to help them. However, opponents question whether nurse practitioners’ training and education prepare them for more nuanced circumstances, like the case of Betty Wattenberger.

“The misdiagnosis ended up costing her, her life,” Betty’s father said of the nurse practitioner who looked over his sick daughter. “She didn’t take the time; she didn’t put the effort in to properly examine Betty.”

Do you have something you want KXAN to investigate in 2021? Email us at reportit@kxan.com or fill out this form.

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