Alex Smith

Reporter, Heartland Health Monitor

Alex Smith is a health reporter for KCUR, a  partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team. HHM is a reporting collaboration among KCUR, KHI News Service in Topeka, Kan., KCPT television in Kansas City, Mo., and Kansas Public Radio in Lawrence, Kan. 

Alex Smith began working in radio as an intern at the National Association of Farm Broadcasters. A few years and a couple of radio jobs later, he became the assistant producer of KCUR's magazine show, KC Currents. He became health reporter at KCUR in January 2014.
 

Ways To Connect

Fear Factor

Jul 6, 2015
Pixabay

Kids are riding bikes less and less. Some of that has to do with parents' fears, and some of it has to do with a shift in community design (after all, you can only get so far in a cul-de-sac). Parents swap stories, strategies and concerns about getting the elementary-school set back in gear.

Guests:

Dan Margolies / Heartland Health Monitor

On a warm afternoon at Garfield Elementary school in northeast Kansas City, a class of grade schoolers charges out into the schoolyard to spend an hour riding bikes. They’re getting training from members of the nonprofit group BikeWalkKC.

The program was created three years ago to teach bicycle safety skills. But BikeWalkKC’s education program manager, Maggie Priesmeyer, says she and her fellow instructors found they would often be teaching children to ride for the first time.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

Early on a Monday morning, percussionist and music teacher Amy Hearting of Kansas City reads a newspaper outside a coffee shop before going off to teach an elementary school workshop.

She loves her work but says she’s not in it for the benefits and certainly not for the big salary.

“I feel like I’m doing what I want to be doing in life,” Hearting says. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with health insurance, and it doesn’t really come with an annual income where that is an easy reality for me.”

Wikimedia--CC

The rate of life-threatening skin cancer has more than doubled in the past three decades in the United States, according to a national report.

And without more efforts at prevention, health officials say the problem will get worse. 

Dan Margolies / Heartland Health Monitor

Charles Welty began seriously worrying about his heart health at the gym. The 78-year-old retired civil engineer said that while running on a treadmill, he saw something startling on the machine’s heart monitor.

“My pulse rate was undetectable,” Welty said during a recent interview in his Lenexa home. “It was so fast.”

A visit to his doctor revealed that his worries were not unfounded.  

“What was going on was not so good. And had me somewhat scared,” Welty said.

Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation

A long-awaited bike trail spanning most of Missouri from east to west could be endangered by a pending transportation budget bill.

The measure introduced last week, House Resolution 2609, would eliminate the Department of Transportation’s Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), which provides funding to states for recreational trails, community improvement activities and safe routes to school, among other programs.

Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious / Flickr

Central Standard's annual check-in on Kansas City's attempts to become a bicycle-friendly town. News, obstacles, progress reports and more. Plus, voices and stories from Missouri's Katy Trail.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

Just outside St. Louis, Missouri, on a high, windy bluff overlooking the Missouri River, a trio of grey-haired cyclists pump up tires and make adjustments to their bikes while their friend Henry Lazarski paces the parking lot, eager to get rolling.

Lazarski, a 73-year-old real estate lawyer from Paris, France, traveled to Missouri to ride the Katy Trail, which stretches almost the entire width of the state just short of Kansas City. At about 240 miles, it’s the longest continuous bike trail in the country.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

For customers stepping inside Abarrotes Delicias, the noise, traffic and heat of the surrounding Kansas City, Kansas, neighborhood seem to disappear.

The small store offers everything from tacos to snacks to money transfers – or just  an air-conditioned place to hang out and watch TV on a lazy afternoon.

Owner Graciela Martinez says she tries to provide a welcoming personal touch when serving her customers, who comprise a diverse sample of nearby residents.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

Whatever someone’s route to gluten-free living might be, they soon find out it’s a bigger change than just giving up baked goods.

“It’s expensive,” says Karen Miller, a retired dietitian who helped out at the Wednesday open house of the ReNewed Health Allergy Friendly and Gluten Free Food Pantry in Overland Park, Kansas.

The boxes and bags of gluten-free flour, pasta, pancake mix and other food that line the pantry’s shelves cost two to four times as much as their gluten-rich counterparts.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

Glenn Helverson has a job that’s all about speed.

For most of the last 25 years he’s been a driver with the Central Jackson County Fire Protection District. But he’s been slowed down at times by a health issue that appeared at an early age.

“I think I first noticed signs of arthritis when I was eighteen,” Helverson says.

Today his rheumatoid arthritis pain is kept at bay with a new-generation injectable drug called Cimzia.

“Without the medications I’ve had, I probably would’ve already been retired with disability,” he says.

Wikimedia -- CC

Testing the complete DNA of critically ill infants can lead to significant changes in treatment strategy, according to a newly published article by researchers at Children’s Mercy Hospital.

Genetic diseases are the leading cause of mortality in infants, according to Dr. Laurel K. Willig, a Children’s Mercy pediatric nephrologist and a lead author of the study.

She says many of these diseases may go undiagnosed, however, because of inadequate testing of critically ill newborns.

The stakes for Kansas to expand Medicaid have been raised.

The state received notice from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services last week that if it doesn’t expand its Medicaid program, it would lose federal funding for uncompensated health care, according to officials from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

The federal government provides money for the state’s uncompensated care pool to reimburse health care providers who serve the uninsured.

Tony Cenicola / Michael Moss

For decades, food companies have been deliberately bumping up the salt, sugar and fat levels in processed foods to get us hooked. And those unhealthy foods have played a big part in our current epidemic of health problems, including obesity and diabetes. So argues Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Moss in his 2013 book “Salt, Sugar and Fat: How The Food Giants Got Us Hooked.” KCUR caught up with Moss recently when the author was in town to speak at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

Shortly after a massive twister struck his city in May 2011, Joplin, Missouri, resident Brandon McCoy described what he saw during what turned out to be one of the worst tornadoes in U.S. history.

“Standing on the sixth floor, I was trying to help a woman out of some debris, and you look outside and, just, everything’s gone,” he told NPR at the time. “Everything. And nobody knew what happened.”

The tornado left a wide swath of destruction in its wake. One hundred fifty-eight people died. Property damage was catastrophic.  

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

A Kansas City, Kan., facility meant to improve emergency mental health care was lauded by state officials, mental health service providers and law enforcement officials at a first-anniversary celebration Tuesday.

Rainbow Services Inc. opened April 7, 2014, to provide stabilization services for mental health or substance abuse emergencies. The facility near the University of Kansas Medical Center previously housed the Rainbow Mental Health Facility, a former state mental hospital.

For years, Missouri has been the only state in the country that doesn’t monitor prescription drugs, but that may be about to change.

The Missouri Senate on Thursday, by a 24-10 vote, approved a bill that would create a drug monitoring program that addresses some of the privacy concerns raised by opponents. The vote marked the first time the Senate has approved such a program.

Alex Smith / KCUR

Kansas City has been making a lot of lists lately, recognized by various national websites and newspapers as a top entrepreneurial city and a great town for millennials.

Wahid Mulla / Rong Li Lab-Stowers Institute

One of the big challenges in treating cancer is that cancer cells mutate and become resistant to treatment. A drug may work for a while, then lose its effectiveness. Cancer cells’ ability to mutate has long frustrated researchers, but some now view it as an opportunity to try new approaches to treatment.

In Kansas City, one scientist is leading the way by trying to create an ‘evolutionary trap’ to fight the disease.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

Parenting is a tough job for anyone, but raising children with autism, who often have behavioral or communication problems, can be especially demanding.

Research has shown that parents of children with autism are at increased risk of depression.

But in Kansas City, some of these mothers and fathers are finding a measure of respite, and sympathetic ears, through comedy.

On a recent Thursday night, a handful of parents with kids who have autism took a break from parenting and faced down their latest challenge: stage fright.

Twice as many Kansans and Missourians signed up for health insurance this year under the Affordable Care Act compared with the first enrollment period last year, new figures released Tuesday show.

More than 250,000 Missourians and nearly 100,000 Kansans selected plans on the federal insurance exchange, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

The data reflects complete enrollment numbers for the period from Nov. 15, 2014, through Feb. 15, 2015, and includes additional special enrollment activity through Feb. 22.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

In the pediatric clinic at Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center, nurse Constance Grayson gives newborn-care instructions to a jittery-looking young couple.

Samuel U. Rodgers is one of Kansas City’s largest safety net health clinics, and the doctors and nurses here take pride in offering care to all. That means learning to expect the unexpected.

But cuts in funding are something else, according to CEO Hilda Fuentes, who  recently got a letter explaining that the money she gets from the city would be cut this fiscal year by more than 10 percent, or about $167,000.

University of Missouri-Kansas City

Missouri’s medical schools on Friday kicked off a collaborative effort to encourage minorities to enter the health care professions.

Former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan, who served under President George H.W. Bush from 1989 to 1993, helped launch the project, delivering a lecture Friday at the University of Missouri-Kansas City on the state of diversity in the health care workforce since 1965.

Alex Smith / KCUR

St. Louis police, city officials and civic leaders took some pointers from Kansas City on Monday for strategies to reduce homicides.

In meetings at the police department headquarters, Kansas City police passed along crime prevention strategies implemented as part of the Kansas City No Violence Alliance, or KC NoVA, strategy, which they credit with last year's drop in homicides.

In 2014, the Kansas City homicides totaled 79, a drop of 21 percent from the previous year. During the same period, St. Louis's homicide total grew to 159.

Philip Taylor / Creative Commons-Flickr

 

In addition to big changes in health care, the Affordable Care Act has also brought changes to income tax filings. And as April 15 approaches, many taxpayers will look for help from people like Aimee Sanita. She’s the owner of Circle Tax and Accounting, and for the next two months she’s figuring on 60-80 hour workweeks. Sanita recently took a few minutes out of her busy day to help Heartland Health Monitor’s Alex Smith understand how the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, affects people’s taxes.

Alex Smith / KCUR

Blacks in Kansas City still lag considerably behind whites when it comes to economics, education and health.  That’s according to the Urban League of Greater Kansas City’s latest State of Black Kansas City report, which was assembled by a team of economists. The report says the disparities are largely the product of poverty and geography. Urban League CEO Gwendolyn Grant told Heartland Health Monitor’s Alex Smith she was disappointed by many of the findings.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

If you’re in the market for fluorescent light bulbs, you might talk to Chris Smiley. In the past few weeks, she’s been trying to sell off what’s left of Sac-Osage Hospital.

“Casework, lighting, plumping, sinks, toilets. Anything you want,” Smiley says.

That’s not in her job description. She’s actually the CEO of Sac-Osage, a hospital in Osceola, Mo., that closed in September.

“I have become an auctioneer,” Smiley says. “And I’ve learned more about asbestos and construction demolition than I ever wanted to know.”

Elana Gordon / KCUR

Health information technology giant Cerner has just gotten bigger.

The Kansas City-based company finalized its purchase of Siemens’ Health Services, a health information technology division, on Monday.

With the $1.3 billion all-cash purchase, Cerner increased its payroll by about a third to more than 21,000.

Cerner says the deal, which was announced in August, will boost annual revenues to between $4.8 billion and $5 billion in 2015, up from $3 billion in 2013, the last year for which figures are available.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

Millie McWilliams comes to life when she listens to the party music of Jason Aldean. The 9-year-old discovered the country-pop superstar at a family friend’s house, and her love of the genre came as a bit of a surprise to her parents.

“I’ve actually gotten into it because of her!” Earl McWilliams says. “You know, that’s how it is with your kids. You find yourself interested in whatever they’re interested in, just to stay connected to them.”

Alex Smith / KCUR

The Kansas City area may soon be home to a network of 1,000 electric vehicle charging stations capable of serving 10,000 electric cars and trucks.

Kansas City Power and Light Co. announced Monday plans to create the Clean Charge Network in partnership with Nissan and ChargePoint, a charging station manufacturer.

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