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

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

Walk into the courtroom of Wyandotte County District Judge Kathleen M. Lynch and you may be surprised to find lawyers who aren’t asked to stand up and a judge who prefers street dress to a judge’s robes. Lynch’s docket includes lots of cases involving mental illness or substance abuse and offenders needing institutional treatment. She’s become a big advocate for more social services in the area and for courtrooms more sensitive to people who have experienced trauma.

Kansas City Health Department

Kansas City has received national recognition for its wide-ranging and collaborative efforts to improve public health.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced Wednesday at its headquarters in Princeton, New Jersey, that Kansas City was a recipient of a 2015 RWJF Culture of Health Prize.

“It’s an exemplary community for our country in terms of thinking about where we all need to go in promoting health,” said Don Schwarz, director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

Near a greasy spoon restaurant in the Quindaro neighborhood of Kansas City, Kansas, two young men were killed in a drive-by shooting on a sunny afternoon earlier this year. Two more killings after what had already been a violent stretch of months.

Pastor Sheldrick Walker was in his church a few miles away when he got the news from fellow pastor Adrion Roberson.

“I was up here praying and Pastor Roberson called me,” Walker says. “And we began to talk to each other, and our hearts were broken, because – man – you get tired of this, man.”

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

Growing up in foster care can be challenging, but many of the biggest problems foster children face occur after they age out of the system.

Among the sobering statistics: More than one in five become homeless, nearly three out of four girls become pregnant by age 21 and only half are gainfully employed at age 24, according to the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, a national foundation that assists young people leaving foster care.

Children's Mercy Hospital

Children’s Mercy Hospital on Wednesday marked the 500th delivery in its high-risk birth center, which raised some eyebrows when it opened four years ago.

Warren Emil was born to Mariah and Tom Schumacher of Knob Noster, Missouri, on the afternoon of Sept. 28.

Early in the pregnancy, doctors discovered that Warren had gastroschisis, a condition in which the intestines stick outside the body.

The Schumachers opted to have Warren delivered at Children’s Mercy so he could quickly have surgery to place the intestines back inside.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

Say you're a Midwestern farmer in a hospital bed, recovering from surgery or a major illness. It's time for the nurse's check-in, but there's no knock on the door.

At Mercy Hospital in St. Louis, a camera attached to the wall over the foot of the bed whirls around, as a video monitor next to the camera lights up to show a smiling face with a headset on.

"Good afternoon, this is Jeff with SafeWatch," the smiling face says. "Just doing my afternoon rounds."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Public Health Image Library

An infectious disease that typically affects about 10 people in Kansas City annually has already spread to more than 14 times that number this year, health officials said Friday.

Shigella is spread by direct or indirect fecal-oral contact. Symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever and vomiting, among other symptoms. It may also cause convulsions in young children.

The Kansas City Health Department has investigated more than 143 cases of the disease since the start of the year, officials said.

The University of Missouri–Kansas City on Thursday said it's launching a program aimed at bringing more high school students into  science, engineering, technology and math.

The university said its School of Nursing and Health Studies and its School of Computing and Engineering had received a five-year, $2.5 million dollar grant to fund the program, called KC HealthTracks.

Alex Smith / KCUR

Environmental Protection Agency officials announced Wednesday morning a $475,000 grant to help clean up and redevelop neglected property in Kansas City.

Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, spoke at the site of the former Horace Mann school, where affordable senior housing is now being constructed with the help of EPA funding.

Alex Smith / KCUR

For many Catholics, Pope Francis' visit to the United States provides a thrilling chance to see the church’s highest leader in the flesh. 

But in Kansas City, Kansas, the Strawberry Hill Museum and Cultural Center still celebrates and remembers a previous pope’s trip to the United States — specifically how he rested during the trip.

On display is the former air travel bed of Pope John Paul II, which is now classified as a relic.

Papal Report

Sep 22, 2015

As Pope Francis heads to the Unites States, the Kansas City-based National Catholic Reporter gears up for a big three days. The story and editorial philosophy of the paper, including a new approach to covering a new pope. Bonus: a papal relic in Strawberry Hill.


  • Dennis Coday, editor, National Catholic Reporter
  • Caitlin Hendel, CEO, National Catholic Reporter
Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

Updated, 11:00 a.m. Tuesday:

Registered nurses working at Menorah Medical Center "overwhelmingly" approved a new contract Tuesday morning at 12:30 am, according the National Nurses United spokesperson Julie Perry.

Prior to the approval, a spokesperson with HCA Midwest, which owns the hospital said in a statement say they were pleased with the agreement.

The original post continues below.

Alex Smith / KCUR

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon says having a skilled workforce is key to the state’s future as a global leader in auto manufacturing.

Nixon toured a newly completed facility Monday in Liberty built by auto parts maker LMV Automotive Systems to provide needed skills like welding to its growing workforce.

“Companies like LMV understand that in a fiercely competitive worldwide economy, highly-skilled workers are vital to their success,” Nixon said.

With the expansion of its $90 million facility, the LMV space has doubled in size since last year.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

Early hearing loss was hard for Rob Jefferson to accept, even though it runs in his family.

“No, it couldn’t have been me,” he says. “It wasn’t my hearing. Everybody was mumbling.”

The 56-year-old resident of Belton, Missouri, started losing his hearing when he was 17 years old, the result of premature degeneration of the hair cells in his inner ear.

By the time he reached his mid-30s, everyday communication had become difficult, and Jefferson gradually retreated from social activities.

Alex Smith / KCUR

Dozens of registered nurses and supporters marched and chanted outside of Research Medical Center in Kansas City on Thursday evening to draw attention to labor issues.

The picketers, who were organized by the National Nurses United union, say the hospital is failing to comply with its own staffing plan and the resulting staffing shortage is affecting patient care.

“This hospital is where patients come to get good care, and what we’re doing today is advocating for them, not only to get good care but get above and beyond good care,” said Bessie Grey, a Research nurse.

Nephron / Creative Commons

A disease caused by swimming pool parasites has been diagnosed in some Johnson County, Kansas residents and led to the temporary closure of a pool in Overland Park.

Cryptosporidiosus, or crypto, is spread by contact with waste, contaminated food or water,or infected people. Symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever, nausea and vomiting.

“At this time, we have three confirmed cases and are tracking a few more possible cases in the community,” said Lougene Marsh, director of the Johnson County Department of Health and the Environment, in a press release.

Alex Smith / KCUR

Health rankings published in recent years have made it clear that there’s a lot of work to do in Wyandotte County, Kansas, which has some of the worst health outcomes in the state, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

But the data has also inspired many community groups, including churches, to work together to makes some changes.


A nonprofit health care clinic originally known for helping hippies in the 1970s has received federal recognition.

The Kansas City CARE Clinic was designated as a Federally Qualified Health Center, or FQHC, on Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The clinic will receive federal funding of $650,000 annually, and KC CARE vice president of marketing and development Kirk Isenhour says that will help the organization expand its capacity to include pediatric care and more services for seniors.

Utility companies that operate coal-burning power plants in the area say they’re exploring how new federal carbon emissions rules will affect them and their customers.

The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday released its Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce greenhouse gases by nearly a third in the next 15 years.

A spokesman for the Kansas City Board of Public Utilities, which operates the Nearman Creek Power Station in Kansas City, Kansas, said it was unclear how the plan would play out.

Fear Factor

Jul 6, 2015

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.


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.”


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.