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 / KCUR 89.3

Kansas City’s neighborhoods have seen major shifts in recent years, as urban areas attract new residents and the suburbs become more diverse. Those changes are especially obvious in houses of worship throughout the city.

That phenomenon recently hit home in an unexpected way for Dan Margolies, editor of KCUR’s Heartland Health Monitor. As part of an interfaith program at Children’s Mercy Hospital, Margolies was among several people who paid a visit to the Victorious Life Church, a mostly African-American Pentecostal church at 34th and Paseo.

Mike Sherry / Heartland Health Monitor

One of the area’s leading mental health service is cutting services for more than 800 adults and children.

Wyandot Inc., an umbrella organization for four nonprofit agencies in Kansas City, Kansas, said today that it would need to cut services due to revenue losses and Gov. Sam Brownback’s decision earlier this year to reduce Medicaid reimbursements by 4 percent.

Courtesy University of Kansas Hospital

The University of Kansas Hospital will break ground Wednesday morning on a new building in Overland Park.

The new $100 million dollar facility, set to open in 2018, will feature eight operating rooms and 18 patient rooms. It will also include room for 17 additional beds for future expansion.

The facility’s services will include imaging, sports medicine, orthopedics, plastic surgery, ENT and cancer surgery.

Alex Smith / KCUR

In recent years, the once-lowly food truck has entered the big leagues of cuisine.

Once peddlers of quick snacks like hot dogs and falafel, food trucks now sell items like crème brulee, roast duck and Spanish tapas.

Some Kansas City entrepreneurs think these trucks have the potential to do something else – tackle food inequity.

Standing outside a big, white trailer parked at the Guinotte Manor public housing complex northeast of downtown Kansas City, Megan Mulvihill invites curious neighbors to step inside.

Alex Smith / KCUR

As the nation grapples with the weekend mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, one of the country’s leading advocates for gun control offered some advice to the state of Kansas.

Joshua Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, spoke to health care providers, educators and medical students at the University of Kansas Medical Center on Monday, laying out a proposal to create temporary gun restrictions as a way to reduce gun violence.

He said special considerations are needed when someone is experiencing a crisis and may be at risk for dangerous behavior.

Matt Kleinmann / Community Health Council of Wyandotte County

Standing at the meeting point of the Kansas and Missouri rivers, you can still get a glimpse of what Lewis and Clark might have seen when they camped here 212 years ago: vast skies, tall trees, wide, shimmering rivers, even the occasional eagle.

Rick Behrens, pastor of Grandview Park Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, Kansas, says the rivers are hidden gems.

“It’s really a unique slice of nature in the middle of our cities that’s pretty amazing and a great opportunity for people to get away from the city, in a sense, right in the middle of the city,” Behrens says.

Alex Smith / KCUR

A public hearing on proposed federal regulations for payday loans drew hundreds of supporters and opponents to downtown Kansas City Thursday morning.

Church members, union workers and community groups chanted outside the Music Hall and made the case during a public comment session that Missouri’s lax laws allow payday and other short-term lenders to exploit borrowers.

Terrence Wise, who supports tighter regulation of the industry, said a $150 payday loan ended up costing him $400.

Mark Baylor / Creative Commons-Flickr

Health advocates have a simple message for parents: Don’t share a bed with your baby.

Unfortunately, it’s a message many Kansas parents aren’t taking to heart.

In 2016, seven infants in Sedgwick County died sleeping in the same bed with their parents, a practice that can lead to suffocation. That’s equal to the bed sharing deaths in Wichita for all of 2015.

Three infants in Leavenworth County this year have also died sharing beds.

Nicolas Rohner

Bob Caviar has seen his share of heavy eaters.

He’s the owner of Papa Bob’s Bar-B-Que in Kansas City, Kansas, and the creator of a sandwich he’s christened “The Ultimate Destroyer.”

“This wasn’t designed as a challenge,” Caviar says. “It was really designed to feed families.”

But the football-sized sandwich, which contains four and a half pounds of meat, has turned out to be irresistible to eaters with something to prove.

Though many heed the call, the years have shown it takes a rare breed to conquer the Ultimate Destroyer.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

In early April, dozens of cyclists gathered in a midtown Kansas City grocery store parking lot for a crosstown trek in honor of a fallen friend and fellow rider.

Thirty-two-year-old Anthony Saluto had been killed a few days earlier when a driver heading in the opposite direction swerved into his lane and hit him. Many of the cyclists, including Peter Quick, were still shaken up.

“It’s like losing a family member,” Quick said. “Bicyclists in this town are a pretty tight-knit group. So when something happens to somebody you know, it hits home pretty fast.”

Alex Smith / KCUR

On Sunday mornings at the Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, prayers that are quietly murmured in most churches seem to almost rumble like thunder.

Thousands of congregants crowd the huge suburban auditorium for weekly services, which feature huge video monitors, an orchestra and a full choir. With 20,000 members, it’s the largest Methodist church in the United States.  

Amy Mogharbel, 30, says attending services here took some getting used to.

Alex Smith / KCUR

Kansas City Mayor Sly James said Tuesday that low public support has prompted the city to abandon plans to build a new airport.

James said the city would shift its priorities to other issues after polls last week showed just 39 percent of voters supporting a ballot question on issuing airport revenue bonds to construct a new terminal.

“Although I still feel that a new air terminal is inevitable, it's clear that the time is not now,” James said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

KCAVP

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Congress voted in 2013 to require domestic abuse service providers who receive federal funds to offer help to people in same-sex relationships. But many advocates say LGBT people still have far fewer resources available to them than what’s traditionally been available for woman escaping violence from men. To help fill that gap, the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project opened a center earlier this year in Westport to provide support for LGBT people living in the Great Plains region. But the group’s executive director, Justin Shaw, tells KCUR’s Alex Smith that there’s still a lot of unwillingness – both inside and outside the community – to face up to the problem.

The fate of a tax to build a new Johnson County courthouse and coroner’s building will be determined by voters, following a vote by county leaders on Thursday.

The Johnson County Commission approved a November ballot measure that would increase the  sales tax by a quarter of a cent to fund construction of the buildings.

The tax would generate $201 million total, $182 million of which would fund the courthouse and $19 million the coroner’s building. The tax would sunset after 10 years. 

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

On a busy league night in a Raytown, Missouri, bowling alley, former auto worker Raymond Fowler keeps up his game playing alongside his wife and longtime teammates.

Fowler, who’s 67, stays busy in his retirement, but it’s not all fun and games. A few years ago, he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and changed his diet and exercise routine, which now includes four bowling sessions a week.

His condition was severe enough that his doctor said he needed insulin shots, and that’s one change he’s found troubling.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89-three

Despite an intense week getting his bearings, Ahmad al-Abboud smiled and expressed his gratitude at a press event Monday morning in Kansas City. 

“God bless Kansas City!” he said through an interpreter.

The 45-year-old former construction worker, his wife and five children are the first Syrian family to be resettled in the United States as part of a refugee “surge operation.” They arrived last Wednesday evening.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

For Jim Nunnelly, being diagnosed with diabetes two-and-a-half years ago was a shock, but almost as shocking was the amount of health information he was suddenly expected to absorb.

“A person like me, getting up in years, got drowned in all that information. I didn’t know what to believe or what to act on,” Nunnelly says.

Information about medications, blood sugar levels, insulin, insurance and exercise – it all made his head spin. Not to mention everything he needed to learn about food shopping.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

Over the past several months, teams of local health advocates have been making their way from one local city to another, lobbying city leaders to raise the legal age for the purchase of tobacco to 21.

Since its launch last October, Tobacco 21, a coalition made up of business, government and health groups, has run up a string of victories in some of the area’s largest cities, including Kansas City, Missouri; Kansas City, Kansas; and Olathe, Kansas.

But the reception they got in Gardner, Kansas, on March 21 was a first.

Marius Mellebye / Creative Commons-Flickr

Two Johnson County, Kansas, cities took opposing actions on tobacco control Monday evening.

The Prairie Village City Council voted unanimously to raise the minimum age for buying tobacco products and e-cigarettes from 18 to 21, while the Gardner city council rejected a similar proposal by a unanimous vote of 5-0.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

In the exam rooms at Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center in Kansas City, nurse practitioner Greg Nurrenbern sees a lot of health problems other health providers don’t.

“I will say, like, ‘How did you get this injury?’” Nurrenbern says. “And it’s like, ‘I fell off a camel,’ or ‘I got bit by a lion.’”

Nurrenbern specializes in refugee health care, and he gives many patients their first health checkup in the United States.

University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute

Health is deteriorating in many rural counties while improving in many urban ones in Kansas and Missouri. But Kansas City’s innermost urban counties – Jackson and Wyandotte – continue to struggle, according to new annual county health rankings from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. Alex Smith spoke with University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher Kate Konkle, who was one of the report’s researchers.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

State health officials announced Friday that a southwest Kansas resident contracted the Zika virus after the resident traveled to an unspecified country where the pathogen has spread.

It’s the first confirmed case of Zika virus disease in Kansas.

Though a few cases of the virus in the United States have been spread through sexual contact, the vast majority of cases worldwide have been spread by mosquitos. So far, no transmission of the disease by mosquitos has been identified in the continental U.S.

Creative Commons

The early spring weather Kansas City is expected to enjoy this weekend can be a mixed blessing for allergy sufferers.

Doctors at Children Mercy Hospital in Kansas City report surges in pollen and mold have accompanied the blips of early warm weather the area has experienced so far in 2016 and that an intense allergy season is likely ahead.

Rob Jefferson

Rob Jefferson started losing his hearing when he was in his late teens. Sensorineural hearing loss, a progressive degenerative condition, runs in his family. His hearing gradually declined over a few decades, and though he was able to use conventional hearing aids for a few years, Jefferson, who's now 56, had lost all his natural hearing ability by his late 40s.

anthonynlee / YouTube

Would you wire your head to a battery if you thought it might help boost your brain function?

A quick Internet search turns up lots of videos of at-home tinkerers with electrodes strapped to their heads and nervous looks on their faces.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

At her home studio in Westwood, Kansas, yoga instructor Marilyn Pace leads a class of 5-to-8-year olds. With the help of songs, games and other kid-friendly teaching methods, she guides her small students through poses like the cobra, the triangle and the downward-facing dog.

Tatjana Alvegard takes her daughter, Kaya, to Pace’s classes regularly.

“I played sports when I was a kid, and I think it’s really important. It makes for a good, healthy adult if you learn discipline and you learn it’s good to take care of your body,” Alvegard says.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

On a Sunday morning, New Bethel Church in Kansas City, Kansas, comes alive with the sounds of worship as a full gospel choir and band bring hundreds of congregants to their feet.

At the center of the action, guitarist Clarence Taylor sits with his eyes lowered, strumming angelic-sounding chords. Taylor has a sound that would put a lot of hot-shot guitarists to shame, but he doesn’t claim the talent for himself. He says it’s a divine gift.

“I don’t know the notes,” Taylor says. “I can just pick it up. Sometimes it amazes me.”

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

For expectant parents like Melissa and Michael Funaro, the prospect of a new baby evokes a host of emotions.

“You have this thing inside of you growing, and him and I created it,” Melissa says. “So it’s like, what’s he gonna look like?”

For future mother Karina Rivera, pregnancy is exhilarating.

“Everything’s exciting,” she says. “Just buying baby clothes, buying diapers. Looking at the diapers, and they’re so tiny.”

Jamie and Laura McCamish say the wait for their baby is almost too much to bear.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

When Kelli was growing up in Olathe in the 1970s, it was a quiet, clean community boasting single-family homes and good schools. And with state laws prohibiting alcohol sales on Sundays, in grocery stores and by the glass, outsiders could have been forgiven if they found life there to be pretty straight-laced.

“You just never know what goes on behind closed doors,” says Kelli, who asked that her last name not be used.

Monte Gross

Take a Saturday morning bike ride along the Kansas side of the state line and you’ll see plenty of people playing tennis, soccer and jogging in Johnson County. Ride a bit farther north to Wyandotte County, though, and it’s clear that outdoor recreation is a much rarer phenomenon.

On a map, the counties appear to have about the same amount of parks and recreational space. But over several decades, Wyandotte County’s parks fell into a state of neglect and disrepair – to the point of being ignored by many residents.

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