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.


Heartland Health Monitor
4:22 pm
Thu December 18, 2014

Report: Kansas, Missouri Unprepared For Disease Outbreaks

Credit NIAID / National Institutes of Health


Kansas and Missouri rank in the bottom half of states in preparedness for potential outbreaks of infectious diseases like Ebola, Enterovirus and ‘superbugs,’ according to a report released Thursday.

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Heartland Health Monitor
5:00 am
Thu December 18, 2014

Why Are Minorities Diagnosed With Autism At Lower Rates Than Whites?

Wendy Santillan's 3-year-old son Raoul, who was diagnosed with autism, has found help for him through a training program geared toward families living in rural or remote areas.
Credit Alex Smith / KCUR

Just after picking him up from day care, Wendy Santillan serves her son, Raoul, milk and cookies.

Raoul, a 3-year-old with a crew cut and big brown eyes, happily devours his snack. But Wendy says she noticed early on some unusual behavior in her son.

“When he was 18 months, he starts to play with the toys in a different way,” she says. “He used to pass the toy (along) the corner of his eye, and that wasn’t normal at all to me.”

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Heartland Health Monitor
4:10 pm
Fri December 12, 2014

Olathe Approves Bond Funding For Hospital Expansion

One of the biggest hospitals in the southern part of metropolitan Kansas City is about to get even bigger.

The Olathe City Council this week approved $47.1 million in bonds on behalf of Olathe Medical Center to help finance expansion of the hospital. The project carries an estimated $67 million dollar price tag.

“Projects of this magnitude show the commitment Olathe Medical Center has to this city and this region,” Erin Vader, a spokeswoman for the city, said in a phone interview.

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Heartland Health Monitor
8:56 am
Thu December 4, 2014

KC Checkup: Seven Questions For Carrie O'Toole

Carrie O'Toole is a council member for the Prairie Band Potawatomie Nation.
Credit Alex Smith / KCUR

Like many people in rural, medically underserved areas, many of Kansas’ Native American groups struggle with health problems.

The four largest groups – the Iowa, Kickapoo, Prairie Band Potawatomi, and Sac and Fox – live in isolated reservations in northeastern parts of the state.

In August, the tribes held a Kansas Tribal Health Summit, the first time all four met to address common tribal health issues.

As part of our monthly series, KC Checkup, Heartland Health Monitor’s Alex Smith spoke with Prairie Band Potawatomi council member Carrie O’Toole about those issues.

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Heartland Health Monitor
9:21 am
Wed November 26, 2014

Kansas City Unveils Plan For Downtown Bike Lanes

Kansas City, Mo., unveiled plans to add a mile-and-a-half of biking lanes downtown.
Credit BikeWalkKC


Bike commuters and enthusiasts may soon have more options for safely trekking through downtown Kansas City, Mo.

The Public Works Department disclosed plans Tuesday for redesigning traffic flow and creating bike lanes on a mile-and-a-half stretch of Grand Avenue between the Crossroads and the River Market.

“It’s an opportunity to take Grand from a traditional 1960’s six-lane arterial into a more walkable, livable three-lane street with bike lanes and better pedestrian accommodations,” said Wes Minder, manager of capital planning for the city.

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Heartland Health Monitor
6:00 am
Tue November 25, 2014

Much Smoother ACA Enrollment Period, Says Health Exchange Worker

Samuel U Rodgers marketplace counselor Joe Torres says this year's ACA open enrollment is going much better than last year's.
Alex Smith KCUR

Only six people were able to sign up for private health insurance plans on the first day of open enrollment last year, due to widespread computer problems with the online insurance marketplaces. So enrollment helpers breathed a big sigh of relief earlier this month when the second round of enrollment launched with few glitches.

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Heartland Health Monitor
4:04 pm
Thu November 20, 2014

MU Health Care To Stop Hiring Nicotine Users

Credit Creative Commons-Pixabay

One of Missouri's largest employers will no longer hire nicotine users.

As of January 1, 2015, MU Health Care, the five-hospital University of Missouri health system based in Columbia, Mo., said it won't offer jobs to people who smoke cigarettes, cigars or pipes, chew tobacco or "vape" electronic cigarettes.

The health system made the announcement Thursday to coincide with the American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout holiday.

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Heartland Health Monitor
9:50 am
Wed November 19, 2014

Children’s Mercy Hospital Develops App For Infant Heart Defects

Winston and Emily Whalgren were among the first users of Children's Mercy Hospital's CHAMP app.
Credit Children's Mercy Hospital

About 3,000 infants are born each year with single-ventricle heart defects.

While that’s a relatively small number, for the newborns’ families the diagnosis can be devastating, says Dr. Girish Shirali, co-director of the Ward Family Heart Center at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City.

“It’s very difficult for families, because nobody expects this. So it kind of comes like a bolt from the blue,” he says.

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Heartland Health Monitor
9:55 am
Mon November 17, 2014

Kansas City Groups Target Hard-To-Reach For Health Insurance

Informational tables lined the entry hallway at a recent LGBT health fair held in Kansas City, Mo. The exhibits continued around the corner.
Credit Mike Sherry / Hale Center for Journalism at KCPT


As the Affordable Care Act’s second open enrollment period began Saturday, for-profit and non-profit groups ramped up efforts to assist populations that have proven hard to reach.

At events in and around Kansas City, counselors, insurance brokers and insurance companies held public education events and free health fairs to reach the uninsured and underinsured among minority populations and apprise them of their coverage options. 

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Heartland Health Monitor
6:42 pm
Fri November 14, 2014

ESPN Program Raises Food Safety Issues At Kansas City Stadiums

Cockroaches, mold and mouse feces at Kauffman stadium food stands: Those were some of the food safety violations that Aramark district food safety manager Jon Costa related to ESPN’s "Outside the Lines" television program in a segment that aired on Friday. 

Costa, whom the Philadelphia-based company has since placed on paid administrative leave,  also voiced his concerns about food safety at Kauffman and Arrowhead stadiums to the Kansas City, Mo., health department on Nov. 3.

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Heartland Health Monitor
4:28 pm
Wed November 12, 2014

Cerner Breaks Ground on Massive South Kansas City Complex

A computer rendering of Cerner Corp.'s proposed $4.45 billion campus in south Kansas City.
Credit Cerner Corp.

Cerner Corp., the Kansas City-based health care information technology giant, broke ground Wednesday on its huge campus in south Kansas City, Mo., a project that’s eventually expected to house as many as 16,000 workers.

Cerner officials, along with Missouri Governor Jay Nixon and Kansas City mayor Sly James, took part in the ceremony at the site of the now-demolished Bannister Mall, once one of the area’s biggest shopping centers. The mall closed in 2007 and was torn down in 2009.  

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Heartland Health Monitor
5:00 am
Thu November 6, 2014

HHS Official: Let's Use Technology To Change The Way We Talk About Health

Dr. Jacob Reider is deputy national coordinator of health information technology for the Department of Health and Human Services.
Credit Department of Health and Human Services

Many health experts say that, to save money and improve care, the United States needs to get past paper records and frequent visits to the doctor.

And to encourage the switch to standardized electronic records, the federal government has begun offering incentives to providers.

But the push to innovate has been met with some resistance. Dr. Jacob Reider is deputy national coordinator of  health information technology for the Department of Health and Human Services.

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Heartland Health Monitor
5:00 am
Thu October 30, 2014

KC Checkup: Five Questions For Ron Rowe

Ron Rowe is vice president of sales for Blue Cross Blue Shield.
Credit Alex Smith / KCUR

The open enrollment period for 2015 health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act is coming up on Nov. 15 and extends to Feb. 15.

The federal health reform law has changed the way many consumers buy and use insurance. For insurance companies, it has transformed their entire way of doing business.

For this month’s KC Checkup, Heartland Health Monitor talks with Ron Rowe, vice president of sales for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City, which provides insurance to more than a million customers.

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12:33 pm
Wed October 29, 2014

What Game 7 Of The World Series Means For One Roadside Shirt Seller

Selim Henderson is sitting on a lot of Royals tee shirts.
Credit Alex Smith / KCUR

When the Royals won the American League Championship in mid-October, Selim Henderson got busy buying T-shirts.

A lot of T-shirts.

“I bought about 30 dozen to start with,” Henderson says.

He set up a roadside stand in south Kansas City, and sales went so well, he bought another 30 dozen.

His best seller? The Royal Flush.

“That has five of the players on cards – ace, king, queen, jack, ten – and that’s the winning hand in poker,” Henderson says.

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Heartland Health Monitor
5:00 am
Tue October 28, 2014

Solving The Puzzling Mental Illness of Bhutanese Refugees

Palak and Durga Khadka with their son-in-law, Birkha, and daughter, Ganga (left to right) next to their home in Chalet Manor in Kansas City, Kan.
Alex Smith KCUR

Making the rounds at a public housing complex in Kansas City, Kan., community health worker Rinzin Wangmo is greeted by cheery voices and faces.

As she enters a home, the heavy aroma of chopped onions stings her nose, and she hurries up a short flight of stairs to escape the burn. After gently knocking on a door, she walks in to meet with a woman who’s bedridden with pain. 

The woman’s condition is not unusual among Bhutanese refugees, according to University of Kansas professor Dr. Joe LeMaster.

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Heartland Health Monitor
4:58 pm
Fri October 24, 2014

Missouri Lawmaker Hopeful About Medicaid Expansion

Missouri Sen. Ryan Silvey, a Kansas City Republican, believes he has the votes to expand Medicaid in the upcoming legislative session.
Credit Missouri News Horizon / Flickr--CC

Medicaid expansion may yet happen in Missouri, according to state Sen. Ryan Silvey.

The Kansas City Republican said on Friday that he believes he has the support he needs to pass a Medicaid expansion bill that addresses the concerns of his more conservative colleagues.

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Election 2014
5:00 am
Thu October 23, 2014

Missouri’s State Senate Race Pits Doctor Versus Doctor

Dr. Bob Stuber, a Republican-turned-Democrat, is challenging incumbent Missouri Senator Rob Schaaf, also a physician, saying Schaaf has done things that are "downright irresponsible."
Credit Alex Smith / KCUR


Sunrise is just starting to break over the skies of St. Joseph, but Dr. Bob Stuber is busy under fluorescent lights, examining a patient inside the hundred-year-old building that houses the Social Welfare Board. After decades heading an internal medicine practice, working at a charity clinic is a big change for Stuber. But it’s not the only post-retirement shift for a doctor who voted Republican for most of his 75 years.

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4:02 pm
Wed October 15, 2014

Definitive Tests Confirm: No Ebola At KU

Definitive testing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed that a University of Kansas Hospital patient suspected of contracting Ebola does not have the virus.

The Kansas City, Kan., man had worked as a medic on a ship off the west coast of Africa until returning home a week ago. He was admitted to the hospital Monday morning showing concerning symptoms.

The patient has been moved to a lower level of isolation, and doctors say he’s improving.

They suspect he contracted a tropical disease.

Heartland Health Monitor
5:41 pm
Mon October 13, 2014

KU Hospital: Patient Admitted Monday At 'Low To Moderate Risk' Of Ebola

The University of Kansas Hospital said it admitted a patient Monday who had recently been on a ship off the coast of West Africa and is testing him for Ebola.
Credit File photo

The University of Kansas Hospital says a patient who recently worked as a medic on a ship off the coast of West Africa came to the hospital early Monday morning feeling sick and is being tested for Ebola.

The hospital said the patient was at "low to moderate risk" of Ebola but the hospital was taking no chances.

In a statement, it said the patient was met by staff wearing personal protection equipment and following guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Heartland Health Monitor
10:56 am
Tue October 7, 2014

Despite Fears, Kansas City Area Remains Ebola-Free

Contrary to rumors on the Internet over the last few days, health providers and officials say there are no confirmed cases of Ebola in Kansas City.

A spokesperson with HCA Midwest says that a man rushed to Research Medical Center’s Brookside campus over the weekend did not have the disease.

Hospital officials declined to disclose his diagnosis but say he is responding well to treatment.

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Heartland Health Monitor
5:05 pm
Fri October 3, 2014

Hospitals In Kansas City Area To Be Fined For ‘Excessive’ Readmission Rates

Credit Kaiser Health News


Twenty hospitals in the Kansas City area will be penalized by Medicare starting Oct. 1 for excessive readmissions, although eight of them will be hit with lower fines than in Medicare’s previous round of penalties.

Saint Luke’s East Hospital in Lee’s Summit will get hit with the biggest fine, 2.08 percent of its Medicare reimbursements, according to an analysis by Kaiser Health News of data released this week by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

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Heartland Health Monitor
5:00 am
Thu October 2, 2014

The Language Of Lullabies: KU Professor Develops Music Therapy For Preemies

Deanna Hanson-Abromeit, assistant professor of music education and music therapy at the University of Kansas, strums the guitar in front of children at Operation Breakthrough, an early education child care and social services facility in Kansas City, Mo.
Credit Todd Feeback / The Hale Center for Journalism at KCPT

If the idea of music therapy brings to mind 1960s-era folk singers warbling to bemused patients, you haven’t seen Deanna Hanson-Abromeit at work.

At Operation Breakthrough in Kansas City, the University of Kansas assistant professor sings a good morning song to Daren, a curious, if slightly cautious, infant. 

The tune is a simple one, and the singer bubbles over with enthusiasm, but her musical interventions are more of a conversation than a performance.

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Heartland Health Monitor
5:00 am
Thu September 25, 2014

KC Checkup: Four Questions For Paula Cupertino

Paula Cupertino is director of Juntos, which is based at the University of Kansas Medical Center.
Credit Alex Smith / KCUR

The Latino population has been booming in Kansas in places where growth is otherwise stagnant.

Today, one in 10 Kansans is Latino. But there’s a big disconnect between that growing community and the health care system, according to Paula Cupertino.

She’s the Brazil-born director of Juntos, a group based at the University of Kansas Medical Center that examines Latino health in Kansas. She answered four questions as part of our monthly series, KC Checkup. 

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Heartland Health Monitor
5:00 am
Wed September 17, 2014

Kansas Seeks To Address Prison Guard ‘Correctional Fatigue’

John Bates has spent more than a decade working as a correctional officer in one of Kansas’ major prisons.
Credit Julie Denesha


A new program in Kansas aims to improve conditions in prisons, but it’s not for inmates. The state Department of Corrections is one of many prison and jail systems around the country working to overcome “correctional fatigue” — the mental and physical stress that lead to corrections workers burning out.

From Orange Is The New Black to Shawshank Redemption to Cool Hand Luke, prison guards often have gotten a bad rap as some of the worst bullies featured on television and in the movies.

And that rankles John Bates.

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Heartland Health Monitor
8:57 am
Mon September 15, 2014

Missouri’s E-Cigarette Veto Override May Lead To Showdown With FDA

Early last Thursday, Missouri legislators overwhelmingly overrode the governor’s veto of a bill governing electronic cigarettes and the nicotine-infused mixtures they deliver.
Credit Bigstock

Call them e-cigarettes, vapes, e-juices or e-liquids. Just don’t call them tobacco.

Early last Thursday, Missouri legislators overwhelmingly overrode the governor’s veto of a bill governing electronic cigarettes and the nicotine-infused mixtures they deliver. While the new law bans sales to minors, it also prevents e-cigarettes from being classified as "tobacco products."

“It was operating under the guise of protecting youth, but really it just created a special carve-out for a special interest,” says Traci Kennedy, executive director of Tobacco-Free Missouri.

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Heartland Health Monitor
4:55 pm
Mon September 8, 2014

Unseasonal Virus Afflicting Children May Be Waning

The rare Enterovirus D68, which has afflicted hundreds of children since the start of August, may have peaked.

Children’s Mercy Hospital is currently seeing about 20 patients per day with the breathing difficulties, coughing and fever common to the virus, according to hospital spokesperson Jake Jacobson.

That’s compared with about 30 cases per day a week and a half ago.

The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the virus in 19 specimens from Kansas City and 11 specimens from Chicago in late August.

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Heartland Health Monitor
5:49 pm
Fri August 29, 2014

Unseasonal Virus Afflicting Kansas City Kids

Doctors advise thorough hand washing and cough etiquette to counter a rash of respiratory illnesses affecting Kansas City area children.
Credit Sean Winters / Flickr -- Creative Commons

If your child has been coughing or wheezing recently, it may have nothing to do with allergies or asthma.

In the past few weeks, Kansas City hospitals have seen an influx of children suffering from the symptoms of a rare respiratory virus during what is usually the low season for respiratory issues.

“Across the region, emergency rooms have been full, pediatric units have been near capacity across town,” says Dr. Mike Lewis, a University of Kansas Medical Center pediatrician.

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Heartland Health Monitor
7:18 am
Thu August 28, 2014

KC Checkup: Five Questions For Jenny McKee

Jenny McKee is health educator and grant coordinator for the University of Kansas Student Health Services.
Credit Alex Smith / KCUR

The University of Kansas fall semester started this week, and along with new classes comes a big change in lifestyle for thousands of students. Junk food, all-night study sessions, marathon parties – the college life has a reputation as being a less-than-healthy one.

For this month’s KC Checkup, KCUR’s Alex Smith spoke with KU health educator and grant coordinator Jenny McKee about the health of the latest generation of young scholars.  

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Heartland Health Monitor
4:10 pm
Tue August 19, 2014

Yoder Stresses Importance Of Federal Biomedical Research

U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, center, speaking at a forum on federal biomedical research.
Credit Alex Smith / KCUR


A forum in Overland Park Tuesday morning drew attention to the importance of National Institutes of Health funding. U.S. Rep.  Kevin Yoder, NIH official Christopher Austin and University of Kansas officials spoke before an audience of about 150 at KU’s Edwards campus. Yoder, a Kansas Republican, said that while he’s concerned with the federal deficit and overspending, he supports NIH funding.

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Heartland Health Monitor
5:00 am
Tue August 19, 2014

Missouri Veto Lays Bare Growing Debate Over Electronic Cigarettes

E-cigarette retailer Aaron Todd says "vaping" helped him quit smoking.
Credit Alex Smith / KCUR

Carlo Cavallaro pours a brown liquid into a device that looks a little like a Star Trek phaser. When it hits battery-heated coils, the liquid sizzles and turns into vapor. He takes a big draw and exhales a sugary-smelling cloud.

Cavallaro makes his own custom nicotine-infused e-cigarette juice.

“This one that I have here is a fudge brownie,” he says.

E-cigarettes have only been around the United States for about seven years, and during that time they have been left largely unregulated by the federal government or most state governments, including Missouri.

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