Bryan Thompson

Bryan Thompson reports for the Heartland Health Monitor team, a reporting collaboration among KCUR Public Media, KCPT Public Television, Kansas Public Radio and KHI News Service. He is based at KPR in Lawrence, Kan.

The Kansas Department of Agriculture has quarantined parts of two counties in the southeast corner of the state in response to an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza. The quarantine is aimed at keeping the bird disease out of Kansas.

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Millions of veterans nationwide now have a card that’s supposed to improve their access to health care. But a Kansas senator and some other members of Congress doubt the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is really serious about the new Veterans Choice Program.

The program is meant to let veterans get care from private providers if they live at least 40 miles from a VA health care facility or if they face a wait of more than 30 days for an appointment.

Bryan Thompson / Heartland Health Monitor

Five months after its grand opening, a massive new-generation ethanol plant in the southwest corner of Kansas is undergoing final adjustments as it prepares to begin full-scale production. The plant, built by a Spanish company with financing from the U.S. Department of Energy, is designed to produce clean-burning fuel — not from corn, but from the bits and pieces of crops left in farmers’ fields after harvest.

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So you file your income tax return, and find you owe Uncle Sam $500—not for taxes, but for not having health insurance last year. The penalty is $95 per adult, or 1 percent of income—whichever is greater. Fifty-thousand dollars of income works out to a $500 penalty.

As many as 6 million individuals and families may have to pay this year. If you don’t have insurance for 2015, your penalty next year will rise to $325 per adult, or 2 percent of income, whichever is greater. But the enrollment period ended Feb. 15.

Bryan Thompson / Heartland Health Monitor

Imagine waiting in line for a day and a half just to get a tooth pulled or a cavity filled. Lots of people did just that over the weekend in Salina, where about 400 dental professionals and hundreds of other volunteers donated their time Friday and Saturday to provide free dental care to 1,400 people at the 14th Kansas Mission of Mercy.

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A lot has changed in the three decades since the idea of building an aqueduct from the Missouri River to western Kansas was first studied and shelved. For one thing, the water shortages that were mere projections then are now imminent. That reality has prompted state officials to dust off the study and re-examine the aqueduct idea.

Marius Mellebye / Creative Commons-Flickr

New health rankings  show Kansas stuck at No. 27 among the 50 states, the same slot it occupied last year. But there was a time – not that long ago – when the state ranked much higher than the middle of the pack.

The annual United Health Foundation rankings are a snapshot of 30 health measures ranging from clinical care to behavior and environment to state policy. Dr. Rhonda Randall, the foundation’s chief health advisor, says there’s no mistaking the trend.

A battle over air pollution from power plants is headed for the U.S. Supreme Court. Kansas and 20 other states contend the EPA should have considered the costs of a 2011 rule that forces coal-fired power plants to install new equipment to remove mercury and other toxins from their exhaust.

An appeals court held that they didn’t have to consider the cost, but the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the states’ challenge. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy says it’s a very narrow challenge, and one the agency will win.

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Even with the Affordable Care Act, millions of Americans still lack health insurance.

For them, safety net clinics are a lifeline. These clinics provide primary care for anyone, regardless of their ability to pay.

Today, there are federally funded clinics in 21 Kansas counties, but there soon could be more.

       

Three measures seeking to rein in the Environmental Protection Agency passed the U.S. House of Representatives last week along largely partisan lines, with all of the Republicans in the Missouri and Kansas delegations voting in favor of the bills and the two Missouri Democrats voting against them.

More Kansas kids may soon get free breakfast at school.

A program called Breakfast in the Classroom has added Kansas and six other states to the list of those eligible for the grant-funded program, bringing the total number of states to 18. The program has been in place since 2012 in the Kansas City, Kan., school district, but schools throughout the rest of Kansas will be eligible to apply this year.

The City of Topeka, Kan., is launching an effort to provide treatment, instead of jail, for people whose misdemeanor crimes are linked to mental illness.

The city will use a $91,000 grant from the Kansas Criminal Justice Coordinating Council to fund an Alternative Sentencing Court next year. Anyone charged with a misdemeanor or traffic offense will be eligible for the new program, if they’ve been diagnosed with a severe mental illness.

Obesity, diabetes, heart disease — these health issues aren’t really the problem in America, according to Mark Fenton, who spoke Wednesday at the third annual Kansas Obesity Summit. Rather, he said, the real culprits are poor nutrition and physical inactivity.

The U.S. Department of Labor on Tuesday granted a six-month delay in enforcement of a new rule applying federal minimum wage and overtime provisions to home care workers employed by so-called “self-directed” Medicaid consumers.

The University of Kansas Medical Center will receive $10 million in federal funding to compare the effectiveness of obesity treatment models in rural communities.

The money is from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, which was created through the Affordable Care Act. Professor Christie Befort's study will track approximately 1,400 patients in rural Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin.

President Obama on Thursday issued an executive order directing the federal government to step up the fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

It’s a fight with enormous consequences, according to Rebecca Horvat, who oversees infectious disease testing at the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kan. Horvat is well familiar with bacteria that are impervious to front-line antibiotics.

Kansas Department of Health and Environment has received a federal grant of almost $1 million to help the CDC develop strategies to reduce the number of violent deaths, and the state will share homicide and suicide data with the National Violent Death Reporting System for five years.

The system delves into not just how these deaths happen, but why. It collects data on homicides such as the relationship between the victim and the suspect. In cases of suicide, it gathers details on depression, financial stress, and relationship problems.

Tucked inside a new building in Sioux Falls, S.D., is a workspace that might have seemed like the stuff of science fiction just a few years ago. Doctors and nurses sit in front of banks of video cameras and electronic monitors, ready at a moment's notice to provide real-time care for patients hundreds of miles away. That care is now available in Kansas.

Bryan Thompson / Kansas Public Radio

 

The long-running legal battle over the construction of a coal-fired power plant in southwest Kansas continues.

Earlier this summer, the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit challenging the latest construction permit to be issued by state health officials. The environmental group says the permit, issued by Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Dr. Robert Moser, doesn’t impose adequate limits on greenhouse gases and other pollutants. A KDHE spokesperson says otherwise.

State health officials say an adult from Republic County, in northcentral Kansas, has the first confirmed case of West Nile virus in Kansas this year.

No information has been released as to the patient’s condition, or whether he or she has been hospitalized.

The disease is spread by infected mosquitoes, and is not contagious from person to person. KDHE spokeswoman Aimee Rosenow says this is the time of year when the species of mosquito that carries West Nile is most active.

The National Cancer Institute has provided a five-year, $1.7 million grant to a Wichita-based partnership of cancer treatment and research specialists serving most of Kansas.

Wichita oncologist Shaker Dakhil, who heads the Cancer Center of Kansas, will remain the principal investigator for the community-based clinical trials and care delivery research. He says the NCI grant project will include fewer patients than the program it replaces, but it will furnish more funding per patient and deliver better results.

Voters in Salina, Kan., will decide this fall whether to end fluoridation of the city's water supply.

The city has been adding fluoride to its municipal water supply since 1968, as a low-cost way to improve residents’ dental health. That practice could end this November.

Petitions submitted to the Saline County Clerk have been verified as having enough signatures to force the issue to a vote. The question to be decided in the general election is whether the 1968 city ordinance that approved water fluoridation should be rescinded.

Four safety net clinics in Kansas and three in Missouri have been awarded federal funding to create or expand mental health services for low-income individuals. 

The funding is part of almost $55 million in similar grants nationwide through the Affordable Care Act. The clinics will each receive about $250,000.

The Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas saw 2,500 patients for mental health issues last year.  CEO Krista Postai says she intends to use the new money to integrate medical and behavioral care.

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Missourians on Medicare have saved more than $26 million so far this year on prescription drugs and Kansans more than $10 million, thanks to one of the lesser-known provisions of the Affordable Care Act, a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says.

Ian D. Keating / Flickr -- Creative Commons

 

The Annie E. Casey Foundation, a child advocacy group, released its annual Kids Count report on Tuesday, and Kansas ranked 15th overall and Missouri 29th. The report assesses overall child well-being based on four broad categories: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.

Both Kansas and Missouri saw their indicators for education and health improve while their indicators for economic well-being and family and community mostly worsened.

Council of Economic Advisors / Executive Office of the President of the United States

A study released earlier this month by the White House Council of Economic Advisers says the decision not to expand Medicaid is costing Kansas millions of dollars and thousands of jobs.

According to the study, Kansas is passing up $820 million over the next three years by choosing not to expand Medicaid eligibility. The federal government would pay for nearly all of the cost of the expansion, which would add as many as 100,000 Kansans to the state’s Medicaid rolls.

State and local health officials are trying to contain a measles outbreak that started in May in the Kansas City area, and has since spread to Wichita.

Six of those are in the Wichita area. The four newest cases are all linked to Sal's Japanese Steakhouse, in Wichita. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment says an employee of the restaurant was connected to the outbreak in Kansas City. Two other employees also became infected later.

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A pilot program in Kansas allowing veterans who live far from Veterans Affairs hospitals to get care from local doctors may end, threatening veterans like Hugh Steadman with the cutoff of needed medical care.

Steadman, who flew combat missions over Germany as a bombardier during World War II, lives in Great Bend. He used to have to drive two hours to the VA medical center in Wichita, a trip that was getting more difficult for him to make.

The EPA has awarded $1.2 million for projects in a 15-county area of northeast Kansas and northwest Missouri. The money will be used to redevelop underused or abandoned properties, and to train residents and help them land environmental jobs.

The grants are being administered by the Mo-Kan Regional Council. 

A revolving loan fund will of $1 million will help revitalize blighted sites that may contain hazardous waste or petroleum contamination. Executive Director Tom Bliss says there are nearly 400 eligible properties in the 15-county area.

Matteo Paciotti / Flickr -- Creative Commons

Expanding liquor sales to grocery and convenience stores in Kansas could lead to more underage drinking, according to a new report from the Kansas Health Institute.

The report, called a health impact assessment, is designed to give policymakers information about the potential health consequences of expanded liquor sales.

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