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.

A new statistical summary by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment shows progress in reducing a long-standing health disparity between black and white Kansans: the death rate for babies in their first year of life.


National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

A Kansas woman is suing a San Diego-based produce distributor after she was hospitalized with Salmonella poisoning linked to tainted cucumbers.

Monica Rios of Sedgwick County said she bought a Fat Boy brand cucumber in August at a Wal-Mart store, washed it thoroughly and ate it in a salad. Within a couple of days, she was hospitalized with abdominal cramping and pain.

Bryan Thompson / Heartland Health Monitor

Hospitals aren't typically associated with fine dining. And even though their business is health care, the beverages and foods they offer — especially when the cafeteria is closed — often lean more toward junk food than healthy fare.

But a group of Kansas hospitals is out to change that.

Trust for America's Health/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Almost one in three adults in Kansas and Missouri is not just overweight but obese, according to a new report from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Bryan Thompson / Heartland Health Monitor

People who live in small towns across Kansas are struggling to save institutions that in their minds define their communities. Schools are often at the heart of these efforts.

But recent changes in the health care system are also focusing attention on rural hospitals, which are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. That’s true of both hospitals in Harper County, located along the Oklahoma border southwest of Wichita, where a long-standing rivalry is complicating efforts to find a solution.

A decision to accredit so-called mid-level dental providers by a national agency that oversees dental education programs may boost efforts to license them in Kansas.

The Commission on Dental Accreditation says that without national accreditation standards for mid-level dental providers — also known as dental therapists — the requirements would vary from state to state.

Bryan Thompson / Heartland Health Monitor

Health centers that serve Kansans who lack insurance or struggle to pay for primary health care are seeing no lack of demand for their services.

Rebecca Lewis was once among those Kansans. In 2011, the McPherson woman found herself working three part-time jobs and trying to complete a college degree. As a single mom with three young boys — then ages 8, 5 and 2 — it was hard to make ends meet.

Bryan Thompson / Heartland Health Monitor

The Clean Power Plan recently announced by President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency is designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants by almost one-third over the next 15 years. Tucked into the plan’s thousands of pages is language that makes it unlikely that a new coal-fired power plant will ever be built in southwest Kansas.

Wikimedia -- Creative Commons

Kansas and Missouri are in the bottom half of the class in a new report from the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network.

The report, “How Do You Measure Up,” judges states on a variety of policies related to cancer control and prevention. It uses a traffic signal color scheme to indicate state legislative progress: green for a positive trend, red for serious shortcomings and yellow for somewhere between.

The Clean Power Plan  that President Barack Obama announced Monday is designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants — the largest source of those emissions — by almost a third by the year 2030, compared to 2005 levels.

How that will play out in Kansas remains to be seen.

Gov. Sam Brownback issued a statement Monday criticizing the president’s proposal regarding U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules.


  An outbreak of pertussis, or whooping cough, in the Hutchinson area continues to spread. The Reno County Health Department is investigating more than 70 cases.

So far, 46 of those cases have been confirmed as pertussis. Most of them involve school-age children. The highly contagious disease is spread through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Thousands of Kansans soon will be receiving letters notifying them that their electronic health records may have been compromised.

The letters are from a Fort Wayne, Ind., company that provides an online patient portal called NoMoreClipboard used by 18 Kansas hospitals and at least half a dozen clinics. Most are small-town hospitals in western and southeastern Kansas. The largest is in Hutchinson.

Bryan Thompson / Heartland Health Monitor

A new partnership in southwest Kansas aims to build mental health services and help strengthen a couple of rural hospitals at the same time.

The nonprofit United Methodist Health Ministry Fund is leading an effort to make the health system work better for people in rural Kansas. The fund’s president, Kim Moore, says the current structure based on small, low-volume hospitals isn’t likely to survive long-term.

Bryan Thompson / Heartland Health Monitor

A nonpartisan, nonprofit group of more than 500 retired generals and admirals see school nutrition as an important factor in military readiness.

The group, Mission: Readiness, on Wednesday released the Kansas version of a report drawing a connection between healthier school meals and the pool of potential recruits for America’s armed forces.


When it took effect five years ago, the Kansas Indoor Clean Air Act had some restaurant and business owners concerned.

But their worries about the state law prohibiting smoking in most public places — including workplaces, public buildings, bars and restaurants — have largely gone unrealized.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, ruled Monday that the Environmental Protection Agency must take cost into consideration when regulating power plant emissions.

Kansas and Missouri were among 20 states that joined Michigan officials in a lawsuit over a 2011 EPA rule requiring electric utilities to minimize their emissions of mercury and other toxic substances from their smokestacks.

Bryan Thompson / Heartland Health Monitor

A lot of the hospitals in rural Kansas are called “Critical Access Hospitals.” It’s an important designation, because Critical Access Hospitals were created by the federal government to maintain access to health care in rural areas.

But Many Kansas Critical Access Hospitals are in financial trouble. Medicare requires them to offer 24-hour emergency services. But most don’t have enough ER patients to justify the cost of 24-7 service, says Melissa Hungerford, senior vice president for health care leadership at the Kansas Hospital Association.

James Dobson / Garden City Telegram

A Garden City, Kansas, woman whose home was raided March 24 after her son took issue with an anti-marijuana presentation at school turned herself in Monday at the Finney County Law Enforcement Center.

Shona Banda, 38, was booked into jail and later released after posting $50,000 bond. Her attorney, Sarah Swain, of Lawrence, said Banda was charged with five counts—four of them marijuana-related—plus endangering a child. If convicted on all of them, she faces a maximum of 30 years in prison.

Mònica Prats Castellví / Flickr--CC

Health officials in Reno County, Kansas, are trying to bring an outbreak of pertussis, or whooping cough, under control.

The outbreak began in mid-May with three cases of the highly contagious respiratory disease. Now there are 23 reported cases, according to the Reno County Health Department, in Hutchinson. As of June 2, 134 cases of pertussis had been reported in Kansas this year.

Federal investigators say nearly all of the Medicare payments made to a Lawrence-based chiropractic group should not have been allowed.

Medicare paid Lawrence-based Advanced Chiropractic Services almost $765,000 for treatments in 2011 and 2012. An audit by the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Inspector General (OIG) says almost none of those claims were legally allowable.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

The U.S. Senate has approved bi-partisan legislation to clarify the circumstances under which veterans are allowed to get medical care from their hometown providers at the VA’s expense.

Access to local, non-VA health care is part of the Choice Act, which became law last year. It’s meant as a way to assist veterans who live far from VA facilities or can’t get an appointment within 30 days.

File photo

The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services on Thursday outlined a plan to limit the number of patients admitted  to the state mental hospital at Osawatomie.

The plan was unveiled at the first meeting of an advisory committee tasked with identifying the ideal mix of hospital and community-based services for Kansans with mental illnesses.

Federal regulators are requiring extensive renovations to make Osawatomie State Hospital safer for patients.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran has what amounts to a running feud going with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He says the agency is dragging its feet implementing a new law called the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 that’s designed to help veterans in rural areas get the care they need.

But Robert McDonald, the new VA secretary, says Moran’s claims are baseless.

Bryan Thompson / Heartland Health Monitor


Accountability. It means taking responsibility for an action or result.

Lately, it’s taken on a new connotation in the field of health care. The Affordable Care Act provides a way for health care networks to get bonus payments by providing better care, and keeping Medicare patients healthier.

These Accountable Care Organizations are about to have a larger presence in Kansas.

Kansas has been slow to adopt Accountable Care Organizations, or ACOs. Fewer than 4 percent of the population is enrolled in some form of alternative payment model, like ACOs.

Bryan Thompson / Heartland Health Monitor

There are a lot of small, rural hospitals in Kansas. Without them, many Kansans would have to travel long distances for care. What’s more, in many small towns, the hospital is one of the largest employers — making it vital to the local economy.

But declining populations, combined with changes in the way hospitals are paid for their services, are making it more difficult for many small hospitals to survive.

There is at least one hospital in 96 of the state’s 105 counties, according to Melissa Hungerford, senior vice president for health care leadership at the Kansas Hospital Association and chief executive officer of the Kansas Hospital Education and Research Foundation.

Bryan Thompson / Heartland Health Monitor

A cancer diagnosis is often the beginning of a life-or-death struggle. Patients want to go into that fight armed with the most powerful weapons available.

In many cases, that involves treatments still in their experimental stages that are only available through clinical trials, which are typically found at academic medical centers. But the University of Kansas Cancer Center has created a partnership to bring those options closer to home for rural Kansans.

Bryan Thompson / Heartland Health Monitor

Until the federal health insurance marketplace opened in late 2013, farmers and ranchers were more likely to be uninsured than many other occupational groups. The Affordable Care Act changed that by requiring them to buy insurance. But it also gave them coverage options they didn’t have before.  

Jon Bailey, of the Nebraska-based Center for Rural Affairs, says it’s hard to make sweeping generalizations about how the health care law is working for farmers and ranchers.

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.

File photo

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.