Alex Smith | KCUR

Alex Smith

Health Reporter

Alex Smith is a health reporter for KCUR. 

Alex 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

When Cody Goodwin, of Independence, Missouri, was 24, he had already been hooked on opioids, including heroin, for years. His sister decided jail was the only way he could be cut off from drugs, so she reported him to the police.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

In a famous segment from Walt Disney’s 1940 film “Fantasia,” Mickey Mouse is a sorcerer’s apprentice tormented by a broom that he brings to life to help with his chores. At one point, Mickey completely loses it, grabs an ax and savagely chops the cheery, bouncing broom into splinters.

But the story doesn’t end there. As Mickey walks away, the splinters begin to wiggle and regrow, until each one become a new broom.

agilemktg1 / Creative Commons-Flickr

Insurance customers in Kansas City will have an additional option on the Affordable Care Act marketplace starting in 2019.

Medica, an insurance company based in Minneapolis, announced Monday it will sell individual plans on the exchange to customers in Cass, Clay, Jackson and Platte counties in Missouri. It began selling insurance plans on the exchange last year to Kansas customers in Johnson and Wyandotte counties. 

The insurer's coverage is mainly limited to providers in the Saint Luke's Health System.

Courtesy Wyandotte County Sheriff's Office Inmate Search website

Updated at 6 p.m. with additional details.

A Kansas City, Kansas, man who’s “well known” to police and already accused of several crimes — including first-degree murder — is charged with two counts of capital murder in the fatal shootings of two Wyandotte County sheriff’s deputies.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

If you can imagine Las Vegas, a county fair and the TV show Hee Haw mashed up and spread out along an old Ozark highway, then you’ll have an idea of what the main strip of Branson in southern Missouri looks like.

Miles and miles of all the miniature golf, bumper cars, fudge shops, custard stands and music theaters that a vacationing family could hope for. 

Shannon works as a waitress in one of those places – a Branson restaurant – and says she loves being part of the action. 

Alex Smith / KCUR

Medical researchers have made giant leaps in diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease, which could make it possible to detect the illness long before memory and cognitive problems show up.

There is no cure for the fatal, degenerative disease, and it remains one of the  diagnoses most feared by patients. But researchers and patient advocates say it’s still worth facing their fears and getting tested.

Alex Smith / KCUR

Newly proposed federal rules would force Missouri clinics to choose between providing comprehensive healthcare and receiving federal funds, according to family planning groups.

Leaders of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, Missouri Family Health Council Inc. and other Missouri health groups on Thursday denounced proposed changes to the federal Title X program, which provides funding for family planning and reproductive health providers throughout the country.

Alex Smith / KCUR

Joe Watson has lived a troubled life. He had a traumatic childhood, spent years addicted to cocaine and meth and is now serving a 20 year sentence in the Jefferson City Correction Center for second degree murder.

But the 47-year-old Kansas City, Missouri, native was shaken to his core by the death of his friend and fellow inmate Stevie Jimerson from hepatitis C early last year. 

Prairie Village, Kansas

Updated, 10:53 a.m. Tuesday: The Prairie Village city council approved the bike and pedestrian plan on Monday evening by a vote of 7-5. City leaders said that the plan was still conceptual and that details of the new sidewalks, trails and lanes would be worked out with public input in future stages of planning and development.

The original post continues below.

Years of planning by Prairie Village, Kansas, cycling advocates have led up to a vote Monday evening by the city council.

Alex Nivens

Stephonne Singleton has been making music for as long as he can remember, and it’s all been building up to this moment.

He’s on the verge of releasing his first solo album.

“I’m so excited!” Singleton says. “I’ve never worked harder on anything in my entire life. It’s my heart. And I get to finally share that.”

He describes his music as a marriage of Prince and Billie Holiday, and it’s got elements of grunge and folk.

Alissa Eckert / Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Update, April 19: This story includes newly identified cases and exposure sites (previously identified exposure sites and dates that are now past the time for symptoms to develop have been removed).

Eighteen measles cases have now been identified in Johnson, Linn and Miami counties since March 8, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Wikimedia - Creative Commons

Missouri has an unusually high number of hospitals with medical and employer practices that accommodate the needs of LGBTQ individuals, according to a new report from a national advocacy organization.

The Healthcare Equality Index, released Tuesday by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, names 14 Missouri hospitals as “LGBTQ Healthcare Equality Leaders.” That puts Missouri 8th in the nation for the number of such hospitals.

Alex Smith / KCUR

Once a month, a recording studio in the basement of the Lawrence, Kansas, public library opens for a jam session.

There are no guitars or drum sets, though.

The players make music with motion-detecting computers that allow anyone – regardless of physical or developmental ability – to become composers.

The jams are an opportunity for creativity and healing, organizers say.

Steven Depolo / Creative Commons-Flickr

Three infants in Johnson County are among the first reported cases of measles in the United States this year.

The Johnson County Health Department said Tuesday that the three infants, all under a year old, had been at the same day care center in Overland Park.

Missouri Department of Public Safety

It’s still unclear what role technology might have played in the "nightmare" scenario that unfolded in Clinton, Missouri, this week, when an officer was killed responding to a disturbance call after 911 dispatchers gave police an incorrect address.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

Alan Carter didn’t start his recent research with any deep doubts about the insulin that people buy in pharmacies. He just wanted to find out how different kinds of insulin compared. 

“We thought, well, if we can figure out if there’s very subtle differences between the two manufacturing processes, then maybe we can help determine if there is a significant issue for patients who switch back and forth because of insurance formulary restrictions and costs,” Carter says.

BigStock Images

Eric Greitens was having a rocky 15 months as Missouri governor even before being charged this week with felony invasion of privacy tied to his 2015 extramarital affair.

So far, his term has been marked by disagreements with fellow Republicans, severe cuts to higher education and a state ethics fine. Questions surround his appointments to the state board of education, the use of a secretive texting app and who’s donating to the nonprofit, run by former campaign staffers, that advocates for his agenda.

Missouri Legislature

Missouri’s general revenue spending on Medicaid has topped more than 2 billion dollars annually in recent years and its costs are rising.

That’s a problem for Republican State Sen. David Sater of Springfield. 

“It continues to be the biggest inflation that we have in state programs, and we have to do something,” Sater says.

The Springfield lawmaker is sponsoring a bill that would require Missouri to seek permission from the federal government to get what’s called a global waiver, basically allowing the state to create its own rules for operating Medicaid.

Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas

A major project designed to help improve community health in Kansas City, Kansas, has been put on hold, and local leaders will meet Thursday evening to discuss its fate.

The Healthy Campus project envisions a grocery store, expanded YMCA, farmer’s market and additional housing in downtown Kansas City, Kansas, and it was a top initiative of former Mayor Mark Holland.

Planned Parenthood Great Plains

The regional office of Planned Parenthood has selected a new president and CEO.

Brandon Hill, formerly executive director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry and Innovation in Sexual and Reproductive Health at the University of Chicago, assumed the role on Thursday.

Hill says he's eager to move from reproductive research to advocacy.

“I think we’re in a particularly critical time in this political landscape to where I couldn’t just stay in my lab," Hill says.

Missouri Foundation for Health, Virginia Commonwealth University Center on Society and Health and University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health

In the last few decades, rates of premature death have been decreasing throughout the industrialized world largely because of improvements in public health. But there’s a striking exception.

Young adult and middle-aged non-Hispanic whites in the rural United States have been dying in increasing numbers since 2000.  

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

Entrepreneurs Keely Edgington and Beau Williams, owners of a Westport bar called Julep, say that the Affordable Care Act has been an easy, inexpensive way for them to get health insurance. 

Having insurance has been critical for the married couple. Their daughter Lula was diagnosed with cancer in 2016 when she was nine months old. Even with insurance, the family needed help from friends and family to pay her medical costs.

Marius Mellebye / Creative Commons-Flickr

A Shawnee County District Court judge has temporarily blocked an ordinance that raises the tobacco buying age in Topeka to 21.

The ruling comes after two Topeka businesses, with the assistance of the Kansas Vapers Association, filed a lawsuit this week challenging the ordinance, which was scheduled to go into effect Thursday. The businesses claim the ordinance conflicts with state law, which allows the sale of tobacco to people 18 and older.

Children's Mercy

The Hall Family Foundation and the Sunderland Foundation are donating $75 million each to help fund a new expanded home for Children’s Mercy’s Children’s Research Institute.

At an event Thursday morning, Margaret Hall Pence, director of the Hall Family Foundation, and Kent Sunderland, president of the Sunderland Foundation, announced the $150 million in gifts, and Children's Mercy showed plans for the institute’s new nine-story facility, which will be built on Hospital Hill in Kansas City, Missouri.

Cerner

Kansas City-based Cerner Corporation announced Wednesday that Brent Shafer will become its new CEO and chairman of the board of directors.

Shafer was previously CEO of Philips North America and had been CEO of the global Philips Home Healthcare Solutions business from 2010 until 2014.

Shafer will start in the position on February 1st.

Cerner's former CEO and co-founder, Neal Patterson, died on July 9, 2017 at age 67 from complications from cancer.

Alex Smith / Harvest Public Media

A few years ago, Kansas City restaurateur Anton Kotar surveyed the local and national restaurant scenes and concluded his town’s reputation as a steakhouse paradise had slipped.

The problem, he says, is the way conventional beef is raised – bulked up with grain on feedlots, making it cheap and plentiful and changing what Americans expect to taste.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

Ambulances are often considered a prime example of the excessively high cost of medical care in the United States. One ride can cost more than a trip from Kansas City to Hawaii.

But David Slusky, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Kansas, thinks he may have found something surprising that’s reducing ambulance use: the ride-hailing company Uber.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

In a corner of her house in Sparta in southwest Missouri, Jymie Jimerson has set up a kind of shrine. It has Native American art representing her Cherokee heritage alongside Willie Nelson albums, books and photos in remembrance of her late husband. On one side is a copy of Willie’s mid-’70s LP, “Red Headed Stranger.”

“When Steve was young, he had red hair and a red beard, so he always really identified with Willie’s Red Headed Stranger,” Jimerson says. “I try to keep it up there as a reminder of better days.”

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

A few years ago, Renea Molden’s doctors told her they wanted to take her off hydrocodone pills. 

“I was mad,” Molden says. “I’ll be honest. I was mad. I was frustrated.”

The 39-year-old woman from Kansas City struggles with pain caused by fibromyalgia, herniated spinal discs and degenerative disc disease. She says the three opioid pills a day that doctors wanted her to stop taking seemed to be the only way she could make it through work, go shopping or even fix dinner.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

President Trump has pledged to not make cuts to Medicare, the federal insurance program for seniors, but Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, acknowledges that changes are needed.

One of the program’s main funds, the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund, is expected to be depleted in 11 years.

On Monday, Verma was in Olathe, Kansas to talk with seniors about Medicare and encourage them to take part in Medicare open enrollment, which runs from October 15 through December 7.

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