Alex Smith

Reporter, Heartland Health Monitor

Alex Smith 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 KCUR in Kansas City.

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.


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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Heartland Health Monitor
11:17 pm
Wed August 13, 2014

KC Forum Raises Health Concerns Over Coal-Related Pollution Levels Downtown

The Veolia power plant, just north of downtown Kansas City.
Credit Dan Margolies / KCUR

Speakers at a forum hosted by the Sierra Club Wednesday evening blamed the Veolia Energy power plant near downtown Kansas City for contributing to dangerously high levels of sulfur dioxide air pollution in the area.

Health, environmental and religious leaders gathered in the Columbus Park neighborhood near the plant to discuss health concerns raised by emissions from Veolia and other coal plants in Missouri.

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3:13 pm
Tue August 12, 2014

Brownback Kicks Off Reelection Campaign With 'Road Map 2.0'

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback presents 'Road Map 2.0.'
Credit Alex Smith / KCUR

Unveiling his reelection platform at an Overland Park rally Tuesday, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback said he would work to create 100,000 private sector jobs over the next four years.

Brownback, speaking at the engineering firm BHC Rhodes, told an audience of several dozen enthusiastic supporters that he would continue his policy of keeping tax rates low to attract businesses and boost the economy.

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Heartland Health Monitor
7:57 am
Thu July 31, 2014

KC Checkup: Five Questions For Melissa Robinson

Credit University of Missouri - Kansas City

Although some disparities have been shrinking in recent years, African-Americans’ experience with health and healthcare still varies dramatically from much of the rest of the population.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African-Americans have some of the highest rates of diabetes, infant mortality and hypertension, among other health markers.

For the past 25 years, Kansas City’s Black Healthcare Coalition has been working to improve health in the African-American community.

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Heartland Health Monitor
5:11 pm
Wed July 30, 2014

Hickman Mills Loses Nutrition Clinic For Woman And Children

Hickman Mills has lost a city-sponsored nutrition clinic for women, infants and children.

The Kansas City, Mo., Health Department said on Wednesday that it had closed the clinic at the Freda Markley Early Childhood Center, which is part of the Hickman Mills school district.

The clinic offered services under Missouri’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infant and Children, or WIC.

The Hickman Mills WIC clinic provided healthy food vouchers, nutritional information and medical referrals to 25 women, according to the health department.

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Heartland Health Monitor
5:40 pm
Thu July 24, 2014

Amid Growing Demand, Kansas City Royals Sell Out Peanut-Free Sections

Royals offer peanut-allergic fans a 'suite' view at select games this season.
Credit Alex Smith / KCUR

After announcing this season’s schedule of peanut allergy-friendly events, the Kansas City Royals saw several sell out, and the team soon added another to keep up with demand.

The announcement came after a campaign from some local fans, and it followed a growing trend of baseball teams working to be more accommodating to fans with allergies.

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Heartland Health Monitor
7:08 pm
Mon July 21, 2014

KU Docs Say Proposed Cure For Transplant Waits Would Make Local Patients Sicker

Dr. Timothy Schmitt, left, and Dr. Sean Kumer perform a liver transplant at KU Hospital.
Credit University of Kansas Hospital

When Steve Jobs needed a liver transplant in 2009, the Apple CEO left California and went to Memphis, Tenn. While his home state has some of the longest waiting lists in the country for donated livers, Tennessee has some of the shortest.

Many health advocates point to Jobs’ story as an example of the harsh disparities faced by those who need new livers in different parts of the country.

Plans are in the works to fix those disparities, but some Kansas City doctors worry about what a shake-up would mean for local hospitals and patients.

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Heartland Health Monitor
4:09 pm
Thu July 10, 2014

Hundreds Learn Mental Health First Aid At City-Wide Training Events

Warren and Eyvette Carter follow mental health first-aid lessons taught by Cadi Sanchez.
Credit Alex Smith / KCUR

At the Kauffman Foundation Conference Center on Thursday afternoon, Eyvette Carter struggled to carry on a basic conversation with her husband, Warren.

She was distracted in no small part by Karl Chaney whispering in her ear.

“Don’t trust him. Is he looking at you? Why would he want to talk to you?” Chaney said.

The group was taking part in an auditory hallucination simulation, designed to demonstrate the experience of a psychotic episode.

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Heartland Health Monitor
3:50 pm
Thu July 3, 2014

Two Cases Of Rare Chikungunya Virus Diagnosed In Kansas

Two adults in Sedgwick County, Kan., in the south-central part of the state, have been diagnosed with a rare virus after returning from separate trips to the Caribbean.

The mosquito-borne chikungunya virus can result in joint pain and weakness that may last for years, but Kansas health officials say local transmission is highly unlikely.

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Heartland Health Monitor
5:01 pm
Wed July 2, 2014

Medical Groups Clash Over Missouri Bill Creating New Class of Health Provider

Missouri legislators have approved a plan creating a new class of health provider to address the shortage of physicians in rural areas.
Credit Alex Smith / KCUR

Over a fifth of Missourians, especially those who live in rural areas, don't have adequate access to doctors, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Now the state Legislature has approved a plan to address the problem by creating a new kind of health occupation.

The first such plan in the country, it has pitted health providers against one another amid concerns about its effect on the health of patients and the dilution of professional standards.

Medically underserved

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Heartland Health Monitor
2:01 pm
Fri June 27, 2014

Truman Med Breaks Ground On New Hospital Hill Outpatient Center

Business and civic leaders break ground for the new Truman outpatient center on Hospital Hill.
Credit Alex Smith / KCUR

Truman Medical Centers' new outpatient center will provide a range of medical services beyond the acute care for which the system is best known.

At a ceremonial groundbreaking Friday morning, Truman President and CEO John Bluford said the center — a four-story, 90,0000-square-foot building at Truman's Hospital Hill campus costing $29 million — was a symbol of the alliance between Truman and its physician partners.

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Heartland Health Monitor
9:24 am
Thu June 26, 2014

KC Chamber To Tackle Health Issues

The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce is asking the public what its priorities should be as the first step in a new health initiative.

Healthy KC is a collaboration introduced Wednesday by the Chamber, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City and local health leaders. The group will focus on improving health throughout the metro area.

“The message behind the new Healthy KC Commission is, ‘We’re sick and tired of feeling sick and tired,’” Chamber CEO Jim Heeter said in a statement Wednesday.

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Heartland Health Monitor
6:24 pm
Tue June 24, 2014

KC Photo Exhibit Takes Aim At Stigma Associated With HIV And AIDS

Duane Cramer Duane Cramer Creative

This Friday is National HIV Testing Day, first created almost 20 years ago to encourage members of the public to learn their HIV status. Since then, what it means to be HIV-positive has changed dramatically.

Individuals diagnosed as positive today can expect to live as long as they would without the virus, as long as they receive treatment.

But many HIV patients, especially in African American communities, don't receive the treatment they need, and health advocates blame that on the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS.

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Heartland Health Monitor
4:32 pm
Thu June 19, 2014

Rose Brooks Domestic Violence Shelter Opens On-Site Clinic

Women and children escaping domestic abuse often need more than shelter. Many also have serious medical issues.

To address them, Rose Brooks Center, one of the area's largest domestic violence shelters, on Thursday opened a new two-bed health clinic inside its Kansas City facility.

Susan Miller, Rose Brooks' CEO, says the clinic will fill a vital need for the more than 800 women and children sheltered by the agency each year.

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Heartland Health Monitor
3:56 pm
Tue June 10, 2014

Want Medicaid Expansion? You Can Move, Missouri Senator Says

Missouri Senator Ed Emery's letter explains his reasons for opposing Medicaid expansion.
Credit Debbie Cole

How divisive was the debate over Medicaid expansion in Missouri this year?

Just ask Debbie Cole, a 51-year-old mother of four who lives in Butler, Mo., and signed a petition asking state legislators to extend Medicaid to cover more low-income residents.

“We all live different lives, and some people out there may be working two or three jobs and have no insurance, and they need it to survive,” she says.

About a month after signing the petition, Cole got a letter from her state senator, Republican Ed Emery of Lamar.

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Heartland Health Monitor
6:21 pm
Wed June 4, 2014

Planned Parenthood Of Kansas And Mid-Missouri Chooses New CEO

Laura McQuade will head Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri starting July 1.
Credit Courtesy / Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri

Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri has chosen a new president and chief executive officer to succeed Peter Brownlie, who retired two months ago.

Laura McQuade has served for the past six years as chief operating officer and executive vice president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, based in New York. The organization more than doubled its budget and staff during her tenure, according to a news release announcing her appointment.

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Heartland Health Monitor
5:43 pm
Tue June 3, 2014

Grant Aims To Cure Kidney Patients’ Failure To Stick To Medication Routine

UMKC Professor Cindy Russell studies medication adherence among kidney transplant recipients.
Credit University of Missouri - Kansas City

About 75 percent of kidney transplant recipients fail to properly take the medications they need to stay healthy, says Cynthia Russell, a professor at the University of Missouri – Kansas City School of Nursing and Health Studies.

After receiving a transplant, patients - many of whom previously needed kidney dialysis – typically feel healthy and often simply forget to take medications as needed twice a day.

“They are active. They are feeling good. They are just living normal lives,” Russell says.

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3:41 pm
Fri May 30, 2014

New Acting Veterans Affairs Chief Has Kansas City Ties

Sloan Gibson
Credit Wikimedia -- CC

The new acting secretary of Veterans Affairs is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Sloan Gibson IV graduated from UMKC in 1979 with a master's degree in economics, according to a release from the Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs.

Gibson became acting secretary following the resignation of retired U.S. Army General Eric Shinseki on Friday.

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