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.
 

Ways to Connect

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

Last week’s election results stunned a lot of people who get health insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act.

President-elect Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress say they want to scrap the law, but what might replace it remains unknown.

That has left many Missouri and Kansas families in limbo, unsure what will become of their medical care.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

For many Missouri health advocates, an increase in the state’s tobacco tax is long overdue.

At 17 cents per cigarette pack, it’s the lowest in the country by far – a fraction of the tax in many states. And it hasn’t changed since 1993.

Groups like the American Lung Association say Missouri’s low cigarette prices are a major reason the state has one of the highest smoking rates in the country. Twenty-two percent of Missouri adults smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Oregon.gov

When individual health insurance plans go on sale on healthcare.gov next week, many Missourians will probably be more than a little shocked to see some rate increases as high as 40 percent.

Similar increases are popping up nationwide, but different states have different powers to address them.

Take Oregon, for example.

Each year around late April, insurance companies send the state their proposed rates, starting a conversation about what’s fair based on the cost of health care and the health of customers.

Chiming Huang

Revelations about the grave dangers of concussions have led to numerous lawsuits brought by college and pro football players and have prompted many parents and health advocates to question whether children and teams should even be playing contact sports.

Not so fast, say a growing group of researchers, who hope to save football by building a better helmet.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

At his apartment in Olathe, Kansas, 42-year-old Nick Fugate catches up on washing dishes and remembers the 22 years he spent doing it at a local hotel, trying to stay on top of a never-ending-stream of plates, glasses and silverware.

Nick recalls minor annoyances like the long days, the hot kitchen and his fingers pruning in the water. It could be tedious, but he says he didn’t really mind.

“Just as long as I got the job done, it was fine,” Nick says.

FinisherPix

For a handful of triathletes training in a pool at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, Kansas, simply swimming laps is too easy.

Instead, they’ve got their legs constricted so their arms do the work of dragging their bodies through the water.

Kansas City, it seems, is an Ironman triathlon training destination for reasons that might surprise the locals. Triathlete Sarah Piampiano says she comes here because the area in late summer is a lot like… Hawaii.

Alex Smith / KCUR

Mat Smith and Ben Stickler are in training.

The two twenty-somethings from the Kansas City area are working to improve their rankings in the online game League of Legends. Stickler says the strategy and competition remind him of the sports he played growing up.

“You can see yourself getting better,” Stickler says. “You can challenge yourself as you get better. And just play with people that are as well as you and really bond over that.”

Donna Ginther / University of Kansas

University of Kansas economist Donna Ginther made waves in 2011 with her studies showing racial disparities in research grant awards, which led the National Institutes of Health to start an initiative to address the issue. She says the problem isn’t necessarily bias on the part of those who award grants but lack of mentors and training for diverse communities.

Ginther recently sat down with KCUR’s Alex Smith to talk about her latest work on the issue, which factors in gender. She and her colleagues looked at NIH R01 grants awarded between 2000 and 2006.

user Mrd7b2 / Wikipedia

Medical information for hundreds of patients has been stolen from an area hospital.

Children’s Mercy Hospital, based in Kansas City, released a statement Wednesday reporting that information for 238 patients was stolen from the locked trunk of an employee’s care.

“We are very sensitive to these families’ concerns and have apologized to them,” the statement read.

The hospital said that the information does not include patients’ addresses, social security numbers or financial information.

McKinnon Motorsports

For anyone who knows Elyse McKinnon, it’s hard to imagine her not tearing down a race track on a motorcycle.

But life without racing is just what the 30-year-old had to consider after a tragic crash in the summer of 2015 left her with a broken back.  

McKinnon and her husband, Chris McKinnon, of Lawrence, Kansas, have been avid motorcyclists since moving to the Midwest from Florida shortly after Elyse graduated from college.

Elyse says her competitive drive prompted her transition from weekend rider to competitive drag racer.

Tyler Koonce / Twitter

Rounds of heavy rain fell Friday evening leading to flash flooding in parts of the Kansas City metro area. Up to six inches fell in just two hours on parts of the city, leaving some downtown and Midtown roads impassable.

The National Weather Service issued a flash flood emergency for the immediate downtown Kansas City area. It was the first flash flood emergency ever issued for the Kansas City area by the NWS.

Corbis-Creative Commons

An inmate serving life without parole in a Missouri prison is suing to receive therapy for gender dysphoria disorder.

Jessica Hicklin, a 37-year-old transgender woman, has been diagnosed by multiple doctors with the disorder but has been denied access to hormone therapy to treat the condition, according to Lambda Legal, an LBGT legal organization based in New York. The organization filed the lawsuit Monday in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri Eastern Division.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

Kansas City’s neighborhoods have seen major shifts in recent years, as urban areas attract new residents and the suburbs become more diverse. Those changes are especially obvious in houses of worship throughout the city.

That phenomenon recently hit home in an unexpected way for Dan Margolies, editor of KCUR’s Heartland Health Monitor. As part of an interfaith program at Children’s Mercy Hospital, Margolies was among several people who paid a visit to the Victorious Life Church, a mostly African-American Pentecostal church at 34th and Paseo.

Mike Sherry / Heartland Health Monitor

One of the area’s leading mental health service is cutting services for more than 800 adults and children.

Wyandot Inc., an umbrella organization for four nonprofit agencies in Kansas City, Kansas, said today that it would need to cut services due to revenue losses and Gov. Sam Brownback’s decision earlier this year to reduce Medicaid reimbursements by 4 percent.

Courtesy University of Kansas Hospital

The University of Kansas Hospital will break ground Wednesday morning on a new building in Overland Park.

The new $100 million dollar facility, set to open in 2018, will feature eight operating rooms and 18 patient rooms. It will also include room for 17 additional beds for future expansion.

The facility’s services will include imaging, sports medicine, orthopedics, plastic surgery, ENT and cancer surgery.

Alex Smith / KCUR

In recent years, the once-lowly food truck has entered the big leagues of cuisine.

Once peddlers of quick snacks like hot dogs and falafel, food trucks now sell items like crème brulee, roast duck and Spanish tapas.

Some Kansas City entrepreneurs think these trucks have the potential to do something else – tackle food inequity.

Standing outside a big, white trailer parked at the Guinotte Manor public housing complex northeast of downtown Kansas City, Megan Mulvihill invites curious neighbors to step inside.

Alex Smith / KCUR

As the nation grapples with the weekend mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, one of the country’s leading advocates for gun control offered some advice to the state of Kansas.

Joshua Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, spoke to health care providers, educators and medical students at the University of Kansas Medical Center on Monday, laying out a proposal to create temporary gun restrictions as a way to reduce gun violence.

He said special considerations are needed when someone is experiencing a crisis and may be at risk for dangerous behavior.

Matt Kleinmann / Community Health Council of Wyandotte County

Standing at the meeting point of the Kansas and Missouri rivers, you can still get a glimpse of what Lewis and Clark might have seen when they camped here 212 years ago: vast skies, tall trees, wide, shimmering rivers, even the occasional eagle.

Rick Behrens, pastor of Grandview Park Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, Kansas, says the rivers are hidden gems.

“It’s really a unique slice of nature in the middle of our cities that’s pretty amazing and a great opportunity for people to get away from the city, in a sense, right in the middle of the city,” Behrens says.

Alex Smith / KCUR

A public hearing on proposed federal regulations for payday loans drew hundreds of supporters and opponents to downtown Kansas City Thursday morning.

Church members, union workers and community groups chanted outside the Music Hall and made the case during a public comment session that Missouri’s lax laws allow payday and other short-term lenders to exploit borrowers.

Terrence Wise, who supports tighter regulation of the industry, said a $150 payday loan ended up costing him $400.

Mark Baylor / Creative Commons-Flickr

Health advocates have a simple message for parents: Don’t share a bed with your baby.

Unfortunately, it’s a message many Kansas parents aren’t taking to heart.

In 2016, seven infants in Sedgwick County died sleeping in the same bed with their parents, a practice that can lead to suffocation. That’s equal to the bed sharing deaths in Wichita for all of 2015.

Three infants in Leavenworth County this year have also died sharing beds.

Nicolas Rohner

Bob Caviar has seen his share of heavy eaters.

He’s the owner of Papa Bob’s Bar-B-Que in Kansas City, Kansas, and the creator of a sandwich he’s christened “The Ultimate Destroyer.”

“This wasn’t designed as a challenge,” Caviar says. “It was really designed to feed families.”

But the football-sized sandwich, which contains four and a half pounds of meat, has turned out to be irresistible to eaters with something to prove.

Though many heed the call, the years have shown it takes a rare breed to conquer the Ultimate Destroyer.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

In early April, dozens of cyclists gathered in a midtown Kansas City grocery store parking lot for a crosstown trek in honor of a fallen friend and fellow rider.

Thirty-two-year-old Anthony Saluto had been killed a few days earlier when a driver heading in the opposite direction swerved into his lane and hit him. Many of the cyclists, including Peter Quick, were still shaken up.

“It’s like losing a family member,” Quick said. “Bicyclists in this town are a pretty tight-knit group. So when something happens to somebody you know, it hits home pretty fast.”

Alex Smith / KCUR

On Sunday mornings at the Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, prayers that are quietly murmured in most churches seem to almost rumble like thunder.

Thousands of congregants crowd the huge suburban auditorium for weekly services, which feature huge video monitors, an orchestra and a full choir. With 20,000 members, it’s the largest Methodist church in the United States.  

Amy Mogharbel, 30, says attending services here took some getting used to.

Alex Smith / KCUR

Kansas City Mayor Sly James said Tuesday that low public support has prompted the city to abandon plans to build a new airport.

James said the city would shift its priorities to other issues after polls last week showed just 39 percent of voters supporting a ballot question on issuing airport revenue bonds to construct a new terminal.

“Although I still feel that a new air terminal is inevitable, it's clear that the time is not now,” James said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

KCAVP

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Congress voted in 2013 to require domestic abuse service providers who receive federal funds to offer help to people in same-sex relationships. But many advocates say LGBT people still have far fewer resources available to them than what’s traditionally been available for woman escaping violence from men. To help fill that gap, the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project opened a center earlier this year in Westport to provide support for LGBT people living in the Great Plains region. But the group’s executive director, Justin Shaw, tells KCUR’s Alex Smith that there’s still a lot of unwillingness – both inside and outside the community – to face up to the problem.

The fate of a tax to build a new Johnson County courthouse and coroner’s building will be determined by voters, following a vote by county leaders on Thursday.

The Johnson County Commission approved a November ballot measure that would increase the  sales tax by a quarter of a cent to fund construction of the buildings.

The tax would generate $201 million total, $182 million of which would fund the courthouse and $19 million the coroner’s building. The tax would sunset after 10 years. 

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

On a busy league night in a Raytown, Missouri, bowling alley, former auto worker Raymond Fowler keeps up his game playing alongside his wife and longtime teammates.

Fowler, who’s 67, stays busy in his retirement, but it’s not all fun and games. A few years ago, he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and changed his diet and exercise routine, which now includes four bowling sessions a week.

His condition was severe enough that his doctor said he needed insulin shots, and that’s one change he’s found troubling.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89-three

Despite an intense week getting his bearings, Ahmad al-Abboud smiled and expressed his gratitude at a press event Monday morning in Kansas City. 

“God bless Kansas City!” he said through an interpreter.

The 45-year-old former construction worker, his wife and five children are the first Syrian family to be resettled in the United States as part of a refugee “surge operation.” They arrived last Wednesday evening.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

For Jim Nunnelly, being diagnosed with diabetes two-and-a-half years ago was a shock, but almost as shocking was the amount of health information he was suddenly expected to absorb.

“A person like me, getting up in years, got drowned in all that information. I didn’t know what to believe or what to act on,” Nunnelly says.

Information about medications, blood sugar levels, insulin, insurance and exercise – it all made his head spin. Not to mention everything he needed to learn about food shopping.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

Over the past several months, teams of local health advocates have been making their way from one local city to another, lobbying city leaders to raise the legal age for the purchase of tobacco to 21.

Since its launch last October, Tobacco 21, a coalition made up of business, government and health groups, has run up a string of victories in some of the area’s largest cities, including Kansas City, Missouri; Kansas City, Kansas; and Olathe, Kansas.

But the reception they got in Gardner, Kansas, on March 21 was a first.

Pages