Alex Smith

Health Reporter

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. In January 2014 he became KCUR's health reporter.


6:13 am
Wed April 16, 2014

Preschool Trauma Program In Kansas City Getting National Attention

Preschool teacher Twakisha Jones leads her class in a song.
Credit Alex Smith / KCUR

Every parent knows that young children have meltdowns now and then - at home, at school, in the grocery store - but sometimes a tantrum can be more than a bad day. It can be the sign of traumatic stress.

A program started in Kansas City, Kan., offers teachers and parents an alternate way to deal with intense emotions and potentially avoid the long-term impact of trauma. The program has been spreading in recent months, even getting national attention.

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9:25 pm
Tue April 8, 2014

Voters Hand KCMO Council Election Day Victory

Major Sly James celebrated election results with city council members Tuesday evening.
Credit Alex Smith / KCUR

Voters on Tuesday approved all of the ballot measures supported by many Kansas City, Mo., city council members.

Top among the issues was approval to issue $500 million in water bonds.

Supporters of the ballot measure say the funding is sorely needed for the city to repair its deteriorating water infrastructure. In 2013 alone, the water department dealt with about 1200 water main breaks.

“The citizens of Kansas City fully and completely understand the need for us to continue to work on our infrastructure,” said Mayor Sly James shortly before 9 p.m.

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7:58 am
Wed April 2, 2014

After ACA Deadline, Still No Break For Kansas City Health Navigators

The deadline for open enrollment in Affordable Care Act insurance has passed, but enrollment helpers in the Kansas City area won’t get a vacation just yet.

During Monday’s website problems, insurance navigators and counselors were asking enrollees to come back – either later in the week or next week – after the enrollment deadline.

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3:59 pm
Mon March 31, 2014

ACA Final Enrollment Glitches Don't Faze Kansas City Navigators

Application Counselors Lauren Paul, Molly Moffett and Leigh Loving wait for website to function at Wyandotte County Health Department.
Credit Alex Smith / KCUR

The website was stalled for several hours in the final day of open enrollment for Affordable Care Act insurance.

But with the deadline extended for many, those involved in enrollment in Kansas City, Kan., shrugged off the glitches.

Enroll Wyandotte at the Wyandotte County Health Department signed up 30 to 40 people for insurance in the past week, compared to a slow trickle in the first few months of the year.

The Department of Health and Human Services says that the nationwide crush of visitors and a software bug caused website problems Monday.

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6:00 am
Thu March 27, 2014

KC Checkup: Five Questions For Sandy Praeger

Sandy Praeger, Kansas Commissioner of Insurance, in her office in Topeka, Kan.
Credit Alex Smith / KCUR

The Affordable Care Act has put Sandy Praeger at odds with most of her fellow Republicans in Topeka, Kan.

The Kansas Commissioner of Insurance shared the frustration many had over the health exchange website problems, and she’s voiced concern over how shifting rules and delays impact the insurance industry.

But Praeger has remained a supporter of federal health reform, a proponent of Medicaid expansion, and a critic of Gov. Sam Brownback’s approach to health policy.

She answered five questions as part of our monthly series, KC Checkup:

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7:44 am
Tue March 18, 2014

Bill Before Kansas Senate Aims To Eliminate KanCare Payment Delays

Payment delays to health providers have been one of the most contentious parts of KanCare. But a bill before the Kansas Senate this week aims to eliminate the problem.         

The bill requires the three for-profit companies that run Kansas’s Medicaid program to pay on time. Official state numbers show payments have been timely, at least in the past several months, but many doctors and hospitals have reported some significant problems.

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6:17 am
Wed March 12, 2014

New Mental Health Crisis Strategy To Launch In Kansas City

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback announces mental health crisis center in Kansas City, Kan.
Credit Alex Smith / KCUR

Every day, police in the Kansas City metro area are inundated with calls to handle mental illness emergencies.

"Usually more than one time a day,” says Don Ash, sheriff of Wyandotte County, Kan.  “Calls could come in from a family member. Calls could come in from the general public. From a business owner.”

Someone might be picked up for something as simple as loitering or trespassing, and even though it might clearly a mental health emergency, police typically have little choice but to take them to jail or possibly an emergency room.

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4:05 pm
Tue March 11, 2014

Health Exchange Enrollment Slowing In Kansas, Missouri

Federal health exchange in enrollment is slowing, according to data released Tuesday.

The Department of Health and Human Services reports that 29,309 in Kansas and 74,469 in Missouri selected insurance plans by the end of February. That is up 31 percent in Kansas and 38 percent in Missouri from the previous report, a slow-down compared with an increase of about 60 percent in both states during January.

In a conference call, Julie Bataille of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services brushed aside concerns about slowing momentum.

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4:45 pm
Thu March 6, 2014

Kansas Will Allow Extension Of Non-ACA-Compliant Insurance

Kansas insurers will be allowed to renew for an additional year health insurance policies that do not comply with Affordable Care Act requirements.

The Kansas Insurance Department announced Thursday that it would accept the Obama administration’s offer for states to extend policies that do not comply with new federal health insurance requirements.

The offer came as part of new Affordable Care Act regulations issued by the Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday.

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4:18 pm
Thu March 6, 2014

KU Announces Plans For Multiple Sclerosis Center

The University of Kansas Medical Center will create a new center to help those with multiple sclerosis improve their physical and emotional health as well as lifestyle.

KU announced Wednesday morning that an $800,000 grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation would help fund the project.

A former day care facility at 3503 Rainbow Blvd. will be renovated to house the new Comprehensive Center for Multiple Sclerosis Care.

The new center will serve between 100 and 125 participants weekly.

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KC Checkup
6:15 am
Thu February 27, 2014

KC Checkup: Five Questions For Jim Heeter

Jim Heeter is CEO and President of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.
Credit Alex Smith / KCUR

Jim Heeter is President and CEO of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. His four years in the role have given him a front-row seat to watch the growth of Kansas City's heath care industry, as well as how health reform is affecting Kansas City business overall.

He answered five questions as part of our monthly series, KC Checkup.

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7:23 am
Fri February 21, 2014

Teen Tanning Bans Grow Across U.S., But Opposition Remains In Missouri

This map shows tanning regulations across the United States. Alaska and Hawaii are not pictures, but both have no regulations.
Credit Briana O'Higgins / KCUR

Every year about this time, teenagers everywhere hear the call of spring break. To get pale, winter skin ready for the beach, lots of spring breakers make a few visits to a local tanning salon. Recent studies show around 30 percent of white high school girls tan at salons.

Many new proposed state laws aim to reduce that number, but health advocates have found Missouri especially resistant to any legislation that gets between skin and UV bulbs.

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4:16 pm
Mon February 17, 2014

KU Hospital Seeking Private Support For Expansion

Burns & McDonnell head Greg Graves announces $3.5 million in support of new KU Hospital building.
Credit Alex Smith / KCUR

The University of Kansas Hospital kicked off a campaign Monday to raise private money for a new $250 million building on its main Kansas City, Kan., campus.

The Hospital aims for $100 million in donations for the "Cambridge North" project.

At a hospital leadership meeting Monday afternoon, Burns and McDonnell chairman and CEO Greg Graves and his wife, Deanna, announced their pledge of $1 million for the building, as well as a Burns and McDonnell Foundation pledge of $2.5 million.

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4:58 pm
Wed February 12, 2014

ACA Enrollment Up In Kansas And Missouri

Enrollment on the federal health exchange is up about 60 percent from a month ago in both Kansas and Missouri.

New numbers from the Kansas Department of Health and Human Services show that 22,388 people purchased insurance in Kansas as of Feb. 1, 2014. January's report showed 14,242 Kansans had enrolled.

In Missouri, the number of enrollees has jumped from 33,138 in January to 54,157 in February.

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5:04 pm
Tue February 4, 2014

Snow Storm Means A Sleepover For Emergency Hospital Workers

Be grateful if your employer allows you to stay home on snow days. For hospital workers, they can mean days away from home.

University of Kansas doctors, nurses and other emergency health providers slept in cots at the hospital before and after the snow storm that pummeled Kansas City on Tuesday.

"We're operating like a hotel," says Jill Chadwick of KU Hospital.

KU Hospital's clinics were closed Tuesday, but the emergency room, as well as services like chemotherapy and organ transplants, continued operations as scheduled.

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3:09 pm
Mon February 3, 2014

Sebelius Pushes Health Exchanges, Medicaid Expansion In Kansas City

Sly James, mayor of Kansas City, Mo., introduces Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
Credit Alex Smith / KCUR

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius urged the uninsured to enroll on the federal health exchange at a press conference in Kansas City, Mo., on Monday.

At the Full Employment Council near 18th and Vine streets, Sebelius touted the benefits of the health exchange for both the uninsured and for the Kansas City metropolitan area.

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8:08 am
Thu January 30, 2014

KC Checkup: Five Questions For Rex Archer

Dr. Rex Archer in his office at the Kansas City, Mo., Health Department.
Credit Alex Smith / KCUR

Dr. Rex Archer is the director of the Kansas City, Mo., Health Department, which administers everything from flu shots to restaurant inspections. Archer says he is responsible for 480,000 patients and that social equity is the key to the city's future.

He answered five questions as part of our monthly series, KC Checkup.

What do you see as the biggest priority for health right now?

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5:52 am
Wed January 29, 2014

Research Medical Center Names Jacqueline DeSouza New CEO

Jackie DeSouza will be Research Medical Center's new CEO.
Credit Research Medical Center

Research Medical Center in Kansas City, Mo., has named Jacqueline DeSouza as its next CEO. DeSouza is currently CEO of Lee’s Summit Medical Center. Both hospitals are part of the HCA Midwest Health System.

In 2012, DeSouza was named one the Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare in America by Modern Healthcare magazine. She is the first woman and person of color to head the organization. She will start Feb. 10.

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7:31 am
Fri January 24, 2014

KU Professor Looks For Medical Breakthroughs In Insects

Red flour beetles are the subject of KU Professor Stevin Gehrke's research.
Credit Alex Smith / KCUR

At the University of Kansas, some chemical engineers study petroleum, others work on solvents. Then there’s Professor Stevin Gehrke. He casts his scientific lens downward, looking for the future of medicine in things that scurry underfoot.

“What’s different about a bug that goes ‘squish’ when you step on it and a bug that goes ‘crunch’ when you step on it?” Gehrke describes his work.

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1:16 pm
Fri January 17, 2014

Kansas Ranks Near Top, Missouri Near Bottom When It Comes To Malpractice Laws

Kansas ranks near the top of states and Missouri near the bottom when it comes to protecting physicians against lawsuits. That's according to a new report card from the American College of Emergency Physicians. The report applauds Kansas’s malpractice tort reform but condemns Missouri for its higher-than-average malpractice award payments.

The physician’s group behind the new rankings says medical lawsuits drive up health costs as much as 108 billion dollars a year nationally.

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8:31 am
Wed January 15, 2014

Brownback Will Not Recommend Kansas Medicaid Expansion

The Kansas legislature is back in session this week but they probably won’t be debating a Medicaid expansion, after a recommendation from Gov. Sam Brownback.

Expansion supporters had hoped that at least an expansion compromise could happen this year. But the governor’s statement makes any expansion in the near future all but impossible, because the GOP controlled House has said they will only take up the issue at the governor's urging.

Still, many in the state are pushing for some change to Medicaid, which was intended to be part of the Affordable Care Act.

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7:39 am
Tue January 14, 2014

Kansas City Physicians Take The Accountable Care Approach

Clay Platte Family Medicine Clinic physician Scott Kuennen examines Medicare patient Alma Bradbury.
Credit Alex Smith / KCUR

Changes to insurance have been getting all the headlines, but the Affordable Care Act aims to change the way doctors operate as well.

The federal law offers incentives for health providers to work together to keep Medicare patients healthy in hopes of saving money. Whether this approach can actually create savings is still unclear, and many doctors remain skeptical. But in Kansas City, a few doctors are teaming up.

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7:55 am
Mon January 13, 2014

H1N1 Among Flu Types Surging In Kansas City

The so-called swine flu is back. New numbers come out last week, but still early in the season, the virus has sent droves to the hospital and put an unlikely section of the population at risk.

Back in 2009, the H1N1 virus caused a pandemic, infecting nearly 60 million in the United States. This season, local reports of H1N1, along with other flu types, began to surge in early December 2013, according to the Kansas City, Missouri Health Department.

The Department’s Jeff Hershberger says it’s not just the elderly and children in danger.

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4:13 pm
Tue January 7, 2014

KU Med Names New Executive Dean

Dr. Robert Simari joins KU Med as executive dean.
Credit KU Medical Center

The University of Kansas School of Medicine announced Tuesday afternoon that Dr. Robert Samari will become the school's new executive dean.

Samari comes from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where he currently serves as vice chair of the Division of Cardiovascular Diseases and co-director of the Mayo Center for Clinical and Translational Sciences.

Simari grew up in Overland Park and graduated from Shawnee Mission West High School. He received his medical degree from KU in 1986.

Simari is also co-founder of Anexon, a biotech company based in Cambridge, Mass.

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3:02 pm
Fri January 3, 2014

Kansas To Receive $10.8 Million Bonus In Medicaid Funding

Kansas will receive a bonus of $10.8 million in federal Medicaid funding for improving access to and increasing enrollment in the Children's Health Insurance Program, which is part of the Medicaid program.

Kansas has received similar bonuses from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for each of the last five years. Bonus amounts correspond to increases in enrollment of children in Medicaid.

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8:54 am
Fri December 27, 2013

Disabled Communities Prepare For KanCare Inclusion

Shelly and Nicholas Little at home in Olathe, Kan..
Credit Alex Smith / KCUR

Editor's note: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services did not approve the inclusion of long-term services for the intellectually and developmentally disabled into KanCare, according to a report published this morning by the Kansas Health Institute. We will update this post as more information becomes available.

The original story, reported prior to the report, starts here:

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KC Currents
11:31 am
Thu December 26, 2013

Looking Back At Some Significant Kansas City Stories Of 2013

A plume of smoke rose above the Country Club Plaza after the explosion at JJ's Restaurant.
Credit Frank Morris / KCUR

KCUR's Top Stories Of 2013

KCUR’s afternoon newsman Steve Bell gives us a preview of his 2013 Year in Review, in which he goes over the most significant local stories of 2013: from the gas explosion on the Country Club Plaza to the unexpected prowess of KC’s sports teams.

National Attention Turns To Maryville

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10:23 am
Fri December 20, 2013

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius Talks Obamacare

In a phone conversation on Thursday afternoon, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius discussed some of the current issues surrounding the Affordable Care Act.

Sebelius has faced criticism over the health exchange rollout, canceled insurance policies and abortion coverage. Some of her strongest critics hail from Kansas, the state where Sebelius twice served as governor. 

Insurance shoppers will need to register on the marketplaces by Monday, Dec. 23 to get coverage starting on Jan. 1, 2014. Open enrollment will continue until March 31.

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KC Currents
7:55 am
Fri December 20, 2013

Hallmark, Boxer Tommy Campbell, Panhandler’s Life-Changing Year

Kansas City, Ks. native Tommy Campbell was known as the "Chocolate Ice Cube."
Credit Courtesy of Phil Dixon

Hallmark Cookie Exchang Feeds Artistic Community

Since the mid-1960's, Hallmark employees, past and present, and their spouses, have gathered each year - not for an exchange of greeting cards, but of cookies. KCUR’s Julie Denesha stopped by this year’s cookie exchange to bring us this audio postcard.

As Greeting Card Sales Decline, What Is The Future Of Hallmark?

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KC Currents
9:39 am
Thu December 19, 2013

After Coming Into Money, Kansas City Panhandler Reflects On Big Changes

Billy Ray Harris visited New York City to appear on Today show.
Credit Bill Krejci

At the end of each year, lots of people look back and take stock. But no one has a 2013 story to tell quite like Billy Ray Harris.

Harris went from panhandling on the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Mo., to being a national media sensation after he returned a lost engagement ring that was accidentally dropped in his panhandling cup.

Inspired by Harris’s actions, people from around the world donated money to Harris to help him change his life. Now that things have calmed down a bit, Billy Ray Harris looks back on the year with gratitude and a little bafflement.

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