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

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?

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.

Gov. Jay Nixon says Missouri is sorely lacking in mental health services, but he hopes to fix that with more higher education spending. 

Speaking Wednesday at UMKC’s School of Nursing, the Governor said his balanced budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2015 included $20 million in grants for schools to train future psychiatrists, psychologist and mental health nurses.

Only 10 of the state’s 114 counties currently have adequate mental health care, according to a federal report.

Kansas lags behind Missouri in being prepared for infectious diseases. That’s according to a new report from the Trust for America’s Health. 

Both states lose points for low vaccination rates and for cutting funding for public health. Kansas also ranked low because it doesn’t require health facilities to report infections.

But Dr. Jeffrey Levi says our region isn’t the only place falling behind on those prevention measures.

Gilead Sciences

In the past, the standard treatments for hepatitis C have been nearly as bad as the disease, making some patients feel like they have a severe flu. And, even with treatment, hepatitis C often doesn’t get better. But things could be changing for the over three million people infected in the United States. A new class of improved hepatitis C drugs is emerging, and they're being tested in Kansas City.

“When you get a call that says you’ve got hepatitis, it’s a wakeup call,” says 57-year old Bob Barber.

Sylvia Maria Gross / KCUR

Keeping Kids Safe And Engaged On School Buses

We discuss what it takes to be a school bus driver, how safe buses really are, and some innovative new programs to keep kids engaged while they're on the bus, and make the most of what’s usually down time.

Tell KCUR: Sporting KC Fans Get A Kick Out Of Connection To Team

healthcare.gov

Now that healthcare.gov has undergone some major tweaks, supporters of the Affordable Care Act hope that a lot more people will go online and compare insurance rates. But what might surprise shoppers is how rates and subsidies vary depending on their address.

In Missouri, insurance buyers in different parts of the Show-Me State are seeing some of the most extreme cost differences in the country. 

Alex Smith / KCUR

On Monday morning, Kansas Department of Health and Environment director of Health Care Finance, Kari Bruffett, addressed a packed legislative oversight meeting about issues with Kansas' new privatized Medicaid program, KanCare. Her department oversees the work of the three managed care companies that started administering the program that was rolled out this year.

She said that most of the glitches that came at the start of KanCare have been fixed, and the new system is now working nearly as well as the old Medicaid system.

Esther Honig / KCUR

KanCare Means Big Medicaid Cuts For Prairie Village Man

Finn Buller was born with a rare degenerative disease that has required a lot of complicated medical care including 24/7 in-home care. Now, as Kansas privatizes the state's Medicaid, Buller has found the services he depends on may be getting cut back.

Is KanCare Working?

Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media / KCUR

Chasing The American Dream In Rural Kansas And Missouri

For many generations, meatpacking plants in Kansas City were a place where immigrants found a foothold in U.S. society. Now, these plants have moved to rural areas, and the children of immigrant and refugee workers face more challenges in getting an education and pursuing their dreams. Harvest Public Media asked young people in Noel, Mo. and Garden City, Kan. about their aspirations.

Alex Smith / KCUR

Tuesday night at The Drop in midtown Kansas City, Mo., tax opponents cheered their approval as Jackson County election results popped up on the big-screen television. A ballot measure to create a half cent sales tax for medical research was voted down by more than 5-to-1.

Former Kansas City Star writer Jim Fitzpatrick was a leader against the tax. He believed the vote signaled more than a rejection of a single tax proposal.

"I think it could be the dawning of a new era of public scrutiny of tax proposals in Kansas City," Fitzpatrick said.

Shane Linden / P.S. Linden Photography

How Haunted Houses Helped Develop The West Bottoms

In the weeks leading up to Halloween, thousands of people flocked to the historic West Bottoms neighborhood to tour Kansas City’s haunted houses. And while these houses are known as some of the oldest and most terrifying attractions in the country, you might not know that they’ve also been major contributors to the development of the former stockyards district. But not everyone thinks they should be part of the future of the West Bottoms.

user Mrd7b2 / Wikipedia

On November 5, Jackson County voters will decide whether to fund a translational medicine institute. A proposed half-cent sales tax would raise $800 million over the next 20 years to be divided among Children’s Mercy Hospital, St. Luke’s Hospital and the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine.

Ten percent of the $800 million and 20 percent of profits the program generates would fund local public health initiatives.

Esther Honig / KCUR

Bistate Conversation About Youth Mental Health

Earlier this year, President Barack Obama called for a national conversation on mental health. Kansas City was chosen as one of ten cities to host a dialog in a program called Creating Community Solutions. On Saturday,  September 21,  two mayors and some 360 participants spent the day discussing how to improve mental health in metro Kansas City, particularly among young people. Hear voices of young people at the event.

Alex Smith / KCUR

It's early evening at the Bullers' house in Prairie Village, and the family gathers around the table. The Bullers kids, Alora and Christian, talk school while their mother, Anne, serves dinner.

Sylvia Maria Gross / KCUR

How One Kansas City Public School Is Improving Scores And Making Change

Visit James Elementary School, in Kansas City's historic Northeast neighborhood, which has seen substantial improvement in student test scores. So much so that the school recently landed on Missouri’s list of most-improved low-income schools. 

Alex Smith / KCUR

In his Overland Park, Kan. office, Dr. Rohit Krishna administers an eye test, but he isn't using big contraptions or wall charts. Krishna administers the entire test on his iPad using an app called The Eye Handbook. Krishna created The Eye Handbook about four years ago with other University of Missouri - Kansas City medical professors and residents. It is designed especially for use in countries that don't have a lot of medical services.

Matthew Long-Middleton / KCUR

21,000 Voter Registrations Stalled In Kansas

More than 20,000 people in Kansas have their voter registrations on hold, which means their vote won't count until the situation is resolved. About 80 percent of these stalled registrations happened at driver’s license offices and stem from a new law requiring people to show proof of citizenship when they register to vote. 

Alex Smith / KCUR

With help from a new grant, University of Kansas Medical Center researchers will look at how Alzheimer's might be prevented without drugs. Pharmaceutical companies haven’t had much success fighting the disease, which is the most common form of dementia.

KU Med Dr. Jeff Burns will have older high risk volunteers in the study exercise 150 minutes a week. Burns will scan volunteers’ brains to see how exercise affects amyloid protein, which is linked to the disease.

Burns says even if exercise can only hold off Alzheimer’s, it could make a big difference.

401(k) 2012 / Flickr--Creative Commons

In recent weeks, states like Colorado, California and Oregon have been hit hard by advertising campaigns designed to let people know about their state-created health marketplaces. State health marketplaces are a central part of the Affordable Care Act, but information about Missouri’s health marketplace has been hard to find. And that’s not just because the state decided not to set one up.

Suzanne Hogan / KCUR

Citizen Group Reviews KC Government Charter

Kansas City is known as a “weak mayor” town. That’s no slight on Mayor Sly James, it’s the way the city charter sets up our government, where the mayor is a glorified city council member, and the city manager really runs the town. Since June, citizens in the Charter Review Commission has been meeting to make recommendations to revise the charter. Two major issues are the role of the mayor and the composition of the city council.  

Alex Smith / KCUR

A new report from the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph shows an increase in reports of child sexual abuse and suspicious behavior toward children.  The report is the work of the diocese’s Office of Child and Youth Protection. While the overall numbers of reports are up, confirmed cases of abuse appear to be down.

Wikimedia -- Creative Commons

The University of Missouri – Kansas City has taken big steps in recent years to be more welcoming to gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender and sexually-questioning students and staff.

Like a lot of universities, the school now considers diversity and inclusion to be a mission, right alongside educating students. But there hasn't always been an attitude of acceptance at UMKC.

Students at the university fought hard for LGBT rights, and the resulting legal victory influenced campuses around the country.

Welcome to UMKC, 2013

Julie Denesha / KCUR

 

Kansas City School District Celebrates Good Evaluation

On Friday morning at Paseo Academy, Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Stephen Green made a big announcement about the district's accreditation status.  It had leaped more than 40 points in the new state assessment system. KCUR’s Maria Carter was there and talked to us about what happened.

Alex Smith / KCUR

For Zev Nerenberg, the journey from his home in New York to the parking lot of a synagogue in Overland Park, Kan. was a kind of pilgrimage.

“This is the barbeque capital of the world,” Nerenberg explained with a laugh. “There’s nothing to talk about!”

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