Bram Sable-Smith | KCUR

Bram Sable-Smith

A curious Columbia, Mo. native, Bram Sable-Smith has documented mbira musicians in Zimbabwe, mining protests in Chile, and the St. Louis airport's tumultuous relationship with the Chinese cargo business. His reporting from Ferguson, Mo. was part of a KBIA documentary honored by the Missouri Broadcasters Association and winner of a national Edward R. Murrow Award. He comes to KBIA most recently from the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine.

Dan Margolies / KCUR 89.3

A battle royale has erupted in tiny Unionville, Missouri, over the town’s endangered community hospital.

Trustees of Putnam County Memorial Hospital in the north central community are trying to get rid of the company that took over the ailing institution in 2016 and then ran more than $90 million in questionable lab billings through the hospital.

Dan Margolies / KCUR 89.3

As he fights to retain control of Putnam County Memorial Hospital in Unionville, Missouri, Jorge Perez’s woes continue to pile up at other rural hospitals where he was once hailed as a hero.

Last month, in the second of a three-part series, CBS News aired a piece about Empower, a Perez-run company whose affiliates have been involved in many of the rural hospital takeovers orchestrated by Perez and his associates.

When the hospital closed in rural Ellington, Missouri, a town of about 1,000, the community lost its only emergency room, too. 

That was 2016. That same year, a local farmer had a heart attack.


It’s a familiar story in rural America. Four years ago the Pemiscot County hospital, the lone public hospital in Missouri’s poorest county, nearly closed. What’s keeping it in business today has also become increasingly common in rural healthcare: relationships with a handful of local pharmacies.


No one at the hospital in Fulton, Missouri (population 12,790) had ever heard of a management consultant named Jorge Perez until he showed up at its potluck in September.


Sarah Scantling's daughter, Abilene, was born in Dryersburg, Tennessee, 30 miles from their home in Pemiscot County, Missouri.
Bram Sable-Smith / Side Effects Public Media

When Sarah Scantling went into labor this summer, she had to drive 30 miles and across state lines.

Three years earlier, the only maternity ward where she lives in Pemiscot County, Missouri closed down. Scantling had to choose between a handful of other hospitals in the region between 20 and 70 miles away. She chose to give birth in the hospital in Dyersburg, Tennessee.

Earl Bullington is an advisor for Focus Bank, which rescued the struggling Pemiscot County Hospital in 2013.
Bram Sable-Smith / for Harvest Public Media

$1.25 million.

That’s the size of the bill that could have shuttered the only public hospital in rural Pemiscot County, Missouri in August 2013.

Earlier this year, 69-year-old Aneita McCloskey needed her two front teeth filed down and capped.

“They were kind of worn down and they were also getting little tears and cavities,” she recalls.

Without dental insurance, McCloskey is on the hook for the full $2,400 cost of the procedure. She was given 18 months to pay it before she gets charged interest. That’ll be hard to do on her fixed income.

In years past she would have had to wait to see the dentist again until she could afford it.


Missouri cattle farmer Greg Fleshman became so concerned about keeping his local hospital open that in 2011 he joined its governing board.

This story is part of True/False Conversations, a series of in-depth interviews with the filmmakers of this year’s True/False Fest.  Find the rest of them here or download the podcast on iTunes.

Back in 2008 filmmaker Ed Cunningham heard a strange story on the news about a man who bought a barbecue smoker at an auction and found a severed human leg inside. A legal battle ensued between the finder of the foot and the man it once belonged to.