Bryan Thompson

Bryan Thompson 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 KPR in Lawrence, Kan.

Bryan Thompson / Heartland Health Monitor

A working group charged with finding “Kansas solutions” to the problems surrounding health care delivery in rural Kansas still hasn’t settled on a direction. 

Near the end of Rural Health Working Group’s meeting Thursday in Salina, Rep. Jim Kelly of Independence asked the other members to at least consider what he called “the 800-pound gorilla” in the room: Medicaid expansion. Kelly thinks expanding eligibility for Medicaid might help other communities avoid the hospital closure that occurred in Independence. 

Carrico Implement in Hays, Kansas, plans to focus on parts and repairs rather than selling new equipment.
Bryan Thompson / for Harvest Public Media

This year was a very good year for growing wheat, but that means it could be a very bad year for wheat farmers.

There’s a glut on the global wheat market and prices for winter wheat – which is grown all up and down the Great Plains, from Texas to North Dakota– wheat prices this year hit their lowest levels since 2003. Coupled with lower prices for corn, sorghum, and soybeans, many are concerned about the rural economy in the Wheat Belt.

Courtesy Jill Nelson

Kansas recorded its lowest-ever infant mortality rate in 2015, when 230 infants died before their first birthday, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

That put the state’s infant mortality rate at 5.9 for every 1,000 live births — a 28 percent improvement since 1996. Nationwide, the infant mortality rate in 2015 was six per 1,000, which is the target for the federal Healthy People 2020 program

The recent news that Kansas is now the seventh-fattest state in the nation points toward a future of increased health problems, including cancer. In fact, as smoking rates decline and obesity rates rise, obesity is poised to overtake tobacco as the leading preventable cause of cancer.

Bryan Thompson / KHI News Service

Kansas lawmakers — at least the majority of incumbents — think college campuses will be safer starting next July. That’s when a law they approved will allow people to carry concealed handguns on Kansas Board of Regents campuses.

But Joey Paz, a student at Kansas State University, said he’ll feel less safe.

“If this law would have been passed three years ago … I would have seriously considered not going to school in Kansas,” he said.

Trust For America's Health / Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

One of every three adult Kansans was obese in 2015, ranking the state seventh in the country in an annual report. Kansas also was one of only two states where obesity rates increased from the previous year.

U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

A new analysis from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says headlines about anticipated premium increases on the Obamacare health insurance marketplace overlook an important point: Most Americans, including two-thirds of Kansans and three-quarters of Missourians, still will be able to find a plan for $75 a month or less.

Bryan Thompson / Heartland Health Monitor

Rural Americans are gaining health insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act at rates outpacing their urban counterparts, according to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Mark Andes is among those in rural Kansas who have benefited. Andes was living and working in McPherson last year when he began having some scary health symptoms.

Natural Resources Defense Council

A new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council says more than 5,000 public water systems — including 68 in Kansas — are in violation of Environmental Protection Agency rules meant to protect people from lead in the water they drink.

File photo

The troubled Larned State Hospital has a new superintendent.

Veteran state attorney Bill Rein has been named to head the facility, which provides inpatient treatment for people from the western two-thirds of Kansas suffering from severe or persistent mental illness.

Bryan Thompson / Heartland Health Monitor

Rural hospitals are struggling to stay open as the communities around them shrink and average patient counts drop as well. A study released earlier this year said one in three rural U.S. hospitals is at risk of closing.

But one small hospital in southwest Kansas — Kearny County Hospital — is drawing patients from as far as 90 miles away and expanding its services.

Benjamin Anderson, the hospital’s administrator, last year analyzed statistics dating back to 2005 for the hospital in Lakin.

Ozarks Community Hospital

A new study by Georgetown University's Health Policy Institute finds stark differences between states that have expanded Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act and those — like Kansas and Missouri — that haven’t.

Health officials say about 30 children in Saline County have elevated levels of lead in their blood.

Jason Tiller, director of the Saline County Health Department, says more cases could be discovered as public awareness of the health threat grows.

Bryan Thompson / Heartland Health Monitor

State officials on Thursday wrapped up a series of public forums on the pending renewal of KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program.

Federal approval for the five-year demonstration project expires at the end of 2017, and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment plans to apply for reauthorization by the end of this year.

Forum organizers were looking for ideas about coordination of care, value-based payment systems and waiver integration.

Pat Hook

NPR, Harvard University and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation partnered to survey Americans last year about their perceptions of health care.

Feeding America

A new study of food insecurity finds some familiar patterns in Kansas. But there are also a few surprises.

Every year when the County Health Rankings are released, they show southeast Kansas and Wyandotte County as having persistent problems with lower average incomes and higher poverty levels. So it should come as no surprise that those same places have a high degree of food insecurity, which is defined as a lack of reliable access to adequate food.

File photo

A new report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates Medicaid expansion would help 34,000 uninsured Kansans with mental illness or substance use disorders gain access to behavioral health services.

The figure represents the number of Kansans with behavioral disorders whose incomes would have qualified them for Medicaid — had the state expanded its privatized program known as KanCare — in 2014. That’s the most recent year for which figures are available.

New county health rankings tell the same old story in Kansas.

The southeastern corner of Kansas remains the state’s least healthy region, according to the rankings released Wednesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

However, the Kansas county at the bottom of the list — Wyandotte — is next door to Johnson County, the state’s top performer.

NPR/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

A new poll from NPR, Harvard University and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation explores Americans’ experiences with the health care system in the two years since the Affordable Care Act was fully implemented.

Kansas was one of seven states singled out for closer scrutiny. And while much of what Sunflower State residents said followed national trends, there were some notable exceptions.

Bryan Thompson / Heartland Health Monitor

A recent national report credits the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, for helping to reduce racial and ethnic inequalities in health insurance coverage. But Kansas has not made as much progress as other states.

The enrollment period for the federal health insurance marketplace closed Monday night, with higher enrollment than last year in Kansas and Missouri.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said 101,555 Kansans enrolled before the deadline. That’s about 5,000 more than the 96,197 Kansans who enrolled before last year’s deadline.

HHS provided numbers for several population centers:

Marcy Oehmke / Linn High School

An estimated 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease.

That number is projected to nearly triple by 2050 as the U.S. population trends older. Currently, there is no cure for the disease and no treatments shown to slow its progress.

Clay County, in north central Kansas, has the nation's highest rate of people on Medicare diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. At 22 percent, it’s roughly double the rate in surrounding counties, as well as state and national averages.

Bryan Thompson / Heartland Health Monitor

Financial problems at one of the world’s leading biofuels companies are causing ripples in the Kansas economy.

The Spanish company, Abengoa Bioenergy, opened a state-of-the-art ethanol plant in October 2014 near Hugoton. Gov. Sam Brownback greeted the grand opening as a shot in the arm for the Kansas economy.

“It does create jobs,” Brownback said at the time. “It creates opportunities, and right now we are seeing a rural renaissance in Kansas.”

Concerns among Kansas health care providers of a billing system “apocalypse” appear to have been unfounded. Providers are saying “so far, so good” about a twice-delayed new system that went into effect Oct. 1.

The new billing system is called ICD-10. It’s the 10th version of the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD), and it replaced a system that had been in use since 1979.

Kansas Action for Children

An annual report on child well-being in Kansas shows some positive trends, but they’re overshadowed by persistent problems.

Among the improvements cited in the 2015 Kansas Kids Count report: There are fewer uninsured children in Kansas.

Bryan Thompson / Heartland Health Monitor

Climate change is real and must be addressed head-on to prevent future food shortages. That’s the message Cargill Executive Director Greg Page delivered Monday night to an audience at Kansas State University in Manhattan.

A new statistical summary by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment shows progress in reducing a long-standing health disparity between black and white Kansans: the death rate for babies in their first year of life.


National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

A Kansas woman is suing a San Diego-based produce distributor after she was hospitalized with Salmonella poisoning linked to tainted cucumbers.

Monica Rios of Sedgwick County said she bought a Fat Boy brand cucumber in August at a Wal-Mart store, washed it thoroughly and ate it in a salad. Within a couple of days, she was hospitalized with abdominal cramping and pain.

Bryan Thompson / Heartland Health Monitor

Hospitals aren't typically associated with fine dining. And even though their business is health care, the beverages and foods they offer — especially when the cafeteria is closed — often lean more toward junk food than healthy fare.

But a group of Kansas hospitals is out to change that.

Trust for America's Health/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Almost one in three adults in Kansas and Missouri is not just overweight but obese, according to a new report from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.