Meg Wingerter

Reporter, Kansas News Service

Meg Wingerter is a reporter for KCUR 89.3 and the Kansas News Service based in Topeka.

Previously, she was a business reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal where she covered the state economy, agriculture and healthcare.

Before moving to Topeka, Meg was a reporter for The Muskegon Chronicle and The State News in Michigan. Meg has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and Chinese from Michigan State University.

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Meg Wingerter / Kansas News Service

Aubri Thompson has already had her share of challenges by age 21: She left the foster care system without a designated caregiver, lived without a steady home for more than a year and became a single parent before finishing college.

Thompson lived in the Kansas foster care system from age 14, when she was reported as a runaway, until she “aged out” at 18. During that time, she moved 21 times, staying in foster homes, group homes and mental health treatment facilities.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

Gov. Sam Brownback on Friday signed a bill creating a task force to examine the Kansas foster care system.

The number of children in the Kansas foster care system has set records in recent years, passing 7,100 in April. The death of an abused boy in Kansas City, Kansas, also raised concerns about whether the system was protecting children. 

U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts website

Kansas U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts is not enthusiastic about the Senate’s version of the Obamacare replacement bill.

Nevertheless, he supports it.

Meg Wingerter / Kansas News Service

The foster care system in Kansas has problems, but a national child welfare group sees one area where it could lead the way for other states.

Tracey Feild, director of the child welfare strategy group at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said work on childhood trauma by KVC Kansas, one of the state’s two foster care contractors, could be a model for others. The Casey Foundation sponsors the annual Kids Count report and other child-focused research.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

In voting for a $1.2 billion tax increase to bolster the budget for the next two years, the Kansas Legislature avoided a projected $900 budget hole and began restoring past cuts to the mental health system.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

Safety concerns continue to prevent recertification of Osawatomie State Hospital, although a recent inspection didn’t find any evidence of the patient violence that prompted federal officials to decertify it in late 2015.

Staffing shortages and concerns about security and patient safety prompted the initial order. Certain they had addressed those issues, state officials appeared confident the state-run psychiatric hospital would pass muster. 

File Photo / Kansas News Service

Gov. Sam Brownback on Thursday signed into law the state’s new school funding formula, which increases aid to schools by $284 million within two years.

In signing Senate Bill 19 into law, Brownback said it directs “more dollars into the classroom by limiting bond and interest aid, encouraging responsible financial stewardship at the local level.” 

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

It took 113 days instead of the scheduled 100, but Kansas lawmakers finally ended their 2017 session Saturday.

Their final act was to approve a two-year budget plan that supporters say will start the process of repairing damage done by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax cuts. But the session’s climatic moment occurred a week earlier when lawmakers overrode Brownback’s veto of a bill that largely reversed those cuts. 

File Photo / Kansas News Service

Gov. Sam Brownback defended his signature tax cuts this week after lawmakers overrode his veto of a bill repealing them, but he may have exaggerated their impact.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

A bill to replace funding for Medicaid and the Kansas mental health system lost to budget-balancing cuts last year is headed to Gov. Sam Brownback.

Senate substitute for House Bill 2079 would increase a fee that health maintenance organizations, or HMOs, pay to do business in Kansas from 3.31 percent to 5.77 percent. HMOs are a type of health insurance that typically has lower premiums but only covers care within a network of doctors and hospitals. 

File Photo / Kansas News Service

Kansas House and Senate negotiators have come up with an amended foster care task force bill but are working against the legislative clock to get it passed.

Meg Wingerter / Kansas News Service

With a record number of children in state custody — more than 7,000 at the end of March — Kansas officials have made recruiting and retaining foster parents a priority.

Speaking at a recent Statehouse event, Gov. Sam Brownback said Kansas should reverse its current situation and have foster parents waiting to be assigned children.

“This is doable. We just need people to step up,” he said. “Listen to your heart. Don’t block it.”

Meg Wingerter / Kansas News Service

A few years ago, Olathe attorney Shanelle Dupree noticed a pattern in the foster care cases she handled: Most parents had little understanding of the system or what to do if they wanted their children back.

So she started a class to try to change that. Once a month, parents who have a child in foster care can meet in a Johnson County family law courtroom to learn more about the basics of the child welfare system. Most parents are referred by the courts as part of the plan to prove they can take care of their children, Dupree said.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

Kansas is on track to spend less than a third of what it did six years ago on cash assistance and to serve a third as many low-income people, according to a state budget office memo.

Those numbers have been falling steadily since Gov. Sam Brownback took office in 2011, when Kansas began incorporating work requirements for programs like cash assistance and food stamps in an effort to break what the governor described as “cycles of dependency.”

Meg Wingerter / Kansas News Service

A new law will allow Kansas crisis centers to treat involuntary mental health patients for up to 72 hours, but it isn’t clear if lawmakers will fund it.

Gov. Sam Brownback on Wednesday signed House Bill 2053, which allows crisis centers to treat people deemed a danger to themselves or others because of a mental health or substance use disorder. The bill had passed the House unanimously and passed the Senate 27-12 after some amendments. 

File Photo / Kansas News Service

Federal officials this week approved a corrective plan for Kansas’ privately managed Medicaid program, easing pressure on the state before a year-end deadline.

As part of the plan, state officials agreed to keep track of the number of grievances and appeals they receive from Kansans in Medicaid who say they were denied appropriate services. That and other elements of the plan were outlined in a letter the state received Monday from James Scott, associate regional administrator for Medicaid and children’s health operations at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Meg Wingerter / Kansas News Service

Turnover among caseworkers has delayed children’s movement through the Kansas foster care system, contributing to record numbers of kids living away from their families.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

Kansas lawmakers have struggled since 2015 on whether to investigate alleged discrimination against same-sex couples in the state’s foster care and adoption system.

Now some think they’ve hit on an answer: Ask people working in the foster care system if they think the issue needs a deeper look.

Rep. Jarrod Ousley, a Merriam Democrat, has asked the Legislative Post Audit Division to conduct a survey about potential bias against same-sex couples in child placement decisions.

Meg Wingerter / Kansas News Service

Editor’s note: Kansas privatized its foster care system in 1997 after a lawsuit revealed widespread problems. Twenty years later, the number of Kansas children in foster care has shot up — by a third in just the last five years — and lawmakers are debating whether the system once again needs serious changes. The Kansas News Service investigated problems in the system and possible solutions. This is the first story in a series.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

The Kansas House gave preliminary approval Friday to a bill creating a task force that will recommend improvements to the foster care system.

The House Children and Seniors Committee passed the bill in March after collecting testimony from foster parents, law enforcement officials and child welfare advocates. Many of those who testified expressed concerns about social worker caseloads and lack of coordination in the system. 

File Photo / Kansas News Service

Costs to secure four state-run hospitals under Kansas’ concealed carry law could run close to $12 million annually, with an additional $1 million needed in the first months, according to a new “action plan” from state officials.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

Another poll has found strong majorities of Kansans support expanding Medicaid, but some political experts say it isn’t likely to make a difference this legislative session.

The latest Medicaid expansion poll found about 68 percent of Kansans surveyed said they supported expanding the program to non-disabled adults who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line, or annual income of about $16,600 for an individual and $33,400 for a family of four. About 60 percent of Republicans polled said they also supported expansion.

Susie Fagan / Kansas News Service

A bill to increase oversight of the Kansas foster care system hit a snag after state officials said its wording could jeopardize millions in federal funding.

The bill would create an interim oversight committee that would study problems in the state’s foster care system and submit a corrective action plan to the Kansas Legislature. The House Committee on Children and Seniors approved the bill in March, but it still must pass the full House and Senate.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

An audit of the Kansas foster care system found the state doesn’t ensure children are placed close to home or receive all services they need.

The Legislature’s independent auditing team presented the third part of its report on the Kansas foster care system Friday to the Legislative Post Audit Committee. The final part of the audit attempted to answer if the state’s two foster care contractors have sufficient resources to provide services and if privatization has improved children’s outcomes and lowered costs.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

Lawmakers signaled Thursday that they could exempt Kansas psychiatric hospitals from a law requiring them to allow concealed handguns.

Gov. Sam Brownback has requested an additional $24 million in spending over the next two budget years on upgrades needed to provide security at state mental health hospitals and facilities for people with developmental disabilities.

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

The owner of St. Francis Health left no doubt it won’t continue to run the Topeka hospital for more than a few months.

The lingering question is whether anyone else will step in to keep it from closing.

Mike Slubowski, president and CEO of SCL Health, said in a news release Tuesday that he hopes to have a clear answer about the hospital’s future by the first week of May. SCL, formerly known as the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, is based in Denver.

Creative Commons-Flickr/Valerie Everett

Additional funding for some mental health facilities in Kansas may depend, at least in part, on the number of lottery tickets sold from new machines.

The Kansas House and Senate have approved versions of House Bill 2313, which would direct proceeds from newly legalized lottery ticket vending machines to crisis stabilization centers and mental health clubhouses.

Kansas News Service

Kansas legislators hit adjournment Friday with some big tasks left for their wrap-up session that starts May 1.

At the top of the list is a tax and budget plan, which largely will be influenced by the amount of school funding that legislators decide to add in light of the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling last month. In the health policy arena, Medicaid expansion supporters are regrouping after the governor’s veto — and holding out hope for another shot this session.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

Editor's note: This story was updated  at 10:30 a.m. April 14 to clarify that expansion supporters will attempt to pass a new bill, not override Gov. Sam Brownback's veto.

Advocates of expanding Medicaid eligibility are planning a another attempt to overcome Gov. Sam Brownback’s opposition to an expansion bill when lawmakers return in May to wrap up the 2017 session.

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The Kansas House voted Tuesday to substantially reduce a tax the state had struggled to enforce on e-cigarette liquid.

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