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.

Ways to Connect

Kansas appears on track for a quiet year for pertussis cases after two years marked by outbreaks.

As of mid-April, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment had recorded eight cases of pertussis. There were 412 cases in 2014 and 431 cases in 2015, meaning the state is likely to have fewer cases this year unless a major outbreak hits in the next few months.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

While the Kansas Legislature’s final budget bill did increase spending on mental health hospitals by $17 million, more than two-thirds of that funding will be used to maintain the status quo.

That’s because $11.7 million — or 69 percent of the $17 million in extra funds the Legislature appropriated early Monday in Senate Bill 249  — will be used to replace federal funding the state hospitals lost or pay contract facilities to assist when Osawatomie State Hospital is at capacity.

Jim McLean / Heartland Health Monitor

The Kansas Legislature approved additional restrictions on people who receive government assistance but removed one proposal that would have required women to return to work shortly after giving birth.

The changes, passed late Sunday as part of Senate Bill 402, reduce the lifetime limit for cash assistance through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families from three years to two years. There is a one-year hardship extension.

United Health Foundation

More than a quarter of adult Kansans say they don’t have any of five major behavioral risk factors for chronic disease, but the picture isn’t so rosy for minorities, men or people with lower incomes.

A recent report from the United Health Foundation examined the percentage of adults with five unhealthy behaviors: smoking, excessive drinking, insufficient sleep, physical inactivity and obesity.

File photo / Heartland Health Monitor

Federal officials have reversed position on a long-standing ban on paying for some inpatient psychiatric care, giving a possible boost to Kansas crisis centers.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released a proposed rule Monday that will place new requirements on managed care organizations administering Medicaid, such as the three insurance companies that operate KanCare, the state’s privatized $3 billion program.

C_osett / Creative Commons-Flickr

Kansas spends only about $12 per person on public health, making it one of the states putting the least money into preventing chronic and infectious diseases.

Courtesy Iola Unified School District 257

Delivering meals to low-income people is a long-standing way to improve nutrition, but a project in Iola Unified School District 257 will bring the whole diner.

Kathy Koehn, nutrition and wellness coordinator at USD 257, said students taking vocational classes in the district are working to remodel an older school bus as a “traveling bistro” where children who may not have access to healthy food during the summer can get lunch.

File photo / Heartland Health Monitor

Kansas has fewer low-income families receiving cash assistance than at any time in the last decade, but less than 10 percent are recorded as leaving the program because they found jobs.

Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services

A health care consultant who lists experience with hospital turnarounds will take over the top job at Larned State Hospital for the next six months.

Tim Keck, interim secretary of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, announced Wednesday that he had appointed Chris Mattingly to serve as interim superintendent.

Tom Kinlen, who had been Larned’s superintendent since 2012, resigned in March, and Bill Rein, who is KDADS commissioner of behavioral health services, served in an interim capacity until Mattingly was appointed this week.

James Radlund

After two years of being homeless and moving through jobs, James Radlund says he’s ready for something better.

Radlund, 46, of Pittsburg, Kansas, is one of the early participants in a new Kansas Department for Children and Families job training program for food assistance recipients.

He said it had been difficult to hold a job because of a series of circumstances, including seeking treatment for addiction to methamphetamine and alcohol, going through a divorce, losing housing after a roommate didn’t have his share of the rent and dealing with depression.

Newman Regional Health

Newman Regional Health will continue to receive Medicare payments after federal officials determined staff at the Emporia hospital had addressed their concerns about policies for patients with mental health issues.

A news release from the hospital Tuesday announced the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services determined Newman had complied with its requirements. In March, CMS had raised the possibility of stopping Medicare payments after a psychiatric patient was discharged too soon in September 2015.

Courtesy Bill Stovall

A statewide registry is in the works to make it easier for Medicaid patients to find qualified, reliable personal care workers.

That’s good news for Bill Stovall of Topeka and others like him who help direct care for their family members.

Stovall has a long list of complaints against personal care workers who have cared for his sister in recent years, including punctuality problems and a lack of training.

File photo

The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services has raised starting pay for registered nurses at Osawatomie State Hospital to attract more full-time employees.

The department announced Monday that the starting wage for registered nurses at Osawatomie would rise from $25.05 per hour to $28.44 per hour, which is a nearly 14 percent increase. The increase will affect registered nurses earning the starting wage but not those farther up the pay scale, KDADS spokeswoman Angela de Rocha said.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

A discussion that Kansas officials began last fall with representatives of a Wall Street banking firm about securitizing the state’s tobacco settlement could be resurrected if the state’s budget problems continue to worsen.

Shawn Sullivan, budget director for Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, said while a bond deal isn’t under active discussion, it remains a possibility should the state need a quick infusion of cash to balance the budget.

“I’m not going to deny it’s an option,” Sullivan said.

Joseph Scozzari / Wikimedia--CC

Federal officials may halt Medicare funding to an Emporia hospital because a mental health patient was discharged too soon — an incident that hospital officials say resulted in part from a lack of mental health beds in Kansas.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services conducted a follow-up visit March 10 at Newman Regional Health to determine if it had corrected the lapse in procedure that led to a patient being improperly discharged in September. CMS has not made results of the follow-up visit public.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

If he had a magic wand, Bill Persinger would turn back the clock to May 2009.

Failing that, however, he would increase resources for crisis care and substance abuse treatment, said Persinger, who is CEO of Valeo Behavioral Health Care in Topeka.

Dave Ranney / Heartland Health Monitor

Federal officials found fault with the way Kansas had screened people for admission to psychiatric hospitals, but left the door open for the state to divert patients if it reforms its screening procedure.

Heartland Health Monitor

No one speaking Tuesday to the Senate Ways and Means Committee argued the Legislature could be trusted to direct funds to their intended purpose.

The only question was what arrangement would make it least likely that lawmakers would use funds for children’s programs, highways and other designated purpose instead to plug holes in the state general fund budget.

Creative Commons-Pixabay

Editor’s note: This is the second of two stories examining the costs of early scheduled births in Kansas and efforts to reduce them. 

A statewide efficiency report estimates Kansas could save nearly $20 million over five years by reducing early elective Medicaid births — a number that might require the state to prevent 800 more of those births than actually happened in the most recent year.

Susie Fagan / Heartland Health Monitor

Proponents of expanding Medicaid eligibility in Kansas need to change tactics and prepare for a long process, a health policy researcher told them Wednesday.

Len Nichols, director of the Center for Health Policy Research and Ethics at George Mason University in northern Virginia, said Kansans who currently oppose expanding Medicaid aren’t likely to be persuaded by statistics from “eggheads” like himself.

Creative Commons-Pixabay

Editor’s note: This is the first of two stories examining the costs of early scheduled births in Kansas and efforts to reduce them. 

The practice of delivering babies a few days early for the convenience of mothers and doctors has been a common one for years at hospitals across the country and in Kansas.

But when research established that deliveries done even a little ahead of schedule can threaten the health of newborns, Kansas health care providers decided it was time to end the practice.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback made his case Thursday for why Kansas food stamp reforms should be a national welfare-to-work model, even though the study he used to support his claim showed almost 80 percent of Kansans affected remained in poverty.

File photo

Proponents of a bill to give businesses tax credits if an employee receives less public assistance after being hired couldn’t estimate the proposal’s financial impact, and the complicated nature of public assistance doesn’t help the task.

File photo

The Kansas Senate on Thursday approved a bill to further tighten welfare eligibility rules.

The measure – Senate Bill 372 – adds new restrictions to rules established last year in a controversial bill that drew national attention.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

State officials said bills requiring legislative consent before the state could privatize Osawatomie State Hospital would take away one option to address long-standing staffing problems.

Tim Keck, interim secretary of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, told members of the House Health and Human Services committee on Monday that the department is working on a request for proposals related to public-private partnerships for the hospital. He said he expects both nonprofit and for-profit health care companies may apply.

A bill originally promoted as preventing lottery winners from claiming public assistance would now also cut off households that have received cash assistance for more than two years.

Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, confirmed that the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee had amended Senate Bill 372 to lower the lifetime Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) limit from 36 months to 24 months.

Megan Hart / Heartland Health Monitor

A pilot program designed to improve the health of people with severe and persistent mental illnesses will end July 1, but its backers say it hasn’t had enough time to show results.

In August 2014, Kansas began a “health home” program that put community mental health centers in charge of coordinating care for Medicaid patients with severe mental illnesses. In January, Budget Director Shawn Sullivan recommended that the state end the pilot program, which he says hadn’t produced significant results.

Megan Hart / Heartland Health Monitor

Larned State Hospital could run out of room in its unit to treat sexual predators as early as next year, which may force the state to treat some offenders in community settings or set up a separate secured facility, according to a report from Legislative Post Audit.

KHI News Service

A new computer system for enrolling Kansans in Medicaid and other public assistance programs will generate far less than the expected $300 million in savings, a Legislative Post Audit report finds.

The Kansas Eligibility Enforcement System (KEES) was intended to be a central portal where people could apply for benefits like Medicaid, food stamps and cash assistance, and the state could automatically verify their eligibility.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

The state will try to get Osawatomie State Hospital back into Medicare’s good graces within the next six months, officials told a joint legislative committee Thursday.

Tim Keck, interim secretary of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, said the department will pursue recertification for Osawatomie, ending several weeks of speculation.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced in December that it would halt Medicare payments to Osawatomie due to security issues that had come to light after the reported rape of an employee by a patient.

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