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

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.

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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.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

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.

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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.

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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.

Dave Ranney / Heartland Health Monitor

A proposed bill would cross-check Kansans receiving cash assistance, food stamps or subsidized child care with a list of lottery winners who received more than $10,000, Republican lawmakers said Thursday.

Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Republican from Shawnee who spoke at a Statehouse news conference about the bill, said she wasn’t aware of any cases in Kansas where a lottery winner continued to collect assistance, but similar incidents in other states generated widespread anger.

“This is very important to protect the taxpayers,” she said.

Dave Ranney / Heartland Health Monitor

Nearly a quarter of social workers with the Kansas Department for Children and Families left the job in the yearlong period ending Dec. 1. Job vacancies increased by more than two-thirds at the same time.

DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore told the House Children and Seniors Committee on Tuesday that recruitment and retention were areas of focus for the agency, and its strategic plan also pointed to a need to hold on to employees. But that’s a challenge in part because social workers can make more money with other employers, she said.

KHI News Service

More stringent limits on lifetime cash assistance have kicked in, a change that means nearly 200 families in Kansas received their last cash assistance payment at the start of January.

Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill in April  lowering total lifetime eligibility for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a form of cash assistance, from 48 months to 36 months. The cutoff was planned for July 1, 2015, but the Kansas Department for Children and Families opted to delay it six months.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration on Wednesday unveiled a budget proposal that would require new KanCare patients to try less-expensive drugs first and end a pilot program to improve the health of Kansans with severe mental illnesses.

Susie Fagan / Heartland Health Monitor

People in a mental health crisis who are a danger to themselves or others sometimes have to wait days for a bed to open at Osawatomie State Hospital, prompting at least one Kansas hospital to increase staffing and security in its emergency department.

Dave Ranney / Heartland Health Monitor

A special legislative committee formed to study the state’s foster care system encouraged agencies to consider family structure in placing a child, but declined to support an audit of the Kansas Department for Children and Families and its two foster care contractors during a Monday meeting.

Some legislators have called for study of the state’s foster care system after a boy was beaten to death while placed with his father and a baby died when her foster parents accidentally left her in a hot car while they smoked marijuana.

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Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas won’t require customers who need outpatient mental health services to get prior authorization from now on, but the insurer can recoup payments from providers if their treatment is significantly different from that of their peers.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

In an announcement that was heavy on optimism but light on details, the Kansas Department for Children and Families introduced a mentoring program for families receiving cash assistance.

The Hope, Opportunity and Prosperity for Everyone (HOPE) program involves mentoring 1,100 people receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) payments, also known as cash assistance. It will expand in July to youths about to age out of the foster care system, DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore said.

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Some mental health advocates in Kansas see a silver lining in Osawatomie State Hospital losing its Medicare payments: a chance to redesign a system they say was already strained and underfunded.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced in December it would decertify Osawatomie, meaning the hospital no longer will receive about $1 million in monthly payments from Medicare to care for patients with severe mental illnesses. Federal surveyors pointed to what they called widespread security problems.

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