Kansas News Service

The Kansas News Service produces essential enterprise reporting, diving deep and connecting the dots in tracking the policies, issues and and events that affect the health of Kansans and their communities. The team is based at KCUR and collaborates with public media stations and other news outlets across Kansas.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to kcur.org.

The Kansas News Service is made possible by a group of funding organizations, led by the Kansas Health Foundation. Other funders include United Methodist Health Ministry Fund, Sunflower Foundation, REACH Healthcare Foundation and the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City.

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Just over half of Kansas voters say they would be less likely to vote for an elected official who favors eliminating state funding for Planned Parenthood, according to a new survey of 817 Kansas voters.

Thirty-two percent say they would be more likely to vote for such an official, 10 percent say it wouldn’t make a difference and 5 percent say they are not sure.

Courtesy photo - Creative Commons

“There’s no question the law has worked well in some areas and it’s still struggling in others.”

That’s the response from former Secretary of Health and Human Services and Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to a question about the signature initiative of the Obama administration.

“We definitely need in the future to have more competition in the states,” Sebelius said in a telephone interview with KCUR 89.3 on Thursday.

File photo

A public letter by the head of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services praising KanCare’s effect on Kansans with disabilities has drawn a string of rebuttals from people who provide disability services.

Tim Keck’s letter was published Oct. 24 on the Wichita Eagle editorial page.

Sarah Mullinax

A University of Kansas scientist has been named one of the first recipients of an $825,000 fellowship for her work in developing a protein designed to thwart antibiotic resistance.

Joanna Slusky, 37, who heads the Slusky Lab at KU and specializes in outer membrane proteins, is one of five inventors nationwide recognized by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in Palo Alto, California.

Photo by Kansas Action for Children

Babies in midsize Kansas counties were more likely to die before their first birthdays than those in counties with larger or smaller populations, according to the 2016 Kids Count report.

The annual report, produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, compares states and counties on a variety of measures related to children’s health, financial well-being and educational prospects. In some cases, the most recent data was from 2015, while in others it was from 2014.

Heartland Health Monitor file photo

Open enrollment for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act starts Tuesday. People in Kansas and across the country will be able to log in to the online marketplace, healthcare.gov, and purchase plans for 2017 with federal subsidies based on income.

Kansas families who buy health insurance through the online marketplace for 2017 could pay $20,000 or more if they have serious medical problems, according to federal data.

Most families likely won’t pay that much because they qualify for subsidies, but the information shows that even low-premium plans can become costly.

KHI News Service photo

When politicians talk about government’s role in caring for the nation’s seniors, they usually limit their comments to shoring up Social Security and Medicare. There’s little mention of elder abuse, end-of-life issues or how best to help families cope with a loved one’s dementia.

“That’s common, and there are reasons for it,” says Kathy Greenlee, assistant secretary for aging at the U.S. Department for Health and Human Services from 2009 to the end of July of this year.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

As communities across Kansas struggle to accommodate an influx of people with mental illness in their criminal justice systems, religious leaders are calling for a new approach in Lawrence.

A group called Justice Matters, which represents 23 congregations, released a report this week called “Restorative Justice at Home.” The report contains several recommendations to beef up Douglas County’s mental health treatment options as an alternative to a proposed expansion of the county jail.

BigStock Images

At first, the man appears drunk.

He’s walking along an on-ramp from Lackman Road onto I-435 in Lenexa, Kansas. At 1 p.m., traffic is heavy.

The man doesn’t react well when a police officer arrives.

“He takes a few swings at the officer. They’re obviously not Mike Tyson swings, but they’re swings nonetheless, where if something happened right there it could very easily spill over from the shoulder onto the highway where somebody would really get hurt,” Lenexa police Capt. Wade Borchers said, recounting an incident from earlier this year that involved another officer.

A Kansas City, Kansas, home health care agency and its owner will pay $1.8 million to settle allegations that it paid kickbacks in return for referrals of Medicaid patients to the agency.

Best Choice Home Health Care Agency Inc. and its owner, Reginald B. King, will pay the federal government just over $1 million and the state of Kansas $788,220 to resolve the case, according to court documents unsealed on Monday.

HealthCare.gov

Kansans who get their health insurance through the federal Affordable Care Act website can’t buy yet — but they can look.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has opened what agency officials call a “window shopping” option on healthcare.gov, ahead of the official Nov. 1 open enrollment start date.

A green button on the site’s homepage allows users to “Preview 2017 Plans and Prices” by entering their ZIP code and some personal information.

File Photo

The state of Kansas incurred nearly $300,000 in legal fees in just three months to defend a lawsuit brought by Planned Parenthood challenging the state’s decision to boot the organization from the Medicaid program.

Invoices obtained by KCUR show that outside law firms representing the state billed it $282,477 in legal fees and $2,725 in expenses between May 29 and Aug. 31.

File photo

Judy Talbot is trying to get her daughter out of a state facility for Kansans with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Zack Zbeeb is trying to get his son into one.

But both ultimately have the same goal: to do a “medication washout” to determine whether the prescription drugs their autistic kids take are helping to control their recent dangerous psychotic episodes or actually causing them.

Zbeeb, from Wichita, wants his 15-year-old son to be weaned off his medications at a place like Parsons State Hospital and Training Center.

File photo

Nine months after Osawatomie State Hospital lost its federal payments, all rooms are back online after renovations and the state is looking at partnerships to address some of its long-term struggles.

The state hospital — one of two in Kansas for patients with severe mental health issues — has shown progress on several problems that led to the loss of Medicare payments, though it isn’t clear when it could receive federal payments again. 

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

The employees of Cornerstone Supports gathered last week at a house in Olathe with their clients — adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities — to plan their last day together.

Cornerstone, based in Olathe, will close later this month, and its 19 clients will have to find other companies to help them with daily tasks so they can stay in their own homes.

The regular gatherings at the Olathe house where three Cornerstone clients live will end Oct. 28.

“We should do something,” said Brandon Thompson, one of the clients.

American Hospital Association/Health Research and Educational Trust

As part of a federal quality improvement effort, Kansas hospitals are reducing the odds that patients will get certain types of infections.

And while that effort provides information on hospital quality throughout the state, finding information about the quality of care at individual hospitals remains a challenge.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

At his apartment in Olathe, Kansas, 42-year-old Nick Fugate catches up on washing dishes and remembers the 22 years he spent doing it at a local hotel, trying to stay on top of a never-ending-stream of plates, glasses and silverware.

Nick recalls minor annoyances like the long days, the hot kitchen and his fingers pruning in the water. It could be tedious, but he says he didn’t really mind.

“Just as long as I got the job done, it was fine,” Nick says.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

In a small, windowless room at the University of Kansas Child and Family Services Clinic, Julie Boydston put on a few sock puppets and explained that they’re more than just toys.

Like the dollhouse and costumes in the room, the puppets are tools that help student counselors get children with behavioral and mental health problems to open up.

“They can’t talk to you about their feelings,” Boydston explains. “But maybe they can say what ‘Mr. Duck’ thinks or ‘the frog is sad’ and why is he sad.”

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. 

Courtesy Olathe Medical Center

As part of an ambitious $100 million-plus expansion plan, Olathe Medical Center broke ground today on a new $25 million cancer center.

The 25,000-square-foot facility, expected to be completed next year, will consolidate the hospital’s currently fragmented cancer outpatient services in one place.

It’s the latest project in a frenzy of construction at the hospital’s 250-acre medical campus near 151st Street and Interstate 35. The last year has also seen the opening of a new hospice house and the start of construction on a neonatal intensive care unit.

FinisherPix

For a handful of triathletes training in a pool at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, Kansas, simply swimming laps is too easy.

Instead, they’ve got their legs constricted so their arms do the work of dragging their bodies through the water.

Kansas City, it seems, is an Ironman triathlon training destination for reasons that might surprise the locals. Triathlete Sarah Piampiano says she comes here because the area in late summer is a lot like… Hawaii.

Megan Hart / Heartland Health Monitor

Several Kansans are scheduled to meet Tuesday with federal officials and counterparts from across the country to discuss issues related to the privatization of state Medicaid programs.

Courtesy John Fales

The president of the Kansas Dental Association said he has stopped taking patients from two of the state’s three KanCare insurance companies because of a 4 percent Medicaid reimbursement cut initiated by Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration.

John Fales, a pediatric dentist from Olathe, said Scion — the dental benefits manager for United HealthCare and Amerigroup — has told him it will implement the cut before it is approved by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

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.

John McGrath / Flatland

Four years ago, former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius returned home as U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services with a prize the University of Kansas Cancer Center had been seeking for years: certification as a nationally recognized center through the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

But amid the hoopla, KU Cancer Center Director Dr. Roy Jensen declared the NCI designation was “merely a water break and a rest stop” on the way toward earning higher-echelon status from the institute as a “comprehensive” cancer center.

Jim McLean / Heartland Health Monitor

Legislative auditors said Wednesday they can’t confirm that the Medicaid application backlog numbers state officials have reported are correct.

Applications have been backlogged for about a year following the rocky rollout of a new computer system, an administrative decision that funneled all applications through a single state agency and a larger-than-expected influx of applications during the Affordable Care Act open enrollment period.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

Two community mental health centers in Kansas hope a new program will help young people recently diagnosed with schizophrenia avoid its possible complications — a higher risk of unemployment, homelessness and incarceration and lower life expectancy — and achieve goals for school, work and their personal lives. 

HMN Architects and Pixel Foundry

Children’s Mercy Hospital is partnering with Olathe Medical Center to provide pediatric urgent care and specialty clinics at an as-yet unbuilt facility on OMC’s 250-acre campus at 151st Street and Interstate 35.

The partnership is the first between the two hospitals. It will allow OMC to take advantage of Children’s Mercy’s wide range of expertise in treating children, especially those with complex medical conditions.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

University of Kansas researchers plan to use a $1.5 million federal grant to help Kansans with disabilities catch up to their non-disabled peers in several health categories.

Jean Hall, director of KU’s Institute for Health and Disability Policy Studies, will lead a team of partners from nonprofit organizations and government agencies to improve physical activity, nutrition and oral health for Kansans with disabilities.

Kansas is one of 19 states to get the grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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