Health & Wealth Desk | KBIA

Health & Wealth Desk

Wednesday mornings during Morning Edition, and Wednesday afternoon during All Things Considered

KBIA’s Health & Wealth Desk covers the economy and health of rural and underserved communities in Missouri and beyond. The team produces a short weekly radio segment, as well as in-depth features and regular blog posts. The reporting desk is funded by a grant from the University of Missouri, and the Missouri Foundation for Health.

Contact the Health & Wealth desk.

Smoking looks a lot different these days. It’s been on the decline, due to restrictions at work and in bars and restaurants. But there is one segment—teenagers who use e-cigarettes—that is growing fast. And health experts are worried about the consequences.

 


Physicians across the country have a message for the National Rifle Association: Gun violence is our concern. It's part of a battle being fought vigorously on Twitter in recent weeks.

Alisha Floyd bounces her son Chance on her lap. He giggles and pulls her hair.

“He’s the fattest baby here,” she says, laughing.

A new Illinois statute aims to boost flu shot rates among healthcare workers by making it harder for employees to decline the vaccine.

Lawmakers say this is important in light of last year’s flu season that killed more people than car crashes and drug overdoses. But some on the frontlines of public health worry that a law that’s not enforced will have little effect.


Paulina Nieto, who grew up in Columbus, Indiana, was only 2 months old when she started to have heart problems due to a narrow artery.

Ohio’s first transgender and gender non-conforming health and community center is a cross between a funky '80s apartment and a modern doctor’s office.

There are a few couches gathered around a TV, a kitchen, a small stage and a few exam rooms. Mikayla Robinson, the center's engagement specialist, wears a "Miss Gay Ohio" sash, which matches the brightly colored walls.

When Matthew Timion needed to get his son treatment for mental illness, he did not anticipate it would be so hard to get the insurance company to pay for it.

Steve Dillman thinks he can trace his prostate cancer back to August 1, 1985.

It’s late summer, and the drone of insects is a sound that Lonnie Kessler has come to dread. A similar chirping means he’s minutes away from another seizure.

“It sounds like a thousand crickets all at once in my head. And so that really alerts me this is going to happen right now,” Kessler said. “And then I lose consciousness.”

Nearly 100,000 people are waiting for a kidney transplant in the U.S., but many will never get one. Instead they’ll stay on dialysis for the rest of their lives. A team of doctors in Philadelphia have found a possible solution to this problem, by infecting patients with a potentially fatal virus.

Every day, Amanda Moller scoops powdered formula out of a can and shakes it up with water from her kitchen sink. It's like mixing a cocktail, she said, "but not that much fun."

The formula doesn’t taste great – like watery pudding with a biting, cheesy aftertaste. But it’s something Amanda needs to treat a rare metabolic condition she’s had since she was born. After 30 years, she’s gotten used to it.

Amanda’s employer-based insurance plan (through her husband’s employer) doesn’t cover it. Like many treatments for rare diseases, the lack of well-funded research and the tendency of insurers to focus on the bottom line mean sometimes patients can’t afford necessary medical supplies. Many of the 16,000 people in the United States who need the formula spend close to $1,000 a month to buy it.

Nicole Smith-Holt’s son Alec was 23 when he started feeling sick. His muscles cramped. He was lethargic. He woke up multiple times every night to use the bathroom. After two weeks, Smith-Holt encouraged him to go to urgent care.

Rebecca Smith / KBIA

Rebekah Hasty from Richland, Missouri, traveled nearly four hours to Pere Marquette state park outside Grafton, Illinois. She had brought her partner, Shane Worley, as well as their two grandchildren, Symphony and Jimi, to a regional family meetup for individuals affected by Zellweger Spectrum Disorder.

There were many activities planned that weekend including a river cruise, art projects and simply sitting around and talking about family members who are affected by this rare disorder.   

Nearly a year after Missouri state Auditor Nicole Galloway released a scathing audit of Putnam County Memorial Hospital in Unionville, Missouri, the tiny hospital is still struggling to recover from a lab billing scheme that's now the subject of criminal investigations. 

Lee Ann Stuart still wears her nursing scrubs, even though the only work she’s been doing since Twin Rivers Regional Medical Center closed June 11 is to pack boxes of medical supplies to be hauled away.

“It’s strange walking those halls, and they’re empty and the lights are down,” Stuart says. She’s been a nurse at the hospital in rural Kennett, Missouri, for 22 years.

DeVonte Jones began to show signs of schizophrenia as a teenager. His first public episode was nine years ago at a ball game at Wavering Park in Quincy, Illinois.

“He snapped out and just went around and started kicking people,” said Jones’ mother Linda Colon, who now lives in Midlothian in the Chicago suburbs.


Taja Welton is ready for her daughter to be born. She’s moved into a bigger house, one with room for a nursery. She has a closet full of pink, Minnie Mouse-themed baby clothes. Her baby bag is packed right down to the outfit she plans to bring her baby home in that reads, “The Princess Has Arrived.”

“I can’t wait to put it on her,” Welton smiles. The princess even has a name: Macen.


It was a scheduling mishap that led Kourtnaye Sturgeon to help save someone’s life. About four months ago, Sturgeon drove to downtown Indianapolis for a meeting. She was a week early.

“I wasn’t supposed to be there,” she said.


As he fights to retain control of Putnam County Memorial Hospital in Unionville, Missouri, Jorge Perez’s woes continue to pile up at other rural hospitals where he was once hailed as a hero.

Last month, in the second of a three-part series, CBS News aired a piece about Empower, a Perez-run company whose affiliates have been involved in many of the rural hospital takeovers orchestrated by Perez and his associates.

A battle royale has erupted in tiny Unionville, Missouri, over the town’s endangered community hospital.

Trustees of Putnam County Memorial Hospital in the north central community are trying to get rid of the company that took over the ailing institution in 2016 and then ran more than $90 million in questionable lab billings through the hospital.

This story was originally published February 6. It has been updated as of February 9 at 1 pm.

The Atchison-Holt Ambulance District spans two counties and 1,100 square miles in the far northwest corner of Missouri. The EMTs who drive these ambulances cover nearly 10 times more land area than their counterparts in Omaha, the nearest major city. 

Though the shops along Sullivant Avenue in Columbus, Ohio had all closed their doors one cold November night, a young woman walked alone down the alley behind the Seventh Day Adventist Church. She was petite and wore lipstick, a tweed coat and blue jeans torn at the knee.


When the hospital closed in rural Ellington, Missouri, a town of about 1,000, the community lost its only emergency room, too. 

That was 2016. That same year, a local farmer had a heart attack.


Missouri Offenders Help Their Peers Come to Terms with Death

Dec 20, 2017
Aviva Okeson-Haberman / KBIA

Offenders in some Missouri prisons are breaking down walls — emotional walls. They’re demolishing the barriers they’ve spent years building while inside a prison cell. But it’s only at the end of their sentence, the end of their life, that those walls finally crumble. And they crumble with a fellow inmate by their side.

It’s all part of the Missouri Department of Corrections (MODOC) Hospice Program, which started in 2015, where offenders are trained to provide end-of-life care for their peers.


When President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency in late October, it triggered a regulatory change intended to make it easier for people to get care in places with provider shortages. This declaration allows for the prescribing  of addiction medicine virtually, without doctors ever seeing the patient in person. (The regulatory change is not fully implemented until the DEA issues further rules.)

 


It’s a familiar story in rural America. Four years ago the Pemiscot County hospital, the lone public hospital in Missouri’s poorest county, nearly closed. What’s keeping it in business today has also become increasingly common in rural healthcare: relationships with a handful of local pharmacies.


In 2011, Maureen Sweeney was working as a registered nurse in labor and delivery at a Cleveland-area hospital. She helped hundreds of women, many minors in their early teens, deliver their children.


No one at the hospital in Fulton, Missouri (population 12,790) had ever heard of a management consultant named Jorge Perez until he showed up at its potluck in September.


Officer Ron Meyers drove down a dirt road 20 minutes outside the small city of Chillicothe, Ohio. As he passed each home, he slowed down and squinted, searching for an address. Out here, the house numbers are written on the front of homes in marker or in faded numbers clinging to old mailboxes. There’s no GPS.


After 20 years of selling and using meth, 38-year-old Andy Moss turned his life around. He got off drugs and got a good job. Next step: he wanted to fix his teeth, which had disintegrated, leaving nerves exposed.


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