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News Series entry for Missouri Broadcasters Awards: Overlooked and Underserved in Southwest Missouri

This audio file contains shortened portions of two parts of a five-part series produced by the KBIA newsroom (parts 1 and 2). The two stories are separated by a beep in the audio above at the 2:32 mark.

You can find each of the individual stories at this link: http://kbia.org/topic/overlooked-and-underserved-southwest-missouri

Here are notes from the reporter about the series:

McDonald County is the southwestern most corner of Missouri. Most people – including a large number of native Missourians – would not be able to point out McDonald County on a map of Missouri and most people are not aware of the numerous issues the county residents face.

The county is an extremely rural community of just more than 22,000 residents, so it is not all that shocking that there would be barriers to access like transportation, access to healthcare professionals and insure. According to the County Health Rankings, the county consistently ranks near the bottom in the state for clinical care, which factors in things like percentage uninsured, access to doctors, preventable hospital stays and preventative screenings.

But this community deals with more than just typical rural community issues with access. Over the past few years, many immigrants and refugees have been moving into the county to work at the chicken processing plants in the community. There are two towns in McDonald County that are near or more than 50% Hispanic, and one town, Noel, also has been the place of settlement for more than 300 Somali refugees. In 2015, there were 11 languages spoken in the Noel primary school.  

Due to the confluence of numerous health barriers, language barriers and general lack of awareness of the community, I decided to spend a few days in the county reporting on the major issues facing its residents.

Prior to heading down to McDonald County, I gathered data and spoke with state experts about the region. I also spoke with the health professionals that live and work in the community to determine the weight of each health care barrier and to learn about programs that were being implemented in an attempt to help.  

The residents of McDonald County were very open to speaking with me and seemed surprised that someone what actually taking the time to bring light to the issues that they face on a daily basis. I met with several representatives from the numerous communities in McDonald County, and through these relationships I was able to meet some amazing people that were facing enormous challenges. These were people that truly had never had their stories shared and seemed both excited and nervous about the microphone that I carried. For instance, one evening I walked from apartment to apartment with a Somali gentlemen, who speaks six languages, and spoke with Somali women, Somali men and Sudanese men with his translating assistance.

I also spoke with some incredibly dedicated public health workers who were fighting to improve the situation in McDonald County, and that, since my reporting trip, have actually managed to increase the number of doctors available to the community. These includes the health department director, the WIC coordinator, the director of a community college satellite campus that was training new nurses and several educators. 

Once I returned to KBIA, I compiled the tape and settled on the five stories I would address - lack of healthcare access, lack of medical professionals, lack of nutritional education, discriminatory policing of the black, Muslim Somali population, and an audio commentary full of the varied voices from McDonald County.  The series “Overlooked and Underserved in Southwest Missouri” aired over the course of a few weeks. One story would play every few days. The stories were also shared with other stations throughout Missouri, and several stations aired the series in its entirety.

I was sure to share the completed stories with all of the people I met and interviewed while in McDonald County. And since the series aired, I have spoken with individuals in Mid-Missouri that had not known of the existence of McDonald County, let alone the problems they faced, prior to the reporting that I did.