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At the end of January 2015, KBIA sent reporters down to southeast Missouri to open the “Bootheel” bureau. Their job was to tackle the stories taking place in the towns, fields and health clinics of Missouri’s most productive farmland. On March 23, we kick off the week-long series called “Shortage in Rich Land.” Listen to Morning Edition, All Things Considered and online at kbia.org.00000178-cc7d-da8b-a77d-ec7d2fb50000

Bringing Healthy Change to Missouri's Bootheel

Bram Sable-Smith

Earlier this year, KBIA began a special reporting projecthighlighting the income and health disparities in the Missouri Bootheel. In May the project continued as KBIA traveled to the Bootheel town of Kennett, Mo., to host a community conversation.

The goal was to bring local residents and leaders to the same table to discuss difficulties in access to health care, the struggling rural economy and how to fix it. The following is an excerpt from that conversation. The full version may be found in an earlier post

KBIA News Director Ryan Famuliner hosted a panel that featured Kim Hughes, Director of Nursing, Dunklin County Health Department; Judith Haggard, FNP, SEMO Health Network; and Victor Wilburn, Ph.D., Southeast Missouri State University.

Credit Kristofor Husted / KBIA/Harvest Public Media
KBIA/Harvest Public Media
(From left to right): Ryan Famuliner, Kim Hughes, Judith Haggard and Victor Wilburn.

The discussion has been condensed and edited for content and clarity.

Kim Hughes on funding public health initiatives in the Bootheel:

Collaboration is what you have to do around here. You can't stand alone and do anything by yourself. Public health funding is very, very low for the state of Missouri and I've got some statistics that are just staggering. Missouri pays $5.67 per person per capita for public health. Arkansas [pays] $47 a person. So you can see Missouri is not investing a whole lot in public health per person per capita. So when you look at $5 and Arkansas is paying 47, you know, we don't have a whole lot to work with so we have to collaborate. That's our only hope.

Judith Haggard on getting community buy-in:

It's certainly education. The more education we can get out there about what's going on in our community, I think, the more people can actually buy into that. I'll tell you another example of our caring communities here. We're looking at a brand new kitchen that they've just got going and that's a place to teach. We have a community garden which this church does. And taking that fresh food and getting the people in that know and can teach dietetics and calories and weight loss and exercise and using all those people together is hopefully something that we're going to do to reduce risks.

Victor Wilburn on creating cultural change:

You've got to hit all places. [If] you change the child but don't change the environment that he or she is a product of, then the environment will undo everything that you've done. Adult family members are just a much a part of the area that need to be changed as the children. Education is part of how you give them the information and resources that they need. Then they can start to prepare changes and offset some of the cultural directions that are not boding well for rural America.


A curious Columbia, Mo. native, Bram Sable-Smith has documented mbira musicians in Zimbabwe, mining protests in Chile, and the St. Louis airport's tumultuous relationship with the Chinese cargo business. His reporting from Ferguson, Mo. was part of a KBIA documentary honored by the Missouri Broadcasters Association and winner of a national Edward R. Murrow Award. He comes to KBIA most recently from the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine.
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