Celia Llopis-Jepsen | KBIA

Celia Llopis-Jepsen

Celia comes to the Kansas News Service after five years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. She brings in-depth experience covering schools and education policy in Kansas as well as news at the Statehouse. In the last year she has been diving into data reporting. At the Kansas News Service she will also be producing more radio, a medium she’s been yearning to return to since graduating from Columbia University with a master’s in journalism.  

Celia also has a master’s degree in bilingualism studies from Stockholm University in Sweden. Before she landed in Kansas, Celia worked as a reporter for The American Lawyer in New York, translated Chinese law articles, and was a reporter and copy editor for the Taipei Times.

 

TOPEKA, Kansas — Kansas may not have any limits on the number of people who can safely gather — at all. 

In a dramatic rebuke, Republican leaders on the Legislative Coordinating Council voted Wednesday to overturn the Democratic governor’s executive order banning churches and funerals from having more than 10 people at services, which followed a wider directive from March 24. 

Kelly did not immediately reinstate a ban on large gatherings, saying her administration was exploring its legal options. But Attorney General Derek Schmidt said in a news release Wednesday evening that his office believes the March 24 order to be in effect.

Have you been tested for COVID-19 in Kansas, or have you tried? We want to hear from you. We’re also interested in hearing from health care workers about what they’re seeing in their clinics and hospitals, and from patients.

TOPEKA, Kansas — Kansas is struggling to get its hands on the millions of N95 masks, surgical gowns and other protective gear it wants to shield first responders and health care workers against COVID-19.

Gov. Laura Kelly told reporters Monday that Kansas has been pursuing three routes to get more of those supplies, along with testing kits and ventilators.

Have you gotten tested for COVID-19 in Kansas, or have you tried? We want to hear from you. We’re also interested in hearing from health care workers about what they’re seeing in their clinics and hospitals, and from patients.

TOPEKA, Kansas — In many parts of Kansas, people not sick enough for hospitalization still can’t find out if they have COVID-19.

Are you an employee of Stormont Vail or another Kansas health care providers that is reducing pay during the COVID-19 crisis? We want to hear from you.

TOPEKA, Kansas — A major hospital in the state’s capital slashed pay this week for many employees to try to weather financial woes spurred by the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Joe Meier’s hospital in Wilson County has 15 beds, no intensive care unit and one ventilator. Two of his neighboring counties in southeast Kansas have no hospital at all, and another two have no ICU either.

So Meier has a plea to the residents of his region: Stay home.

"It's not a matter of 'if' (COVID-19) is going to hit here,' he said. "It’s a matter of when."

Update: Sedgwick County has finalized its stay-home order.

LAWRENCE, Kansas — Six Kansas counties are ordering residents to stay home unless they’re buying groceries, getting health care or carrying out other essential tasks.

The orders apply in Wyandotte, Johnson, Leavenworth, Douglas, Miami and Doniphan counties. Gov. Laura Kelly said she’s not ready to issue her own statewide shelter-in-place order, but that could change.

The first person to die of COVID-19 in Kansas stayed at a long-term care facility in Wyandotte County owned by the national chain with a suburban Seattle facility tied to 22 deaths from the virus.

Friday’s news comes as Wichita reported its first case of the novel coronavirus, involving a man who had taken a Caribbean cruise. That brings the state’s total known cases to six.

TOPEKA, Kansas — Republican legislative leaders blocking a push to give Medicaid coverage to about 130,000 more Kansans say they fear the expansion’s impact on publicly funded abortions. Other Republicans and Democrats reject that argument as a red herring.

The Kansas News Service has learned that Medicaid has paid for a total of four abortions in the state between Jan. 1, 2013, and this month.

TOPEKA, Kansas — A proposal to ban all fruity and sweet vaping flavors in Kansas has upset both pro-vaping and anti-tobacco groups.

Hundreds of popular flavors would disappear. Menthol would remain. The flavor restrictions wouldn’t apply to traditional tobacco products, such as cigarettes.

 

TOPEKA, Kansas — A flurry of proposals in the Kansas Statehouse this session take aim at rising medical costs, including one that may be the state’s first attempt to rein in “surprise bills.”

TOPEKA, Kansas — Kansans will likely vote this August on whether to become the fourth state to enshrine in their constitution that abortion isn't a right.

Anti-abortion activists say Kansas needs the change to protect its current abortion laws against potential court challenges.  

Their abortion rights counterparts warn many of those laws already go too far, and the constitutional amendment would pave the way for making abortion illegal.

Where does Kansas law stand on abortion today?

TOPEKA, Kansas ⁠— Lawmakers are fast-tracking a push to amend the state constitution and undo a Kansas Supreme Court ruling that said women have the right to abortion.

The goal, with voters’ approval in August, is to add a line to the state bill of rights saying abortion isn’t constitutionally protected ⁠— and that legislators can regulate abortions, including when a pregnancy results from rape or incest or threatens a woman’s life.

The proposal already is awaiting floor votes in both chambers, just over a week after the 2020 session began. 

Kansas City, Missouri — Time was, a fledgling tech company called CivicPlus had to explain to prospective customers why it was based in Kansas — and not some tech-heavy coastal city.

“We said, ‘Hey, you get Midwest values, but with Silicon Valley quality,’” recalled Ward Morgan, owner of the government software maker based in the college town of Manhattan. “It did throw people off to think that there was a tech company in Kansas.”

Today CivicPlus, founded in the 1990s, serves 3,500 cities and counties on two continents.

The KCUR news staff presents the State of Kansas City series as a look ahead to 2020 on topics of importance to the region. Find the State of Kansas City report on other topics in the series as they are published each weekday, Jan. 6–Jan. 20. Follow coverage on these topics at KCUR.org and on 89.3 FM throughout the year.

Health care — who gets it, who doesn’t, and how we pay for it — will command as much attention in Missouri and Kansas politics this year as on the national scene.

KANSAS CITY, Missouri — Chris Costantini lay in a cold sweat, his shoulder dislocated after slipping on a porch in Kansas City, Kansas.

He’d been out alone, knocking on doors and rustling up voters for the upcoming midterms in October 2018. Now he waited for an ambulance, full of anxiety about how the injury could hinder his next performance at the Kansas City Ballet.

A town loses population one decade after the next. Then a wealthy native son makes a generous offer: I'll pay the college tuition of every kid who graduates from high school here. Beyond putting college in reach for more families, the donation hopes to draw people to Neodesha, Kansas. Except ... it might just encourage people already in the region to change addresses. And the town is short on housing.

TOPEKA, Kansas — What if researchers could go to a single hub for vast deposits of information on a range of issues from water quality to court rulings to the medicinal powers of marijuana?

Armed with all that existing research, they might begin to draw conclusions that apply across the country. They might also avoid repeating the work of other researchers.

Three hundred middle and high schoolers filed into their school auditorium recently in the small, southeast Kansas town of Neodesha, uncertain why they'd been called there.

They left cheering and hugging. Some of the older students were teary-eyed.

NEODESHA, Kansas — Three hundred middle and high schoolers filed into their school auditorium last week in the small, southeast Kansas town of Neodesha, uncertain why they’d been called there.

They left cheering and hugging. Some of the older students were teary-eyed.

College tuition and fees need no longer hold back graduates of this manufacturing community, about halfway between Wichita, Kansas, and Joplin, Missouri. A wealthy donor hoping to turn around the fortunes of his dwindling hometown — population 2,300 — will foot those costs for the next 25 years, and possibly decades beyond that.

TOPEKA, Kansas — More than two dozen cities and counties across Kansas have sued the opioid industry, from a small town with a population of 150 near the Colorado border to the state’s most populous county at its opposite end.

More may still file suits, legal experts say. And those that don’t could get a payout regardless if opioid makers, distributors and vendors opt for a global settlement. That would not only end the massive snarl of lawsuits brought by 2,600 parties nationwide but also prevent tens of thousands of other local governments from taking them to court, too.

TOPEKA, Kansas The 2020 federal marketplace for individual health insurance includes more options than ever for Kansas, and premiums for some of those plans are less expensive than 2019. But for the second year in a row, all of the plans will leave consumers footing the full bill for most out-of-network care.

The silver lining: Two new insurance companies have jumped into Kansas this year, offering health plans in some of the state’s most populous counties. A third insurer that’s already active in Kansas City and its suburbs is expanding to 12 more southeast and central Kansas counties.

TOPEKA, Kansas The road to democracy is paved in donuts.

At least that’s the case if you dropped by Washburn University’s Memorial Union for lunch on a recent afternoon, followed the “free donuts” sign and blaring rock music down to the lower level, where there were not just boxes of glazed temptation, but smiling faces holding out electronic tablets.

A private insurer’s 2018 premiums in Kansas ran too high — at least compared to the medical bills it had to pay for customers that year.

That means thousands of Kansans get money back this fall because they got overcharged last year.

TOPEKA, Kansas — Cigarettes are so yesterday.

Or yesteryear.

That’s why that old-fashioned, combustible path to a nicotine buzz wasn’t the top concern for a small group of high schoolers in Sabetha — a 2,500-person town about an hour north of Topeka near the Nebraska border — when they got city council to hike the minimum age for buying tobacco products to 21.

“I don’t really know anyone that smokes cigarettes around here because they’re really gross,” Sabetha High senior Kinsey Menold said. “Then, like, Juuls came in.”

TOPEKA, Kansas — Dozens of primarily elderly or disabled Kansans lost their Medicaid coverage because of errors made by Aetna. Staff at the state health department discovered the problem, restored their insurance and stopped further cancellations.

Months later, state workers are still double-checking the work of Aetna Better Health — one of the three companies that helps run the state’s privatized Medicaid system — while Aetna puts together a permanent fix.

LAWRENCE, Kansas — Faculty, students and alumni are pleading with the University of Kansas not to ax a teacher-training center slated to become the next victim of major budget cuts — or at least to extend its life a few more semesters.

KU announced earlier this month that the Center for STEM Learning will close in June. Students say they were blindsided, and that KU’s promise to create a more cost-effective path for math and science teachers doesn’t satisfy them.

COFFEYVILLE, KANSAS — Preschool was a logistical boon for Delice Downing and an educational bonanza for her son, Adrian.

The head volleyball coach and director of student life at Coffeyville Community College had ruled out day care when she heard the price: several hundred dollars a week.

Then Adrian reached preschool age. Coffeyville offers something most Kansas communities don’t: free attendance at a preschool with room for nearly all kids in town whose parents want it.

TOPEKA — Aetna is bringing in new leadership to run its Medicaid operations in Kansas after chronic complaints from hospitals and others put it at risk of losing its contract.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment confirmed Friday that Aetna Better Health of Kansas CEO Keith Wisdom is no longer in that role. But the insurer declined to answer questions about whether it had replaced Wisdom.

TOPEKA — Bullying just won’t go away. If anything, the advent of smartphones and social media has made it worse.

That’s forced a conversation on what Kansas schools can do to help. The problem? It’s easier to get adults to weigh in than students.

TOPEKA ― The “Kidney Stone Belt” is a thing, and it’s coming for Kansas.

Climate change is expanding that swath of America, currently in the south and southeast, that suffers much higher rates of this sometimes-excruciating renal complication.

By 2050, the belt will include Kansas, according to a new review by the Kansas Health Institute.

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