Rebecca Smith | KBIA

Rebecca Smith

Health Reporter

Rebecca Smith is a reporter and producer for the KBIA Health & Wealth desk. She was born and raised in Rolla, Missouri, and graduated with degrees in Journalism and Chemistry from Truman State University in May 2014. Rebecca comes to KBIA from St. Louis Public Radio, where she worked as the news intern and covered religion, neighborhood growth and the continued unrest in Ferguson, MO.

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Teacher of Color Support Network Twitter account

Last week, the Columbia Public School Board of Education voted to return students to in-seat learning. This is despite continued high levels of COVID infections in the community, hospital status remaining at yellow, teachers not yet having received a vaccine and concerns over safety from many teachers – especially teachers of color.

Brittany Fatoma is the founder and director of the Teacher of Color Support Network here in Columbia. According to its Twitter page, the organization’s mission is to “support, empower, and retain educators of color in Columbia, Jefferson City, and Mid-Missouri.”

Fatoma sat down with the Assistant Director and current CPS 3rd grade teacher, Daphanie Bibbs, to talk about their concerns.  

Following a vote at last night’s Columbia Public Schools Board Meeting, CPS students will be returning – in some capacity – to in-seat learning beginning January 19. 

Elementary students – including preschoolers – will be returning four days a week, and secondary students, those in middle and high school, will be returning to a hybrid model.

This hybrid plan will split secondary students into groups. One group will attend in-seat classes on Monday/Tuesday and the other on Thursday/Friday. On virtual learning days, there will be some Zoom instruction paired with self-guided work. Wednesdays will remain as before.


A Google Maps image showing the location of the Southeast Missouri Correctional Center outside Charleston, Missouri – a town in the Bootheel.
Missouri Department of Corrections

Carlos Wade is an inmate at the Southeast Missouri Correctional Center in the Bootheel, who we talked to back in July. He recently updated me on how things are going inside prison – nearly ten months into the pandemic and after another round of cases at the facility.

According to the Missouri Department of Corrections, as of December 24, 2020, they have gotten most of the outbreaks back under control – with only 179 active inmate cases and 96 active prison staff cases.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 39 inmates and 5 staff have died of the disease.

Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words. You can view more conversations at missourihealthtalks.org

Provided by Liz Ellison

Liz Ellison is an RN and critical care nurse at a local hospital in Columbia. She spoke about what it’s like for her – personally – as she prepares to receive the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

She received the first dose of the vaccine last Thursday afternoon – just hours after our conversation.

Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words. You can view more conversations at missourihealthtalks.org

CoMO Neighborhood Lunch Clubs HQ

Jennifer Roberts is one of the organizers of the Columbia Neighborhood Lunch Clubs – a group of volunteers that collects the meals delivered to bus stops by Columbia Public Schools and delivers them door-to-door.

She spoke about how many families – from all economic backgrounds – are struggling with food access during the ongoing pandemic and how they all can utilize the Clubs’ services and make providing meals to school age kids a simpler task. 

Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words. You can view more conversations at missourihealthtalks.org

Mizzou Show Me Renewal

It’s the first time since the University of Missouri started reporting COVID-19 cases that the number of “TOTAL STUDENTS HOSPITALIZED SINCE AUG. 19, 2020” was not zero.

The Show Me Renewal dashboard was updated on Monday to two students, marked with a double asterisk.


Provided by Matthew Huffman

Matthew Huffman works at the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, and we checked in – eight months into the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

He spoke about how the lives of Missourians experiencing domestic violence are being further complicated by intersecting factors – housing insecurity, continued isolation, gun violence and more. 

Huffman mentioned a new report from The Violence Policy Center called “When Men Murder Women An Analysis of 2018 Homicide Data,” in which Missouri ranks 2nd for number of women killed by intimate partners.

Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words. You can view more conversations at missourihealthtalks.org

Sully Fox / KBIA file photo

Judy Baker is the Democratic candidate for the 19th district state senate seat. She is running against Republican Incumbent Caleb Rowden. She recently sat down with KBIA’s Noah Zahn to talk about some of her health policy goals in an election special from Missouri Health Talks.

Baker’s opponent, Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, did not respond to our request for an interview by airtime.

Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words. You can view more conversations at missourihealthtalks.org

Mathew Gass, left, is the President of the Central Region for Burrell Behavioral Health, and Matt Lemon, right, is the Director of Communications.
Provided by Burrell Behavioral Health

Mathew Gass and Matt Lemon both work at Burrell Behavioral Health. Mathew Gass is the President of the Central Region, which includes Columbia, and Matt Lemon is the Director of Communications for the entire Burrell system – based in Springfield.

They spoke about some of the mental health impacts the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has already had on Missourians, and about the long-term community-wide mental health impacts the pandemic is likely to leave in its wake.

Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words. You can view more conversations at missourihealthtalks.org

Rebecca Smith / KBIA

Each year in Missouri, thousands of people are held in jails, many of them before being convicted of any crime, simply because they cannot afford the cost of their bail.

To combat this problem, one local group is working on a short-term solution to this problem with a Community Bail Fund – despite the additional complications of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.


Casey Hanson sits at her laptop with her young son on her lap – “working” from home.
Provided by Casey Hanson

Casey Hanson is the Director of Outreach and Engagement for Kids Win Missouri, a statewide coalition of childcare providers and advocacy groups. She's been speaking with lots of childcare providers during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and says that many are struggling.

She spoke about the impact the pandemic is having on the well-being of providers and about some of the possible long-term impacts on kids’ development if childcare providers have to close their doors. 

Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words. You can view more conversations at missourihealthtalks.org

The Cover of “This Ain’t What You Want,” one of the numerous books that Jabar has written during his 25 years in prison, which began at the age of 17.
Jabar's Amazon Page

Jabar is an inmate at Jefferson City Correctional Center. He’s been in prison for 25 years, after being sentenced to death row at 17. He is one of the youngest Missourians ever to be put on death row. Then after a retrial at age 19, he was sentenced to life without parole.

Jabar maintains his innocence, has written numerous books for children, as well as adults, based on his life growing up in St. Louis and his time in prison, and because of a law passed back in 2016, he has the chance to apply for parole as soon as this month.

This law allows people sentenced to life without parole prior to August 2016, for a crime they committed before they turned 18, to apply for a parole hearing after serving 25 years.

He spoke with me about how being in prison from such a young age has changed him, and about what keeps him going.

As a note, Jabar is a nickname.

Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words. You can view more conversations at missourihealthtalks.org

A return to pre-pandemic childcare subsidy reimbursements has some Missouri childcare providers feeling left in the lurch.


Hickman High School
Meiying Wu / KBIA

The Columba Public School Board voted 6 -1 Monday night to begin the school year entirely online – a change from the intended in-person/hybrid plan introduced just a few weeks ago.


Rebecca Smith / KBIA

There’s a lot to learn when we sit down and share with folks from other generations – whether it’s sitting down with you child, your parent, a grandparent or a family friend. So, we here at KBIA decided to explore some of these intergenerational relationships through conversation.

Local Black Lives Matter organizer, Christopher Watkins Jr., recently sat down with his 13-year-old daughter, Jordyn Cole, to talk about the racism and prejudice they have experienced in Columbia schools.


The VanMorlan Family from left to right – Mom Amie, daughter Sagan, dad Mr. VanMorlan, and son Damien. They are joined by their two dogs.
Provided by Amie VanMorlan

Amie VanMorlan is a mother of two, a pediatric endocrinologist and the incoming President of the Columbia SEPTA or Special Education PTA.

She sat down with me to talk about some of the concerns parents and educators have about the return to school this fall for kids with disabilities – including her own son, Damien.


Rebecca Smith / KBIA

There’s a lot to learn when we sit down and share with folks from other generations – whether it’s sitting down with you child, your parent, a grandparent or a family friend. So, we here at KBIA decided to explore some of these intergenerational relationships through conversation.

Local Black Lives Matter organizer, Christopher Watkins Jr., recently sat down with his 13-year-old daughter, Jordyn Cole, to speak about what it was like to grow up Black in Columbia.


Rebecca Smith / KBIA

Missouri has entered its sixth month of navigating the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and for dozens of health departments across the state, CARES Act funding has been slow to arrive.

That means crucial public-health positions like contact tracers and case investigators have been left unfilled. So, Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services has found one creative stop-gap – Masters in Public Health student volunteers.


Scott Clardy, left, and Lynelle Phillips, right, stand socially distanced – six feet apart – with a map of Boone County between them.
Rebecca Smith / KBIA

Lynelle Phillips and Scott Clardy both work with Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services. Scott is the Assistant Director and Lynelle is a professor at the University of Missouri who leads a team of contact investigator volunteers.

They spoke about the bad rap that college age students get when it comes to testing positive for COVID-19 and about some of the ways college students can help keep themselves and their community – safe. 

Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words. You can view more conversations at missourihealthtalks.org

After a night of what seemed like neck-in-neck results, Missourians have voted “Yes” on Amendment 2.

The final results were about 53 percent “yes” to 47 percent “no,” which makes Missouri the 38th state to pass Medicaid Expansion.


The VanMorlan Family from left to right – Mom Amie, daughter Sagan, dad Mr. VanMorlan, and son Damien. They are joined by their two dogs.
Provided by Amie VanMorlan

Amie VanMorlan lives and works in Columbia. She’s the incoming President of the local SEPTA, or special education PTA, a pediatric endocrinologist and the mom of Sagan and Damien.

Sagan is an upcoming senior, and Damien is an almost 7th grader who has Fragile X syndrome. This condition can lead to intellectual disabilities and autism, and is the leading inherited cause of intellectual disability.

Amie spoke about some of the ways Damien and rest of the family are adjusting to the world of COVID-19.

Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words. You can view more conversations at missourihealthtalks.org

Green Leaf Dental Care

Many things have changed for dental practices since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic – starting with several months of closures dealing with only oral health emergencies. Now, dentists are having to figure out how to preserve PPE, or personal protective equipment, enforce social distancing and minimize the risk of disease spread as they reopen their practices.

And while these are serious challenges, some practitioners and oral health advocates are encouraged at a possible positive outcome of the ongoing pandemic – the increased interest in and implementation of teledentistry.


Carlos Wade is an inmate at the Southeast Correctional Center in the Bootheel, and is currently working in the facility’s medical unit to keep things sanitized and, ideally, help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Southeast Correctional Center recently had an outbreak of COVID-19 cases – where 47 inmates and 20 staff members tested positive, so Carlos called me to talk about what life is like in prison during the ongoing pandemic and about some of his concerns.

According to the Department of Corrections, since the initial sentinel, or facility-wide testing was done, all but one inmate and three staff members have recovered from COVID-19.

Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words. You can view more conversations at missourihealthtalks.org

Verna Laboy, left, stands next to Dee Campbell-Carter, right. They both smile broadly into the camera.
Provided by Dee Campbell-Carter

Verna Laboy and Dee Campbell-Carter have both lived in Columbia for many years and work with the Live Well by Faith program through Columbia/Boone County Public Health & Human Services, a community-based program that targets chronic health conditions, like hypertension and diabetes, in Black churches.

Verna is the health educator and leader of the program, and Dee is a lifestyle coach. They shared – as Black mothers and grandmothers – just a few of their experiences with systematic racism throughout their lives, and they spoke about how racism is a trauma for everyone.


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