Sebastián Martinez Valdivia | KBIA

Sebastián Martinez Valdivia

Health Reporter

Sebastián Martínez Valdivia is a health reporter and documentary filmmaker who focuses on access to care in rural and immigrant communities. A native Spanish speaker and lifelong Missouri resident, Sebastián is interested in the often overlooked and under-covered world of immigrant life in the rural midwest. He has a bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Missouri and a master's degree in documentary journalism at the same institution. Aside from public health, his other interests include conservation, climate change and ecology.

Henry Domke / Photo Provided

It was humid spring morning in the woods of central Missouri and Henry Domke was lining up a shot. His target? The vibrant petals of a red buckeye bloom.

"I want to level it. Make sure it’s really sharp," Domke said as he adjusted his tripod and focused in before snapping the photo. 

Domke — a retired family doctor — has been photographing the wildlife in his back yard for years. When he was a doctor, he decorated his practice with his photographs, and after he retired he started exhibiting his work.

 

Paul Sableman / CC BY 2.0

Missouri health officials said Friday an ongoing investigation into reported abortion complications is the reason they’ve withheld a license for the last clinic performing abortions in the state.

The Department of Health and Senior Services says it’s still seeking answers from the clinic about why patients were unaware that they remained pregnant after what the officials described as "failed surgical abortions."

In a statement, Planned Parenthood accused state officials of fearmongering, and maintained it has “bent over backwards to cooperate with [the department].”

Photo provided by Mat Reidhead

In 2017, the Missouri legislature expanded Medicaid managed-care organizations, or MCOs, state-wide, putting third-party contractors in charge of hundreds of thousands of patients. Advocates say managed care programs allow for more personalized care for patients and more predictable budgeting. But hospitals have criticized MCOs, saying they cover less and take longer to reimburse for care than traditional Medicaid.

Now, a new study from the Missouri Hospital Association suggests switching from traditional Medicaid to MCOs could be linked to increased risk of suicide in teens. Mat Reidhead is the Hospital Association's lead researcher.


Photo provided by Mei-Ling Wiedmeyer

The language barrier can cause  a lot of problems when it comes to refugees getting health care, but there are other obstacles as well.

Mei-Ling Wiedmeyer, a family physician who grew up in Columbia, but now works with refugees in Vancouver, Canada and is on the faculty of the North American Refugee Health Conference. She spoke with Health and Wealth about the other barriers to care, and how communities can get around them.


At a pediatric clinic in Kirksville, Missouri, a young boy is waiting in an exam room to be vaccinated. A nurse explains the shots to his mother, and Lisette Chibanvunya translates.

Chibanvunya is one of two Congolese interpreters the Northeast Health Council has hired to help the clinic care for refugees and immigrants from central Africa. She first came to town to study at Truman State University in 2013.

Chibanvunya says, "When I came I faced discrimination, because they didn’t have a lot of black people." But now, she says, "They start accepting people because they finally understand that people kind of decided to make it home." 

Sebastian Martinez / KBIA

Political watch parties can produce moments of high drama, with supporters waiting anxiously for results to come in, and races going down to the wire.

But as KBIA’s Sebastián Martínez Valdivia found out, when a race is uncontested, the watch party can be a little different.

He visited last night’s watch party for Columbia 4th ward councilman Ian Thomas and filed this audio postcard. The postcard features the voices of Brendon Steenbergen, Ian Thomas, Karl Skala, and Leila Gassman. 


A study of more than 2,000 children in Missouri whose coverage switched from traditional Medicaid to managed-care organizations or MCOs, found suicide risk among them nearly doubled.

The Missouri Hospital Association study analyzed a group between the ages of five and 19 whose coverage switched after the state expanded MCOs in 2017.

Sebastián Martínez Valdivia / KBIA

About 15 miles southwest of St. Louis, is Fenton City Park. It’s pretty unremarkable, with picnic shelters, softball fields, and flags waving gently from a memorial to fallen soldiers. It's also where Kevin Mullane sought refuge as he struggled with an opioid addiction.

"Anybody that knew Kevin knew he loved Fenton Park," Kevin's mother Kathi Arbini said, recounting how her song became increasingly isolated. Mullane turned to prescription opioids to deal with depression. He eventually started stealing medications from friends and family members, and doctor-shopping for more.

Meiying Wu / KBIA

The City of Columbia has named Lt. Geoff Jones as interim police chief, beginning Sunday, Feb. 3.

 

Jones joined the Department in 1998, and his first involvement with the department came as a Columbia Public Schools teenager when he volunteered as a cadet, according to a city press release.

 

Today’s announcement comes a few weeks after the resignation of former Columbia police chief Ken Burton, whose tenure was roiled by controversies surrounding the Department’s implementation of a city-wide community policing strategy.

Sebastián Martínez Valdivia / KBIA

Crews have restored power for thousands of Columbia residents, after a major winter storm caused extensive outages in mid-Missouri. Columbia’s outage map was clear Monday morning, and a press release from the city Sunday said only around 100 people were still without power then.

City crews worked throughout the weekend, with around 9,000 total customers affected by the weather since Friday. Large numbers of outages were caused by felled trees and limbs on power lines.

Regional highlights from the KBIA Newsroom, including:

Kyle Spradley / MU College of Agriculture

This time of year, trees tend to attract more attention than usual. As the hours of sunlight shorten and temperatures fall, chemical changes in leaves bring out the bright yellows and reds across the canopies of Missouri’s many forests.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that spectacle and those forests, are timeless. But the woods as we know them today are a relatively modern development and Missouri’s historical woodlands looked considerably different. Understanding that history can help conservationists better manage our modern forests to encourage diversity and benefit wildlife.

Sebastian Martinez / KBIA

On an overcast Saturday morning, the weekend after Halloween a group of some 30 people gathered at one of St. Louis’s oldest cemeteries. Bellefontaine Cemetery is the final resting place of historical Missourians like William Clark and William S. Borroughs, but on this day the tour group was there to learn about how Bellefontaine is keeping up to date with green burials.

The group was led by Dan Fuller, the volunteer coordinator and guide for the cemetery. "A contemporary burial produces this kind of a carbon footprint," he said, lifting his hand high to show the environmental impact of a typical modern burial. "An outer container, a metal coffin, an embalmed body, 6-foot deep with a headstone," all add to that footprint, he explained.

Dana L. Drake

Fall is a season we typically associate with changing leaves, cooling temperatures, and the natural world beginning to quiet down before the long, dormant winter months. But for some animals, the season brings new life, rather than death. 

And if you’re out in the woods this month, perhaps hunting mushrooms after an autumn rain, you might just run into one. The creatures I’m referring to are Missouri’s fall-breeding salamanders: the ringed salamander and the marbled salamander.

Bruce Schuette / Missouri Prairie Foundation

It’s just before dawn in Southwest Missouri, and the outermost rays of the sun are just starting to reach across a dazzling array of wildflowers carpeting the shallow valley that runs along County Road 2120 near Mount Vernon. Crickets and cicadas are in full voice, interrupted only by the piercing call of dickcissels who nest in the thickets of sumac that dot the grassland.

Sebastian Martinez valdivia / KBIA

As Missouri enters the fall, one last wave of wildflowers are blooming now, before the winter frosts start. Throughout the state, asters, goldenrods, and other late-bloomers paint Missouri’s varied woodlands, prairies, meadows and glades in shades of yellow, pink, purple and white. But hidden among the tall grasses and undergrowth this time of year you can sometimes find something rarer – native orchids. People often associate orchids with tropical areas, but Missouri is home to more than 30 species of orchids, and while their flowers are typically pretty showy, a lot of the crucial action with orchids happens underground.


Sebastian Martinez Valdivia / KBIA

Late summer and early fall might not seem like a very tropical time in Missouri, but it is the best season to find one of the last remaining pieces of the state’s tropical past. I’m talking about the largest edible native fruit in North America – the elusive paw paw. Despite the fruit’s uniquely exotic flavor, and the fact that it grows throughout the Midwest, you won’t find the paw paw in most groceries, which means if you want to taste it, you have to set off into the woods, which is exactly what I did on a recent afternoon.


Sebastián Martinez / KBIA

Spring is wildflower season in mid-Missouri’s many woodlands. Already, dozens of species have bloomed and are going to seed, but there’s still time to catch some of the show, if you know where to look. If you don't, then you need Randal Clark, who has been guiding people through Missouri's spring wildflowers for close to 40 years. 

On a recent Thursday evening at the Devil's Icebox parking lot at Rock Bridge State Park, Clark was getting ready to do exactly that.


Sebastián Martinez / KBIA

Two weeks into the Trump administration, several cabinet-level positions remain open, including the Secretary of the Interior, who is responsible for federal lands in Missouri and other states. The issue of federal lands has become increasingly controversial, and some Missouri lawmakers have even called for Washington to give up control of National Parks Service land. Despite this uncertainty, life goes on for many of those in charge of managing federal land in the state.

Sebastián Martinez / KBIA

As the winter moves in, several species of ducks are making their way into and through Missouri, en-route to their overwintering grounds. While this time of year is a boon to duck-hunters, recent research suggests ducks moving through might soon be an ominous sight for farmers.

Sebastián Martinez / KBIA

On a recent Friday morning, a group of about 20 Nature Conservancy Trustees, visitors and staff have gathered for a tour of the conservancy’s Dunn Ranch Prairie. The Nature Conservancy is an international non-profit focused on conservation, and its Missouri director Adam McLane is on hand for the day’s tour.  

The prairie covers more than 3,000 acres and is host to a dizzying variety of native insects and birds, but on this morning, the tour group gathered to see its most imposing inhabitants: bison.

Sebastián Martinez / KBIA

Every year on the second weekend of October, birders and bird-watchers across the country demarcate a 17-foot wide circle, set up shop within it, and bird watch from dawn to dusk. Countless chapters of the National Audubon Society organize the event, appropriately titled the Big Sit. Birders chat, knit and even barbecue during the event, all while keeping a count of all the different birds they see.

Sebastian Martinez / KBIA

Hinkson Creek, which runs through Columbia, might not seem like an ideal destination for anglers. While it carries some standard game fish like bass and blue gill, you’re not likely to find any record catches.

But on a recent late-Summer day, Michael Moore was after fish on the opposite end of the spectrum.

A doctoral student in fisheries conservation at the University of Missouri, Moore was turning over rocks in the creek, looking for tiny aquatic bugs to use for bait.

Sebastian Martinez / KBIA

Native plants are having a a boom year, thanks in large part to a butterfly.

The sharp decline in monarch butterfly numbers in the winter of 2014 led to headlines about the destruction of their habitat in the U.S.

It sparked a national movement to plant milkweeds: the family of plants monarchs rely on to lay their eggs and feed upon as caterpillars. 

Sebastian Martinez / KBIA

The greater prairie chicken is one of Missouri’s rarest birds. There are actually fewer than 300 left in the state. So the opportunity to see one is coveted by nature lovers. Even when it means getting up before dawn on a Saturday, and making the trip down to Wah’Kon Tah prairie, which many of the remaining chickens call home.

A group of about forty people did just that, turning up to the Missouri Department of Conservation’s El Dorado Springs office for one of a handful of greater prairie chicken viewings the department has organized this spring. After a brief orientation, the attendees hopped onto two buses, one lead by wildlife biologist Matt Hill and the other by Max Alleger, the department’s grassland coordinator.


Sebastian Martinez / KBIA

Fire plays an important role in many Midwestern ecosystems, but when it burns out of control it can also be devastating, as the wildfires in Oklahoma and Kansas have demonstrated. This time of year, when a lot of summer grasses and brush are still dead but the weather is warming up, the land is particularly flammable. That’s why agencies like the Missouri Department of Conservation take meticulous care in planning prescribed fire.


Sebastian Martinez / KBIA

  The Eleven Point River flows for more than 100 miles through Oregon County, and right through the heart of the almost 4,200 acres the Department of Natural Resources recently bought to create a new state park. The river starts just north of the small town of Thomasville: home to the Eleven Point Cafe.

Like a lot of people in the county, the cafe's owner Jamie Warren is conflicted about the new park. "I think it could bring in a lot of tourists and it could help the economy, but it’s going to take a fight," Warren said. "I’m like most of the locals: we hate change."


Sebastian Martinez / KBIA

A crucial part of the effort to mitigate climate change is finding alternatives to fossil fuels.

A recent conference at the University of Missouri in Columbia focused on one of the most controversial of those: nuclear power.


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