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.

Ways to Connect

Kimberly Ruiz, left, stands over a head lower than her partner, Lonnie Kessler, right. She wears dark, black-rimmed glasses, they both wear bright green NORML shirts and smile into the camera.
Rebecca Smith / KBIA

Lonnie Kessler and Kimberly Ruiz are a couple that lives in Moberly. Lonnie has intractable epilepsy and Kimberly is a disabled vet – and they both advocate for the legalization of medical marijuana in the state.

They sat down at the Little Dixie Regional Library in Moberly, and spoke about their relationship and about how both of them having disabilities has influenced and strengthened their relationship.

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

Debbie Vance, left, smiles into the camera and wears a green MOMOM shirt and an orange vest. Her husband, David Vance, also wears a green MOMOM shirt and smiles into the camera.
Rebecca Smith / KBIA

Debbie and David Vance have both been volunteering at the annual MOMOM, or Missouri Mission of Mercy, for years. MOMOM is a once a year, two-day dental clinic providing free care for anyone who’s willing to wait in line. It’s in a different place every year, and this year’s 6th annual event was held in Joplin, Missouri.

They spoke about their experiences volunteering at the events and about the importance of educating their patients about oral health care’s effect on overall health.

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

Chuck Graham, left, wears a gray shirt and smiles into the camera. His brother, Drew Graham, right, wears a blue shirt and sits in a bright blue power scooter. He also smiles into the camera.
Rebecca Smith / KBIA

Brothers Drew and Chuck Graham live in Columbia. Chuck has been paraplegic since an accident in his youth, and Drew has been quadriplegic for nearly as long. They spoke about their issues with physical access in the Columbia community and about some of the tough decisions they are forced to make.

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

Bill Gordon lives in Sedalia, Missouri. He spoke at the “Breaking it Down: Homelessness in Missouri” event that KBIA and Missouri Heath Talks hosted at Café Berlin on December 6.

Bill shared his personal experiences with homelessness – having been homeless in Columbia in the 90s and being a graduate of Welcome Home, a group that assists homeless veterans here in town.

Here he reflects on how his time being homeless changed him.

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

Jennifer Simmons, right, wears an orange jacket. She sits behind her son, Hunter, who wears a green shirt. They both have the same blonde hair and are smiling.
Rebecca Smith / KBIA

Casey and Jennifer Simmons live in Devil’s Elbow, a tiny unincorporated town in Pulaski County. Their son Hunter has severe cerebral palsy and epilepsy.

They shared their favorite Hunter stories and spoke about why you should never let others put limits on what your child can accomplish.

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

Jim Jantz looks into the camera. He has a goatee, wears glasses and a multi-colored sweater.
Jonah McKeown / KBIA

The cold winter months can be especially hard for people experiencing homelessness, but the faith communities in Columbia have collaborated to provide an emergency winter shelter since 2008, hosted at various churches around the city – called Room at the Inn.

Jim Jantz and Rockie Alden, who both work with Room at the Inn, spoke about the health issues their guests most often face, as well as the importance of treating everyone with dignity.

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

Heather Harlan sits in a radio booth. She sits at a microphone and wears black-rimmed glasses and a red, velvet blazer.
Jonah McKeown / KBIA

Heather Harlan is prevention specialist and adolescent counselor at Phoenix Health Programs in Columbia. She says addiction to drugs like alcohol and tobacco often stems from childhood trauma, and substance use disorders can make it difficult for those experiencing homelessness, in particular, to get help.

She spoke about the importance of primary prevention for substance use disorders and about the challenges these disorders can create for those experiencing homelessness and their families.

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

This week on Intersection we bring you a special on homelessness from Missouri Health Talks. Health reporter Rebecca Smith spoke with Jennifer Carter Dochler, the Public Policy Director for the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence and the Vice Chair of the Governor’s Committee to End Homelessness.

Smith was also joined by Teresa and Frankie Graham, the resident manager and a longtime volunteer at Harvest House – a local homeless shelter in Boonville.

They spoke about the state of homelessness in Missouri, how homelessness looks the same and different in rural and urban areas, what is being done to combat the problem and what individuals can do to help.

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

Teresa Graham, left, has long dark hair. She wears a black and red coat. Frankie Graham, right, has short gray hair and a trimmed gray beard. He wears a gray shirt and darker gray jacket.
Rebecca Smith / KBIA

Teresa and Frankie Graham work with Harvest House, the local homeless shelter in Boonville. Teresa has been the resident manager since May, and Frankie is a longtime volunteer.

They spoke about the sometimes forgotten or overlooked needs of a shelter and what individuals can do to help fight homelessness – sometimes just calling the local homeless shelter to find out exactly what they need.

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

Robert Nickles wears a grey sweatshirt and has a medium gray beard. He also has on a black Mizzou ball cap and looks into the camera.
Jonah McKeown / KBIA

Robert Nickles lives in Columbia. He was recently diagnosed with lung cancer and has undergone numerous medical procedures throughout his life - including a colostomy. But there’s a major barrier standing between Robert and a healthy existence: Robert is homeless.

In his own words, he has lived a life that “most people wouldn’t understand.” Robert spoke with KBIA’s Jonah McKeown about the stigma surrounding homelessness and about the barriers he faces getting healthcare.

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

Katie Burnham-Wilkins, left, smiles into the camera. She has long brown hair. Blake Witter, right, has curly dirty blonde hair. She also smiles into the camera.
Jonah McKeown / KBIA

Katie Burnham-Wilkins is the Homeless Program Coordinator at the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital, and Blake Witter is the Program Coordinator for HUD-VASH, a program that combines Housing and Urban Development vouchers with VA services to help homeless veterans get stable housing.

While the exact number of homeless veterans in the United States is hard to pin down, the Department of Housing and Urban Development released a report last year that found that although the number of homeless veterans has overall decreased by 17% since 2015, the number of homeless veterans in Missouri has slightly increased, to nearly 600.

Katie and Blake spoke about the challenges of reaching out to and housing homeless veterans in the Columbia community.

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

Jennifer Simmons, right, wears an orange jacket. She sits behind her son, Hunter, who wears a green shirt. They both have the same blonde hair and are smiling.
Rebecca Smith / KBIA

Jennifer and Casey Simmons live in a tiny unincorporated community in Pulaski County called Devils Elbow. When their son Hunter was born with severe cerebral palsy and epilepsy, it was recommended to them that they get a divorce so they could qualify for Medicaid benefits. They didn’t.

They spoke about how insurmountable medical costs can seem and about the importance of advocating for your loved ones with disabilities.

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

Patty McClendon, left, wears a blue scrubs top and wears glasses. Deborah Baker, right, has long blonde hair and wears an off-white blouse. They both smile into the camera.
Rebecca Smith / KBIA

Deborah Baker and Patty McClendon have worked together at the Pulaski County Health Department for years. Deborah is the Director of the Health Department, and Patty is the Public Health Program Director.

They spoke about how they have benefited from public health in the past, and how their duties at the health department go beyond simply giving shots.

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

Kelley Thorson, right, smiles at her son, Kyle, who sits next to her. They both wear green shirts with Phelan-McDermid syndrome logos on them.
Rebecca Smith / KBIA

Kelley Thorson lives in Pulaski County with her husband, Donald, and their three sons. I have known Kelley for years, as my Dad was her son Kyle’s teacher.

Her youngest son Kyle has a very rare, severe disability called Phelan-McDermid Syndrome. According to the Phelan-McDermid Syndrome Foundation, there are at least 1,400 cases worldwide.

Kyle is now a fully-grown, 24-year-old man and is also non-verbal, so Kelley spoke with me about the anxiety she is experiencing now that Kyle has reached adulthood.

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

Danny Kallman, left, stands next to his husband, Charley Joe Kallman, right. They both smile into the camera. Danny wears glasses and Charley wears a white cabbie hat.
Rebecca Smith / KBIA

Charley Joe Kallman is a resident of Pulaski County, Missouri, and he decided years ago that he wanted to make a change – he weighed more than 400 pounds, but was having trouble getting his insurance company to approve gastric bypass surgery.

So Charley and his husband, Danny Kallman, decided to go a different route – medical tourism. Charlie ended up going to Mexico to have the procedure done, and he now weighs 186 pounds.

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

Taylor Kinnerup, right, wears a blue shirt and shorts. She sits on the lap of Madi Lawson, left, who is wearing a dark green top and sits in a power wheelchair.
Rebecca Smith / KBIA

Madi Lawson and Taylor Kinnerup are best friends who attend the University of Missouri Journalism School together.

Madi was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy as a child, and then another rare form of muscular dystrophy this year. They spoke about the future, their friendship and how it's changing following this most recent diagnosis.

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

Susie McGee, left, wears a white lab coat and a red stereoscope. She stands next to Bev Borgeson, in a black and white spotted blouse. They both smile into the camera.
Rebecca Smith / KBIA

Susie McGee and Bev Borgeson both work for Audrain Developmental Disability Services. Susie works as the Community RN - proving nursing care - and Bev is the Quality Assurance Coordinator, which according to Susie means she wears “many hats.”

They spoke about how the needs of the people they work with, who they call “consumers,” are changing.

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

Sam McMillen, left, stands next to Elizabeth Modde, right, in the foyer of the University of Missouri Medical School
Jonah McKeown / KBIA

Sam McMillen and Elizabeth Modde are both medical students at the University of Missouri. They both work or have worked with MedZou – a free community health clinic run by medical staff and students.

Sam is currently the Director of Patient Advocacy and Referrals, and he sat down with Elizabeth in May to discuss some of the healthcare struggles their homeless patients face, and how their relationships with patients has changed them.

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

 Dentist Jon Reagan smiles into the camera. He is wearing glasses and a bright yellow MOMOM [Missouri Mission of Mercy] t-shirt.
Rebecca Smith / KBIA

Jon Reagan is a dentist in Neosho, Mo., who has been practicing for almost 20 years. We met as he volunteered at the sixth annual Missouri Mission of Mercy (MOMOM). This is a once a year, two-day dental clinic providing free care for anyone who’s willing to wait in line. It’s in a different place every year, and this year the event was held in Joplin.

Nine years ago, Jon began visiting North Belize as a medical missionary, helping people with extractions and oral health care education. He spoke about the similarities he sees between the oral health issues in rural communities in Missouri and in Belize, as well as his passion for volunteering at MOMOM.

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

Darrell Watts, left, has short hair and wears a red shirt. He stands in front of his sister Lisa Harrison, right, who has curly blonde hair and wears a pink shirt.
Rebecca Smith / KBIA

Darrell Watts and his sister Lisa Harrison both live in Audrain County. Darrell was born with cerebral palsy and is legally blind. Lisa is her brother’s guardian and also a Residential House Coordinator for Audrain Development Disability Services - where she works with other people with disabilities on a daily basis.

They spoke about how Darrell owning his own home has caused some healthcare struggles over the past few years.

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

Carolyn Lewis, left, wears a black, white and gray striped shirt and smiles into the camera. Sheila Artis, right, wears a green polo shirt and smiles broadly.
Rebecca Smith / KBIA

Carolyn Lewis lives in Audrain County, Missouri. She has worked for a man in Audrain County for ten years through the Missouri Department of Mental Health’s Self Directed Supports program.

She spoke with her cousin, Sheila Artis, about some of the struggles she has faced while working with this program – like lack of benefits and raises throughout the years.

The man she works for also received a letter in the mail earlier this month letting them know that, following state budget restrictions, the program’s individual budget allocations had been adjusted to reflect a 2.82 percent budget cut.

Carolyn also spoke about her fears going forward – for herself, her employer and this program - as future Missouri budget cuts loom.

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

Dr. John Dane, left, wears glasses, a dark blue suit and a white and blue-checkered shirt. Gary Harbison, right, has a full beard and wears a dark blue shirt and suit.
Rebecca Smith / KBIA

This week on Intersection we bring you a special on oral health from the new KBIA project, Missouri Health Talks. Health reporter Rebecca Smith spoke with Dr. John Dane, the current State Dental Director, and Gary Harbison, the Executive Director for the Missouri Coalition for Oral Health.

They cover the Missouri Oral Health Plan, which runs from 2015 to 2020, advances that have been made in oral health policy and struggles Missourians still face when it comes to accessing quality, affordable dental care.

You will also hear conversations gathered by Smith in June at the 6th Annual MOMOM, or Missouri Mission of Mercy, in Joplin. This yearly, two-day dental clinic put on by the Missouri Dental Association provides free dental care for anyone willing to wait in line. This year approximately 1,200 people were served and more than $800,000 worth of care was provided.

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

Forest City is a very small town of about 250 people, nestled in very small, very rural Holt County in Northwest Missouri. The whole county has about 4500 residents.

Mayor Greg Book was born and raised in Forest City, and he refers to his home as “a Mayberry type of town.”

The town is quiet and charming, but there isn’t much to it. There is a diner, open until 2:00 p.m., a historic city hall, open until 2:30, and a Drug Store Museum, open for four hours every Sunday.

Tad Dobyns, left, and Phil Iman, right, stand in front of the Help Center – a beige building. Dobyns wears a checkered shirt and a bright red baseball cap. Iman, who has a long ponytail, wears glasses and a plaid shirt.
Rebecca Smith / KBIA

Tad Dobyns is a community organizer for Central Missouri Community Action in Audrain County. He recently sat down with his next-door neighbor of sorts: Phil Iman, the director of the Help Center next door. 

They spoke about a new program at the Help Center – called the Senior Box program – that provides extra food resources to low-income elderly individuals and helps meet some of the need in their community.  

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

Janelle Williams, left, and JoAnne Marietta, right, stand in front of a blue-shuttered window. Williams wears a bright orange peasant top and glasses, and Marietta wears a royal blue blouse and glasses.
Rebecca Smith / KBIA

Janelle Williams and JoAnne Marietta both work at Audrain County Crisis Intervention Service or ACCIS – a non-profit that provides resources to people in domestic and sexual violence situations.

Janelle is the executive director and JoAnne works as the equal access advocate. They spoke about the challenges their clients without legal immigration status have when pursuing legal action against abusive partners and when trying to obtain U visas, a nonimmigrant visa set aside for people who are victims of crimes and have suffered substantial abuse. 

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

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