Health & Wealth Desk

Wednesday mornings during Morning Edition, and Wednesday afternoon during All Things Considered

KBIA’s Health & Wealth Desk covers the economy and health of rural and underserved communities in Missouri and beyond. The team produces a short weekly radio segment, as well as in-depth features and regular blog posts. The reporting desk is funded by a grant from the University of Missouri, and the Missouri Foundation for Health.

Contact the Health & Wealth desk.

Nearly a year after Missouri state Auditor Nicole Galloway released a scathing audit of Putnam County Memorial Hospital in Unionville, Missouri, the tiny hospital is still struggling to recover from a lab billing scheme that's now the subject of criminal investigations. 

Lee Ann Stuart still wears her nursing scrubs, even though the only work she’s been doing since Twin Rivers Regional Medical Center closed June 11 is to pack boxes of medical supplies to be hauled away.

“It’s strange walking those halls, and they’re empty and the lights are down,” Stuart says. She’s been a nurse at the hospital in rural Kennett, Missouri, for 22 years.

DeVonte Jones began to show signs of schizophrenia as a teenager. His first public episode was nine years ago at a ball game at Wavering Park in Quincy, Illinois.

“He snapped out and just went around and started kicking people,” said Jones’ mother Linda Colon, who now lives in Midlothian in the Chicago suburbs.


Taja Welton is ready for her daughter to be born. She’s moved into a bigger house, one with room for a nursery. She has a closet full of pink, Minnie Mouse-themed baby clothes. Her baby bag is packed right down to the outfit she plans to bring her baby home in that reads, “The Princess Has Arrived.”

“I can’t wait to put it on her,” Welton smiles. The princess even has a name: Macen.


It was a scheduling mishap that led Kourtnaye Sturgeon to help save someone’s life. About four months ago, Sturgeon drove to downtown Indianapolis for a meeting. She was a week early.

“I wasn’t supposed to be there,” she said.


As he fights to retain control of Putnam County Memorial Hospital in Unionville, Missouri, Jorge Perez’s woes continue to pile up at other rural hospitals where he was once hailed as a hero.

Last month, in the second of a three-part series, CBS News aired a piece about Empower, a Perez-run company whose affiliates have been involved in many of the rural hospital takeovers orchestrated by Perez and his associates.

A battle royale has erupted in tiny Unionville, Missouri, over the town’s endangered community hospital.

Trustees of Putnam County Memorial Hospital in the north central community are trying to get rid of the company that took over the ailing institution in 2016 and then ran more than $90 million in questionable lab billings through the hospital.

This story was originally published February 6. It has been updated as of February 9 at 1 pm.

The Atchison-Holt Ambulance District spans two counties and 1,100 square miles in the far northwest corner of Missouri. The EMTs who drive these ambulances cover nearly 10 times more land area than their counterparts in Omaha, the nearest major city. 

Though the shops along Sullivant Avenue in Columbus, Ohio had all closed their doors one cold November night, a young woman walked alone down the alley behind the Seventh Day Adventist Church. She was petite and wore lipstick, a tweed coat and blue jeans torn at the knee.


When the hospital closed in rural Ellington, Missouri, a town of about 1,000, the community lost its only emergency room, too. 

That was 2016. That same year, a local farmer had a heart attack.


Missouri Offenders Help Their Peers Come to Terms with Death

Dec 20, 2017
Aviva Okeson-Haberman / KBIA

Offenders in some Missouri prisons are breaking down walls — emotional walls. They’re demolishing the barriers they’ve spent years building while inside a prison cell. But it’s only at the end of their sentence, the end of their life, that those walls finally crumble. And they crumble with a fellow inmate by their side.

It’s all part of the Missouri Department of Corrections (MODOC) Hospice Program, which started in 2015, where offenders are trained to provide end-of-life care for their peers.


When President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency in late October, it triggered a regulatory change intended to make it easier for people to get care in places with provider shortages. This declaration allows for the prescribing  of addiction medicine virtually, without doctors ever seeing the patient in person. (The regulatory change is not fully implemented until the DEA issues further rules.)

 


It’s a familiar story in rural America. Four years ago the Pemiscot County hospital, the lone public hospital in Missouri’s poorest county, nearly closed. What’s keeping it in business today has also become increasingly common in rural healthcare: relationships with a handful of local pharmacies.


In 2011, Maureen Sweeney was working as a registered nurse in labor and delivery at a Cleveland-area hospital. She helped hundreds of women, many minors in their early teens, deliver their children.


No one at the hospital in Fulton, Missouri (population 12,790) had ever heard of a management consultant named Jorge Perez until he showed up at its potluck in September.


Officer Ron Meyers drove down a dirt road 20 minutes outside the small city of Chillicothe, Ohio. As he passed each home, he slowed down and squinted, searching for an address. Out here, the house numbers are written on the front of homes in marker or in faded numbers clinging to old mailboxes. There’s no GPS.


After 20 years of selling and using meth, 38-year-old Andy Moss turned his life around. He got off drugs and got a good job. Next step: he wanted to fix his teeth, which had disintegrated, leaving nerves exposed.


When Sarah Scantling went into labor this summer, she had to drive 30 miles and across state lines.

Three years earlier, the only maternity ward where she lives in Pemiscot County, Missouri closed down. Scantling had to choose between a handful of other hospitals in the region between 20 and 70 miles away. She chose to give birth in the hospital in Dyersburg, Tennessee.


Fencing surrounds a patch of grass that used to be a neighborhood in the center of Herculaneum, Missouri. A sign in the grass reads, "No Trespassing. Lead Contamination."
Bram Sable-Smith / KBIA/Side Effects Public Media

Bill Haggard is the mayor of Herculaneum, Missouri, a town of 4,000 about a 30 minute drive south of St. Louis. He’s also the fire chief, president of the historical society and a retired teacher, among other distinctions, although he identifies first as a “lifelong resident.”

For more than a century this town was built up around the lead smelter that sat along the Mississippi River. Today, though, most of the houses remaining in the hollowed out center of town are marked in spray paint with a bright orange ‘X.’

“If they have an ‘X’ on them they’re coming down,” Haggard says while driving by houses slated for demolition.

For five years now, the Missouri legislature has considered legislation to create a prescription drug monitoring database that would allow pharmacists and physicians to look at their patient's prescription history for signs of misuse of narcotics. And for five years, Missouri pharmacists like Erica Hopkins have watched those efforts fail with disappointment.


Nurse Catherine “Bizz” Grimes moves like her name sounds: at a frenetic pace. She darts across the hall from the prenatal diagnosis clinic at Indiana University Health University Hospital in Indianapolis, sits down at her cubicle, puts on her headset over curly white blonde hair and starts dialing.

$1.25 million.

That’s the size of the bill that could have shuttered the only public hospital in rural Pemiscot County, Missouri in August 2013.

Family Health Center

The Family Health Center in Columbia will have a new CEO as of July 1.

The new CEO is Jack Kelly, who has served as the Chief Operating Officer for the organization for nearly seven years. 

Kelly said he was originally inspired to work in community healthcare after being a nursing home administrator for nearly 30 years.

Next year, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City will leave the individual health care marketplace in Missouri that was set up under the Affordable Care Act. And when it does, about 18,000 patients in 25 western Missouri counties will lose their health insurance. If those enrollees sign on to Healthcare.gov this fall to buy a replacement plan, they may have no options to choose from.

That's because those 25 counties could become "bare."

For the hundreds of rural hospitals struggling to stay in business, health policy decisions made in Washington D.C. this summer could make survival a lot tougher.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City announced on Wednesday that it will not offer individual plans on the Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges next year The move will affect about 67,000 people across 30 counties in Missouri and two counties in Kansas

“Through 2016 we have lost more than  $100 million [on ACA plans],” the company’s CEO Danette Wilson said in a release. “This is unsustainable for our company.”


The Affordable Care Act did a lot to expand HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention for people at highest risk for the disease. Many gay men and other men who have sex with men gained health insurance and new infections went down. The estimated number of annual HIV infections in the United States declined 18 percent among gay and bisexual men between 2008 and 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Bram Sable-Smith / KBIA/Side Effects Public Media

Two-year-old Ryan Lennon Fines is sitting on his family’s couch flipping through a picture book of emergency vehicles. He’s looking for the motorcycle, but first he stops on the page with an airplane.

“That’s an air ambulance,” his father Scott Fines tells him, “you’ve been on one of those.”

When Ryan was born on Christmas day 2014, his mouth wasn’t connected to his stomach. It’s a condition known as esophageal atresia. After three months in a NICU in St. Louis the family flew to Boston, where Ryan had surgery.

In the current debates over health care, one topic rarely gets mentioned: dental health benefits. That’s because dental health has historically been separated from the rest of medicine. But today, that separation leaves many Americans with no way to prevent or treat debilitating dental health problems.

Author Mary Otto tells the story of the rampant disparities in dental health in the United States and how those play into other disparities of race, class and income in her new book, Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America.


As the outreach counselor for Battle High School in Columbia, Missouri. Dana Harris’s job is connecting students with services when they have mental and emotional troubles such as ADHD, anxiety or depression.

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