Alex Smith | KCUR

Alex Smith

Health Reporter

Alex started out in college studying music composition, but worried about making too much money as a composer, he switched to journalism. Alex won a national Edward R Murrow award in 2017 and a regional Murrow in 2018. He's part of a national health reporting collaborative led by NPR and Kaiser Health News. In 2015, Alex produced "Crossing To Health," an award-winning, in-depth series about health disparities in Kansas. Alex lives in Kansas City with his wife, Gina Kaufmann. He takes time everyday to jam on guitars or the piano with their 2-year-old.

Ways to Connect

Alex Smith / KCUR

Starting treatment with a mental health specialist often requires a wait of several weeks, but many psychiatrists and other specialists in Kansas City have waiting lists stretching over months.

While the need for mental health treatment has been growing in Missouri, many patient advocates say the state’s refusal to aggressively enforce mental health parity may be making the wait times even longer.

Marty Sexton, a 50-year-old disabled grandfather who lives in Peculiar, worked as a firefighter and then an army medic in Operations Desert Storm, Desert Shield and Enduring Freedom.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

When children are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, stimulant medications like Ritalin are usually the first line of treatment.

Doctors recently issued new guidelines that mostly uphold the role of those medications, but many experts argue that other effective behavioral treatment methods are being ignored.

When children are diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, stimulant medications like Ritalin or Adderall are usually the first line of treatment.

Lori Pinkley, a 50-year-old from Kansas City, Mo., has struggled with puzzling chronic pain since she was 15.

She's had endless disappointing visits with doctors. Some said they couldn't help her. Others diagnosed her with everything from fibromyalgia to lipedema to the rare Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

It took years for advocates to get medical marijuana legalized in Missouri, but when it’s finally available in 2020, they may face an even tougher challenge: paying for it.

Ashley Markum of Rogersville, Missouri, the mother of a young son who takes CBD to control seizures, was heavily involved in the legalization push. This year, she helped start a charity called Ayden’s Alliance to help families like hers take on what’s likely to be the high costs of treatment. 

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, a Democrat representing Kansas’s 3rd District, and other state lawmakers said that they support the Second Amendment but called gun violence a public health crisis at a public event on Saturday.

Davids hosted a gun safety roundtable discussion at Matt Ross Community Center in Overland Park, Kansas, where she and advocates attempted to steer clear of controversy to focus on evidence-based ways of addressing gun suicide, improving school safety and supporting people with mental illness.

Dan Loarie / Creative Commons

This year’s catastrophic flooding has created hard times for many people in Midwest, but it’s created a nirvana for mosquitoes.

Kansas City and the surrounding region could potentially become a hotbed for mosquito-borne viruses like West Nile virus in the coming years due to increasing temperatures and more frequent flooding, which are predicted by climate experts.

Jackson County, Missouri, and Kansas City Area Transportation Authority

A major Rails-To-Trails cycling project in eastern Jackson County, Missouri, that’s been years in the making is suddenly in limbo following a decision this week by the federal government.

On Wednesday, Jackson County stopped construction of the Rock Island bike trail after the federal Surface Transportation Board revoked the county’s authority to operate the one-time railroad corridor.

The Washington Post

A newly released database shows that Leavenworth County, Kansas, had one of the highest concentrations of opioid pills per person in the United States between 2006 and 2012.

While those numbers might suggest a hidden calamity in eastern Kansas, the vast majority of those pills were actually processed by a Veteran’s Administration fullfillment center, rather than distributed locally, according to the data.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

Vaccinations not only protect your health, they protect the health of the community by slowing or stopping the spread of illness.

But Missouri now has some of the lowest measles vaccination rates in the nation, and that’s especially troubling for families with children who can’t get the shots for medical reasons.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

When Porter Hall of Raymore, Missouri, was a year old, he broke out in hives after eating a spoonful of peanut butter. It led to a scary night in the emergency room and a diagnosis of peanut allergy.

But today, Porter, who’s now five, is giving peanuts another shot with the help of Kansas City doctors, who have been giving him tiny doses of peanuts over the course of months.

This oral immunotherapy treatment isn’t a cure, but doctors say these tiny exposures may help to reduce or prevent severe reactions – although some critics are warning families to consider the risks. 

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

There’s a do-it-yourself movement that’s been spreading across the United Kingdom, but it’s not led by artisan hipsters or first-time homeowners.

It’s part of the country’s nationwide campaign to address loneliness, and experts think it may hold some important clues for fixing a tricky and potentially life-threatening problem.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

As experts in the Midwest and around the world work to address loneliness, one tricky question keeps popping up: even if loneliness is bad for our physical and mental health, what if people just don’t want to be social?

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

To a lot of people in the U.S., the idea of a government loneliness program sounds like something out of a free-spending European dreamland, like locally sourced organic school lunches in Italy or months of paid paternity leave in Sweden.

Nice, if you don’t mind high taxes.

But in the United Kingdom, just such a campaign was introduced by a Conservative British prime minister whose government has been scaling back public spending for years, and that’s led critics to call loneliness a self-inflicted wound.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

Hundreds of young German football fans in blue jerseys dance and sing in the streets before a soccer match in Manchester, England.  

This rainy northwestern city is the third largest in the United Kingdom. Known for its music scene and soccer, it’s a city brimming with young people .

But for many of those young people, like 17-year-old Lee Smelhurst-Hudson, life in Greater Manchester can be tough.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

In the heart of London, at Buckingham Palace, the daily changing of the guard reminds crowds of tourists that the United Kingdom is a country with staying power.

Over the centuries, the British have fought off famine, plague, economic depression and the Nazis. More recently, a few blocks away at Ten Downing Street, Prime Minister Theresa May announced plans to take on a new threat to the lives of Britons.

Alex Smith / KCUR

At a rally Sunday afternoon, a line of abortion-rights marchers encircled nearly the entire Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri, a distance of just over a mile.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

A proposal for up to 658 miles of trails and lanes plus cycling programs at a cost of around $400 million looks like a Kansas City cyclist’s dream.

Its creators, however, insist it’s just a guidepost.

Alex Smith / KCUR

Judging by the results of Tuesday’s election, in which Kansas City, Missouri, voters rejected a universal pre-K plan by a nearly 2-1 margin, some might think there's little interest in early childhood education.

But Annie Watson doesn't see it that way. She spent hours on the phone talking to voters on behalf of her employer, Turn The Page KC, the child literacy organization that was founded by Mayor Sly James. 

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

In the final days before Kansas City voters decide on new leadership, a recently-formed advocacy group is making a push to highlight the priorities of property renters.

On Saturday, about 60 organizers and volunteers with KC Tenants in Action gathered at a training event and canvased neighborhoods in a door-to-door campaign with a goal of reaching 3000 households.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

Medical marijuana is not yet available for purchase in Missouri, but patients may be able to jump start the process and get it with the help of a newly opened clinic.

The Green Clinic opened for business in a loft in the River Market in Kansas City on Wednesday afternoon, with two full-time doctors on staff to determine whether patients qualify to obtain medical marijuana.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

Health care advocates in Kansas and Missouri are hopeful that 2019 will be the year that hundreds of thousands of people can get health care coverage through expansion of Medicaid.

It’s been blocked in both states by Republicans who question the price tag, but now that many states have had expanded Medicaid for several years, there’s a small but growing body of evidence about its actual costs.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

On a night when many people in Kansas City hid from the cold inside under blankets, hundreds of people without homes risked their lives outside.

Volunteers for the Greater Kansas City Point in Time 2019 homeless survey found 377 people in warming stations, outdoors or in other areas of Jackson and Wyandotte counties on Wednesday night, when temperatures dipped to zero degrees Fahrenheit. 

Alex Smith / KCUR

Despite bitterly cold temperatures, hundreds of people took to the streets of the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City Saturday afternoon for the third annual Women’s March, a celebration of and rally for inclusiveness and women's empowerment.

Joining similar rallies across the country, marchers wearing woven pink hats carried signs in support of causes ranging from LGBTQ rights to expansion of Medicare. 

“Love, not hate, will make America great,” the Kansas City marchers shouted.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

Doctors generally agree that opioids are not a good choice for treating most chronic pain. But scientists have struggled to develop safe pain treatments that provide the same level of relief as opioids.

Now there's hope that might change. New research supports the use of a treatment method that’s lurked for years on the fringes of medicine. The question is whether it will remain stuck there.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

Shivering outside her home on a freezing day in Park Hills, Loretta Boesing explains that weather in eastern Missouri can be all over the map.

“It’s crazy,” Boesing says. “We sometimes experience temperatures like they would feel in Arizona. Sometimes we experience temperatures like they would feel up north.”

Boesing worries about how those temperature extremes affect the prescription drugs that many people receive via mail-order delivery.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

The Buck O’Neil Bridge just north of downtown is one of more hectic traffic spots in Kansas City, Missouri, and for Shari H, a car accident here in 2012 turned out to be life-changing.

She didn’t have any major injuries, but after days and weeks passed, she realized that her post-accident soreness wasn’t going away.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

Long before Eric Kirkwood of Kansas City, Kansas, had his first sickle cell crisis at age 17, he knew about the pain caused by the disease. His uncle and sister had the genetic disorder, which causes blood cells to clump together and cut off circulation, leaving many patients with pain they describe like being squeezed in a vise.

“I’ve been in so much pain that I’m like ‘Why am I not dying?’” Kirkwood said. “It’s really like torture.”

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

Missouri became the latest state to legalize medical marijuana Tuesday when voters went for one of the three ballot measures: Amendment 2. 

Free Hot Soup Facebook page

Depending on whom you ask, health department officials on Sunday either stopped an unlicensed group from illegally handing out potentially bacteria-ridden food or destroyed the property of some “friends” having a “picnic.”

According to official documents, the Kansas City Health Department stopped volunteers of Free Hot Soup Kansas City from handing out food at several Kansas City parks because they lacked the required food handling permits. The food was seized and discarded or was destroyed with bleach.

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