Kansas News Service | KCUR

Kansas News Service

The Kansas News Service produces essential enterprise reporting, diving deep and connecting the dots regarding the policies, issues and events that affect the health of Kansans and their communities. The team is based at KCUR and collaborates with public media stations and other news outlets across Kansas. Subscribe to our weekly newsletter. Bookmark our homepage at ksnewsservice.org

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to kcur.org.

The Kansas News Service is made possible by a group of funding organizations, led by the Kansas Health Foundation. Other funders include United Methodist Health Ministry Fund, Sunflower Foundation, REACH Healthcare Foundation and the Health Forward Foundation. Additional support comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Chris Neal / For the Kansas News Service

TOPEKA — Aetna is bringing in new leadership to run its Medicaid operations in Kansas after chronic complaints from hospitals and others put it at risk of losing its contract.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment confirmed Friday that Aetna Better Health of Kansas CEO Keith Wisdom is no longer in that role. But the insurer declined to answer questions about whether it had replaced Wisdom.

Chris Neal / For the Kansas News Service

TOPEKA — Bullying just won’t go away. If anything, the advent of smartphones and social media has made it worse.

That’s forced a conversation on what Kansas schools can do to help. The problem? It’s easier to get adults to weigh in than students.

File photo

In a major ruling with implications for employers of undocumented immigrants, a federal judge in Kansas said a law making it a crime to "encourage" or "induce" such immigrants to live in the United States is unconstitutional.

The Collapse Of A Hospital Empire — And Towns Left In The Wreckage

Aug 20, 2019
Heidi de Marco / KHN

SWEET SPRINGS, Mo. — The money was so good in the beginning, and it seemed it might gush forever, right through tiny country hospitals in Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and into the coffers of companies controlled by Jorge A. Perez, his family and business partners.

It was his “secret sauce,” the rotund Miami entrepreneur would smilingly tell people in their no-stoplight towns. The money-making ventures he proposed sounded complicated, sure, but he said they would bring in enough cash to save their hospital and dozens, even hundreds, of good jobs in rural towns where gainful employment is hard to come by.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas News Service

VALLEY FALLS, Kansas — Dennis Ritchey stands in the kitchen of his modest apartment. He calls it efficient, but likes that it has plenty of cabinets.

Nomin Ujiyediin / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA — One of the United States’ largest and oldest private prison companies will house up to 600 Kansas inmates in a facility in Eloy, Arizona.

CoreCivic, formerly known as the Corrections Corporation of America, owns and operates 129 prisons, immigration detention centers and other facilities in more than 20 states, including the Leavenworth Detention Center. Its revenues total more than $1 billion a year.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

The state of Kansas is canceling a contract that administered an elementary-school reading program because of what state officials call inappropriate spending on travel and salaries. 

The contractor disputes any mishandling of the money, which in recent years amounted to nearly $10 million routed from a program meant to serve needy families. 

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA ― The “Kidney Stone Belt” is a thing, and it’s coming for Kansas.

Climate change is expanding that swath of America, currently in the south and southeast, that suffers much higher rates of this sometimes-excruciating renal complication.

By 2050, the belt will include Kansas, according to a new review by the Kansas Health Institute.

Dan Margolies / KCUR 89.3

A federal judge is holding the U.S. Attorney's Office in Kansas in contempt in connection with a burgeoning scandal involving recordings of confidential conversations between criminal defendants and their attorneys at a federal detention center in Leavenworth, Kansas.

Chris Neal / For the Kansas News Service

TOPEKA ― Aetna remains in hot water with the state of Kansas, which recently threatened to cancel the company’s Medicaid contract.

Tyson Fresh Meats plans to reopen the Holcomb, Kansas, beef packing plant partially destroyed by a weekend fire — it’s just not sure when.

Tyson said in a news release that it will recruit some employees to rebuild the plant, which processes about 5% of the country’s cattle.

Anonymous

Just over a week after her old boss was convicted of battery against her, Maddie Waldeck is suing the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, where they both worked.

Waldeck, who no longer works for the UG, told KCUR the two years she worked with Dennis "Tib" Laughlin were the "most stressful and heartbreaking of her professional life."

The lawsuit says Laughlin, who was a high-ranking official of the UG, engaged in "a pattern and practice of gender discrimination, harassment and retaliation."

Nomin Ujiyediin / Kansas News Service

Kansas will send 360 of its male prisoners to a privately owned and operated prison in Eloy, Arizona, starting this summer.

The Kansas Department of Corrections announced Friday that it had finalized a contract with CoreCivic to move up to 600 people to Saguaro Correctional Center. The prison is about one hour southeast of Phoenix and about a 12-hour drive from the southwestern corner of Kansas.

To get the best college experience, live on campus.

Wichita — Sarah Stephens stands over a brightly lit table in a detached garage-turned-grow shed as she trims away unnecessary leaves from a recently harvested hemp plant.

When she’s finished, only the floral material of the plant will be left. The flowers will eventually be processed into CBD oil.

“We started out with not a ton of knowledge about it,” Michael Stephens, Sarah’s brother and partner at Tallgrass Hemp and Cannabis, said. “It’s been a learning experience.”

Critics of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s decision to move two of its research agencies from Washington, D.C., to the Kansas City area got more ammunition this week.

Chris Neal / For the Kansas News Service

TOPEKA ― State officials have told one of the key players in Kansas’ privatized Medicaid system that it stands in danger of getting fired for not living up to its contract.

Aetna Better Health has until Wednesday to tell state officials how it is addressing chronic complaints about delayed payments to hospitals and other problems.

A formal letter from the state to Aetna says failure to fix the problems so far means the company’s contract “is in jeopardy of being terminated for cause.”

Nomin Ujiyediin / Kansas News Service

KANSAS CITY, KAN. — Susan Haynes used to have panic attacks seven times a day.

Sometimes, she would fall out of her chair. Sometimes, she would stop breathing.

“I could just fall down, just collapse and look like I was having a seizure or stroke,” she said. “It was pretty scary.”

Rylie Koester / KCUR 89.3

The Douglas County Fair last week featured many typical animal-showing competitions: cows, goats, pigs —plus llamas. 

The Douglas County 4-H Llama project consists of five classes where exhibitors lead their llamas around a show pen as a judge assesses the exhibitor’s relationship with their llama and the training they’ve done together. The classes include showmanship, obstacle, pack and public relations. 

The Douglas County Llama project also includes a class that’s unusual — a costume competition. 

Wichita — Cindy Hoedel and Scott Yeargain, who live in or near the Kansas Flint Hills, began looking into oil and gas operations near their homes as early as 2016.

The two, separately, worried about earthquakes and water quality issues that new wastewater injection wells would create.

Hoedel documented a few dozen instances where injection well permit applications didn’t follow Kansas Corporation Commission guidelines. That led to a KCC report identifying more than 1,000 similar cases.

Kansas Legislature

Kansas Sen. Jim Denning may be on the hook for about $90,000 in legal fees after a judge threw out his defamation claims against The Kansas City Star and former Star guest columnist Steve Rose.

That’s because the Kansas Public Speech Protection Act, which is meant to discourage lawsuits that chill free speech, allows prevailing parties to recover their costs of litigation and “reasonable attorney fees.”  

Anonymous

A high-ranking official of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, has resigned after a jury on Tuesday found him guilty of misdemeanor battery against a female employee.

Dennis “Tib” Laughlin was director of General Services and worked for the UG for 21 years. According to the UG, he submitted his resignation in writing after the verdict was handed down Tuesday afternoon.

File photos

Six months after suing The Kansas City Star and columnist Steve Rose for defamation, Kansas Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning has seen all of his claims thrown out.

Earlier this month, Johnson County District Judge Paul Gurney tossed Denning’s defamation claims against The Star, finding he had failed to show malice.

And on Tuesday, he did the same thing with Denning’s claims against Rose, finding that Denning had failed to meet his burden of proof under the Kansas Public Speech Protection Act.

Anonymous

A Wyandotte County jury found a high-ranking official of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, guilty of misdemeanor battery against a female employee Tuesday.

Maddie Waldeck, a former Unified Government employee, said on May 1 last year that she was having a "light-hearted" conversation with colleagues after work when her boss, Dennis "Tib" Laughlin, grabbed her by the shirt and pushed her against a wall.

Lynn Horsley / KCUR 89.3FM

While residents are in an uproar this summer over residential property assessments in Jackson County, Missouri, an equally important battle is underway in Johnson County, Kansas, where big box stores are successfully challenging major increases in their commercial property values.

The trend could significantly reduce future tax dollars for Johnson County schools, libraries and cities. Government leaders are worried and trying to plan for worst case situations.

Nomin Ujiyediin / Kansas News Service

LAWRENCE — Before starting his CBD company, Chris Brunin researched the competition, the labs they used, the products they sold.

He checked out ingredient suppliers and organic hemp farmers. He took everyone’s pitches with a heapful of salt.

“The hemp industry is like the Wild West and Wall Street had a baby,” said Brunin. “You have to vet everything and everybody … to make sure you’re not getting messed with or lied to.”

Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3

Maddie Waldeck’s family has been entwined with the city of Kansas City, Kansas, for six decades. 

Her grandfather was an assistant fire chief and her dad spent 35 years at the Board of Public Utilities. Both of her brothers work for the city and her sister-in-law is a deputy police chief. 

So when Waldeck got a job at the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, in 2013, she was over the moon.

Walter / Creative Commons 2.0

TOPEKA — Courtney Train spends her days going to nail salons, the pool and the dog park.

As a paid mentor and advocate for children ages 8 to 18 who’ve seen domestic violence at home or experienced it while dating, Train knows quality time — and fun — with a trusted adult can be in short supply for her clients.

Nomin Ujiyediin / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA― Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss announced Friday he’ll retire in mid-December after serving on the state’s highest court since 2002, when Republican Gov. Bill Graves tapped him for the role.

That makes the second retirement announcement from the court in less than a month. Justice Lee Johnson will retire in September. He was appointed by Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius in 2007.

Frank Morris / KCUR 89.3

Kansas City has long been a prime example of state tax incentives gone awry — the question now is if Kansas and Missouri can change the dynamic with a new agreement.

“Corporate welfare. It's a race to the bottom. It's wasteful spending. All of those really are true," says Angela Andreson Smart, vice president of the Hall Family Foundation in Kansas City.

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