Sebastián Martínez Valdivia

Reporter, KBIA

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.

Ways to Connect

Courtesy of Erik Martin

When physician Erik Martin left his home in southwest Missouri to help with New York’s COVID-19 outbreak in April, his county had fewer than 10 confirmed cases of the virus. Now he’s back — and watching those numbers skyrocket. More than 400 Jasper County residents have tested positive, and more than 800 are in quarantine.

“I never expected that within such a short period of time, my home town would become a COVID hotspot, as it has now," Martin says. He was alarmed when he learned a patient who tested positive worked at the Butterball poultry processing plant in nearby Carthage. After seeing a second Butterball worker, Martin alerted the county health department to the potential outbreak.

Sebastián Martínez Valdivia / Side Effects Public Media

Glenda Cervantes’s work at the Saline County Health Department usually involves helping people see if they qualify for social services. But for the last two months she’s been responding to the local COVID-19 outbreak instead. “I still remember the day they said we got our first positive and we’re going to need someone’s help," she says.

Missouri Highlands Healthcare

If someone gets sick in a seven county swath of the Ozarks of southeastern Missouri, the closest place they can go for care is a clinic run by Missouri Highlands Health Care. Highlands operates in some of the least populated and poorest counties in the state. Now, it’s cutting back.

Sebastián Martínez Valdivia / Side Effects Public Media

The Broadway Diner is empty. The ‘50s style restaurant has been a fixture of downtown Columbia, for decades and gets a lot of customers from the University of Missouri. These days, the only sounds keeping owner Dave Johnson company are from the building’s noisy ventilation system. “I was here when the planes crashed into the World Trade Center, and I thought that was horrible, but it’s nothing like this." 

Sebastián Martínez Valdivia / Side Effects Public Media

On a sunny afternoon in Sedalia, Mo., a town between St. Louis and Kansas City, Jennifer and Matt Boatright escorted some unusual visitors into a pasture on their farm. They opened the heavy gate and called their sheep over to meet a half-dozen medical students from the University of Missouri system. 

The farm tour was part of a week-long program designed to introduce future doctors, pharmacists and nurses to rural life.  The goal: Get the students interested in working in rural areas.


Sebastián Martínez Valdivia / Side Effects Public Media

It’s the middle of summer but Harrisburg Middle School is a hive of activity. Between summer school classes and renovations, it’s a little chaotic for counselor Brett Rawlings, who just wrapped up his first year at the school.

Harrisburg is a town of fewer than 300 people, midway between St. Louis and Kansas City. But the school also serves the surrounding area, which is primarily farmland. As the K-8 counselor, Rawlings is responsible for some 400 students, and he deals with a range of issues.

Henry Domke / Photo Provided

It's humid spring morning in the woods of central Missouri and Henry Domke is 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 says as he adjusts his tripod and focuses in before snapping the photo. 

Sebastián Martínez Valdivia/Side Effects Public Media

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

Credit Sebastián Martínez Valdivia/Side Effects Public Media

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. This is where Kevin Mullane sought refuge as he struggled with an opioid addiction.