Kara Leigh Lofton

Appalachia Health News Coordinator

Kara Leigh Lofton is the Appalachia Health News Coordinator at West Virginia Public Broadcasting. In 2016, Kara filed 140 reports aimed at healthcare consumers in West Virginia and adjacent regions, with topics ranging from health insurance policies to midwife-assisted home births. Kara’s stories were about evenly divided between her radio reports and short pieces she wrote for internet readers. Eight stories reached a national audience through NPR’s “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition,” including several pertaining to the impact of record-breaking flooding in West Virginia and the threatened loss of health benefits for former miners. Kara’s radio stories are often illustrated by her own photographs, posted on WVPB’s website.

Previously Kara was a freelance reporter for WMRA, an affiliate of NPR serving the Shenandoah Valley and Charlottesville in Virginia. One of her nationally broadcast reports, “Trauma Workers Find Solace in a Pause That Honors Life After a Death,” garnered a first place award for a feature story from the Virginia Association of Broadcasters.

Kara’s work has been published by Kaiser Health News, Medscape.com, The Hill (the news outlet and blog serving Congress), Side Effects Public Media, Virginia Living, and Blue Ridge Outdoors among other outlets. She has also written and photographed for Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, from which she earned a bachelor’s degree.

Prior to and during her university years, Kara had stints living internationally, spending months in Morocco, Spain, Turkey, and England, with shorter visits to Zambia, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and a half-dozen countries in western and central Europe. In the fall of 2015, she toured Guatemala (using her conversational Spanish), where she reported on its woefully underfunded health system. In her spare time, Kara enjoys hiking with her nurse-husband and their three friendly dogs, practicing yoga, and reading.

Ways to Connect

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Rahul Gupta, MD has resigned from his post as commissioner and state health officer for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, effective Nov. 5. Gupta is moving to the March of Dimes as its senior vice president and chief medical and health officer.

Kara Lofton

Teachers gathered on the steps of the state Capitol Sunday to rally support for electoral candidates who say they will make “fixing” the Public Employee Insurance Agency a top priority.

Organizers hope to continue the momentum they built during the March teacher’s walkout. That action resulted in a 5 percent pay increase for WV teachers and other state employees. Now, they want to tackle PEIA.

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Despite improved state policies to prevent obesity, adult obesity rates now exceed 35 percent in seven states, according to a new analysis. West Virginia ranks number one for obesity and obesity-related diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.

In the annual Robert Wood Johnson State of Obesity report, researchers found West Virginia's adult obesity rate is currently about 38 percent, up from around 24 percent in 2000 and approximately 14 percent in 1990. The current rate is fairly stable from last year’s data.

WVU

Antar Jutla is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at WVU. Jutla has been instrumental in developing a computer program that has helped predict and prevent the spread of cholera in war-torn Yemen. Kara Lofton spoke with Jutla about how super computers and data can impact the spread of waterborne diseases after both natural and manmade disasters.

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A West Virginia University researcher has been awarded a $13.3 million from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute to compare three treatment strategies for rural depressed patients.

Rates of depression tend to be higher in rural areas, and accessing treatment is more difficult.

WVU professor Robert Bossarte will compare three treatment options: prescribing antidepressants alone, antidepressants combined with unguided online cognitive behavior therapy, and antidepressants combined with guided online cognitive behavior therapy. 

Jesse Wright / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court began Tuesday, Sept. 4. Kavanaugh is considerably more conservative than the justice he would replace — a fact celebrated by the anti-abortion advocacy group the Susan B. Anthony List.

The organization has been touring several states during the past few weeks, urging democratic senators like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin to vote to confirm Kavanaugh.

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An analysis of 130 metropolitan areas found that Appalachia has some of the highest rates of pre-existing health conditions in the nation. The report comes in the midst of continued federal proposals to weaken pre-existing condition requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

Among other things, the ACA guaranteed people access to insurance regardless of how healthy they are. Prior to the ACA, insurance companies could decline to provide insurance to people with type two diabetes or cancer, for instance.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

For friends, Becka, Holly and Katie, findings spaces where they feel safe to speak, act and think the way they want can be hard to find.

 

 

Getting outdoors, often with one another or other female companions, is one place the can do that.

During a recent two-day backpacking trip in the Dolly Sods Wilderness in Tucker County, they recounted some of the freedoms they feel afforded in the wilderness.

 

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is stepping in to help the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health track data and investigate a 2018 Hepatitis A outbreak.

The DHHR reports that as of mid-August, West Virginia has had 975 cases of Hepatitis A in 2018. The majority of these cases have been in Kanawha followed by Putnam counties. Therefore, the CDC will focus its efforts in these areas as well.

President Donald Trump during a Charleston rally.
Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

President Donald Trump virtually ignored recent news of former fixer Michael Cohen's federal guilty plea Tuesday night during his latest visit to West Virginia, instead focusing on campaign staples like immigration.

Trump said voting for any democrat would result in eliminating immigration enforcement. If a democrat is elected he predicts they’ll “throw open our boarders and set loose vicious predators and violent criminals.”

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A new study found checking work email during nonwork hours may be detrimental to your health.

The report out of Virginia Tech found that when employers expect personnel to monitor work email after hours, the result was increased employee anxiety, which affected not only the worker themselves, but their families as well.

The study found that employees don’t actually need to spend time on work in their off hours to experience harmful effects – just the expectation of availability was enough to increase strain for employees and their significant other.

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If you are night owl struggling with your weight, you may want to consider becoming early bird instead. A new study has found people with prediabetes who have an “evening preference,” have a higher body mass index than those who do things earlier in the day.

 

Prediabetes is a condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not yet type 2 diabetes.

 

The study compared patients with prediabetes who go to bed, eat meals, and are more active and alert later in the day with those who do things earlier in the day. 

 

Jesse Wright / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Some medications used to treat opioid use disorders can be abused if taken in large amounts or injected. Others, such as suboxone, prevent the effect of the opioids. Two WVU researchers are studying whether this drug could be used to treat pregnant women with opioid use disorders. Kara  Lofton spoke with researcher Laura Lander about the findings and the challenges of treating pregnant women.

LOFTON: Your research focuses on treating opioid use disorders in pregnant women. What are the challenges with working with this particular patient population?

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States, including West Virginia, have seen a spike in death rates from drugs, alcohol and suicide, commonly known as “deaths of despair.”

Research from the private health care research organization the Commonwealth Fund found that nationwide, while drug deaths were the smallest contributor to deaths of despair in 2005, they were by far the largest in 2016. In the same time period, deaths from suicide and alcohol rose 25 percent.

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If doctors learned that one of their patients had died from an overdose, they were more likely to reduce the number and dose of opioid drugs they prescribed future patients compared with doctors who had not been notified, according to a new study from the National Institutes of Health.

The study found that physicians who received a letter from the medical examiner’s office informing them that one of their patients died from a drug overdose reduced the number of opioids they prescribed by almost 10 percent in the following three months.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Studies have found that American millennials lead the country in pet ownership, fueling the $69 billion pet industry — an industry that has grown three times since the mid 90s.

 

 


Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

A few weeks ago, community members  and physicians gathered for a town hall in Beckley, West Virginia. On the agenda? Whether a new psychiatric clinic downtown should be allowed to do medication-assisted treatment from their building.

“What matters is – it’s our neighborhood,” said community member Patty Teubert. “I don’t understand why you don’t hear that.”

Teubert was acting as the spokeswoman for others opposed to the facility, which seemed to be in the overwhelming majority in the meeting.

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One recent evening at Blackwater State Park, naturalist Paulita Cousins was leading about two dozen visitors on a night hike by the lake.

“When it’s dark we’re naturally supposed to be ...?” she asked.

“Sleeping,” the group responded in unison.  

“And light,” she warned, “is actually messing up a chemical in our body to make us be healthy individuals.”

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The West Virginia University School of Medicine has launched a new accelerated program for medical students.

In a press release, WVU said the Mountaineer Accelerated Track to Enter Residency program will shave a semester off of the four-year medical degree program. This move, they said, is to give students an option to graduate with less debt and try and get medical professionals into patient care sooner to meet the state’s health needs.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

To the background of interstate traffic, members of the group Pro-life Court Coalition stood in front of Senator Joe Manchin’s Charleston office, asking Senator Manchin to confirm Kavanaugh, a pro-life supporter, as the new Supreme Court Justice.

“Once again, President Trump is keeping his word by nominating Judge Kavanaugh, an extremely well-qualified judge who will respect and uphold the constitution, not legislate from the bench,” said Jill Stanek, chair of the conservative anti-abortion advocacy group Susan B. Anthony List, and one the speakers.

AMA

West Virginia native doctor Patrice Harris has been elected as the first black woman president of the American Medical Association. Harris spoke with reporter Kara Lofton recently about her new appointment and what she hopes to accomplish in the position.

LOFTON: West Virginia, and Appalachia as a whole, have a history of health issues. Being familiar with this region, what policies might help improve the health of this region from the perspective of the American Medical Association?

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Medication adherence – or lack of it is a really big deal in healthcare. A 2017 review in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that Americans not taking medicine as prescribed caused 125,000 deaths, 10 percent of hospitalizations and cost the healthcare system between $100–$289 billion a year. But a new study has found an easy fix for the problem.

Basically? Charge people less. The study published this month in Health Affairs found that the more patients have to pay for their prescriptions, the less likely they are to take them as directed.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

In the 1980s, some people in Japan developed a concept called Shinrin-yoku, also known as forest bathing or forest therapy. The idea is simple — natural areas offer calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits to visitors. And yet even in a state as rural and forested as West Virginia, accessing natural areas can be difficult.

 

 

In bustling Morgantown, White Park is an oasis, with trails through wooded areas and a reservoir.

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A new study has found that the combination of low muscle mass and high fat mass in older adults may be an important predictor in cognitive function later in life. 

Loosing muscle mass is a natural part of aging, as is gaining some weight. But both conditions also have negative impacts on overall health and cognitive function and together they may have a greater threat – surpassing individual impact, according to a new study published today in the journal Clinical Interventions in Aging.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

At the Charleston Civic Center, pairs of boxers in four rings are fighting bouts at the same time. For the fourth year, Charleston is hosting the boxing Junior Olympics. Almost 700 athletes from all over the country, ages 8-18, are competing for a national title in their age and weight divisions.

The kids are lithe and share an expression of determination as coaches check wraps, adjust headgear and pat thin shoulders on the back. The fighters face one another, tap gloves and begin.

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Marshall Health has begun construction on what will soon be the largest residential treatment facility in the region for women suffering from substance use disorder and their children.

In cooperation with the Huntington City Mission, Marshall Health is renovating a 15,000 square-foot building formerly known as “Project Hope.” The new project will be called Project Hope for Women and Children and is funded through a grant from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.

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Next month, the Beckley, Clarksburg and Huntington VA Medical Centers are hosting a joint outreach training event for West Virginia spiritual leaders to learn about veteran suicide prevention.

The workshop will be held Tuesday, July 31st. at the West Virginia Capitol Complex. Called Operation S.A.V.E., the program is a one hour training provided by the VA suicide prevention team. The training focuses on signs of suicide, asking about suicide, validating feelings, encouraging help and expediting treatment.

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Enrollment in the Affordable Care Act health insurance marketplaces fell in most states across the country in the past year, including West Virginia, while 15 states saw enrollment increases, according to a new Urban Institute report. But West Virginia and Louisiana had the MOST significant drops at almost 20 percent and 24 percent fewer enrollees, respectively.

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A new study finds that medications used to treat opioid use disorder are greatly underutilized even though they’re proven to significantly reduce chances of opioid-related deaths. 

 

Kara Lofton

About ten years ago, the National Park Service noticed that fewer kids and families were using the parks. And they wanted to change that.

So in 2009, they partnered with the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation to launch an initiative to help families unplug, get outside, and connect with their local natural resources. The initiative, called Kids in the Park, soon expanded to encompass pediatricians like Erin Regan who are trying to combat childhood obesity, diabetes and excess screen time by writing “scripts” for kids to go outside.

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