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

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Depression and anxiety both during pregnancy and afterwards are common, affecting 4 to 17 percent of all mothers, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

“I have struggled with anxiety and depression for as long as I can remember, even as a child I struggled with that sort of thing,” said Jennifer Petrosky, a therapist who has two young children. “And what I have learned about maternal health as a therapist and just being a mom is it’s just not discussed until after the baby is born.”

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

This legislative session, thousands of teachers and other school employees walked off the job and onto the grounds of the state capital to rally for better pay and benefits. Many have wondered how the nine-school-day strike might impact the coming elections.

Depending on who you ask, you’ll get some pretty different answers.

“I don’t think it had anything to do with the teacher’s strike at all,” said WV GOP chairwoman Melody Potter.

Democratic chairwoman, Belinda Biafore, had a different take.

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The Commonwealth Fund released their State Health System Performance scorecard today, finding that West Virginia was fifth most improved on health performance, but still ranks as one of the least healthy states in the country.

West Virginia improved on markers such as the number of uninsured children and adults, adults smoking and the number of people dying from colorectal cancer, but worsened in the number of obese adults, deaths from suicide, alcohol and drug use and adults with mental illness who did not receive treatment.

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Senator Joe Manchin’s office released a report today that found in 2016, the economic cost of the opioid epidemic in West Virginia was more than 8.7 billion dollars.

Nationwide, the economic cost of the opioid crisis is more than 500 billion, according to a 2017 report from the Council for Economic Advisors.  The brief from Manchin’s office relied heavily on the CEA report to draw conclusions about the financial impact on West Virginia.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

A new study finds that the epidemic of drug overdose deaths in the United States has led to an increase in organ donors. Despite previous stigma attached to using organs from overdose donors, the study indicates that outcomes from these transplants are highly successful. This news is hopeful for patients like Vicky Keene who desperately needs a lung transplant.


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In a policy brief, a progressive policy research organization said a sugar-sweetened beverage tax or “soda tax” would reduce consumption – potentially impacting West Virginia’s obesity rates – and bring new revenue to the state.

In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found West Virginians consumed sugar-sweetened beverages at the third highest rate in the nation.

The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy said that a tax of just a penny per ounce could raise around 98 million dollars and prevent more than 17,000 cases of obesity.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

This week, West Virginia University Student Health hosted a "Puppy Pilates" class aimed at de-stressing students before finals.


Kids in Charleston play soccer at the 25th annual Healthy Kids Day while volunteers from the WV State football team supervise on Saturday, April 21, 2018.
Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

At the YMCA in Charleston, friends Jaidyn, Ceaira, Shayla and Tyra have just gotten down from the mobile rock wall. They’re all 12 and are a little giggly about being back down on the ground.

“My favorite part of today was climbing that rock wall because -- that was scary,” Tyra said.

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A new study has found cigarette smoking and other environmental pollutants may increase the likelihood of developing rheumatoid arthritis, as well as cause the disease to be more severe in those who do get it.

Scientists have known for decades that people with a particular gene have an increased risk for rheumatoid arthritis. More recent studies have found that smoking further increases the likelihood that people with that gene will get rheumatoid arthritis and that it will be more severe.

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The National Institute for Early Education Research released its annual State of Preschool report today.

The report found that more young children in the United States are enrolled in public pre-K programs than were in 2002, but that not all of those programs are preparing young learners for kindergarten.

West Virginia, though, is one of 10 states that the report said has both expanded access to pre-K while maintaining high quality standards. West Virginia is also one of 10 states with the highest number of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in preschool.

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The Journal of the American Medical Association published a 26-year study on the burden of diseases and injuries in the U.S. The report found that West Virginia has the lowest healthy life expectancy years of any state in the union. West Virginia’s rate is almost 18 years lower than the healthiest life expectancy state - Hawaii. The greatest disease burden was caused by heart disease and lung cancer.

The main risk factors associated with U.S. morbidity and mortality are poor diet, smoking, high blood pressure and obesity.

Erika Kapin Photography

Doctor Pamela Murray is is the chief of adolescent medicine at West Virginia University. In the next installment of our occasional series "Windows into Health Care," Kara Lofton talks with Murray about the role adolescent specialists play in West Virginia, and how treating the child most effectively, sometimes means getting the whole family on board.

LOFTON: When we think about medicine, we usually think about pediatrics and then we think about adult medicine. I mean, what is young adult and adolescent medicine and kind of, how does those differ from those other two ends?

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A new study found that major adverse life events, called fateful life events by the research community, such as divorce, conflict, death in the family or financial hardship can measurably accelerate aging in the brain in middle aged men. Just one fateful event could cause the brain to appear a third of year older than their chronological age, based on an MRI.

The researchers studied almost 360, primarily white men ages 57 to 66.

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A new study has found that childhood weight gain may have a negative impact on liver health in children as young as eight.

The study found that bigger waist circumference at age 3, raises the likelihood that by age 8, children will have markers for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease occurs when too much fat accumulates in the liver and triggers inflammation, causing liver damage. It’s the most common chronic liver condition in children and adolescents.

Kara Lofton

One West Virginia city is trying a new approach to persuade more overdose patients to seek treatment. The idea is simple: Within 24 to 72 hours of an overdose, a "quick response team" fans out into the community and tries to meet with the patient to discuss treatment options. A handful of similar programs exist around the country, but West Virginia's first team launched in December in Huntington with the help of two federal grants. Health officials said it already has been remarkably successful.

 


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Yesterday, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources announced 48 Child Protective Services positions will be added across the state.

In a press release, the DHHR said the positions will primarily serve counties with extremely high caseloads.

Kara Lofton

During the teacher strike a couple weeks ago, West Virginia educators were asking for two main things: a pay raise and for legislators to “fix PEIA.” While the prorgam’s finance board ultimately agreed to freeze proposed changes to the plan that would have increased costs, truly fixing PEIA on the long term might not be that simple.

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The free clinic West Virginia Health Right held a press conference yesterday (Wednesday) in Charleston in response to a newspaper article that lumped Health Right’s Needle exchange program in with the City of Charleston. Charleston’s needle exchange program recently came under fire from Charleston Mayor Danny Jones and Police Chief Steve Cooper due to an increase in the number of needles found in public places.

The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department launched a needle exchange program in 2015 to reduce the risk of exposure to HIV and hepatitis C.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

“We have a problem that’s bringing us to our knees,” said West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Cabinet Secretary Bill Crouch at a press event in Charleston. A representative from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration visited West Virginia Monday to announce an additional $330,000 of funding for opioid abuse prevention and treatment.

“The opioid problem and substance abuse problem affects virtually every family in West Virginia,” he continued.

WVU

The Center for Disease Control’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health released a study on the largest cluster of complicated black lung cases ever reported. Kara Lofton spoke with WVU School of Public Health physicians Carl Werntz and Anna Allen about the study and what it means for West Virginia.

ALLEN: We actually have been noticing this trend over the last, about 18 years, that it has been going back up. And I think this might have just been the study that captured it in a, in the big picture.

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A new study has found that women with high physical fitness at middle age were nearly 90 percent less likely to develop dementia decades later, compared to women who were moderately fit.

 

The study measured women’s cardiovascular fitness based on an exercise test. When the highly fit women did develop dementia, they developed it an average of 11 years later than women who were moderately fit, or at age 90 rather than 79.

 

WVU

LOFTON: So, you are the new director of the Drug Control Policy Office. Previously, you were executive director and health officer of the Kanwaha-Charleston Health Department. You did deal with a lot of opioid issues at the Health Department previously. Will your strategy change in this new position?

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The 2018 County Health Rankings report was released today. It found significant health disparities across the state, particularly between the north and south.

Kara Lofton

The new Public Employee’s Insurance Agency task force met today at the Capitol. The task force was mandated by the governor in response to recent striking by teachers who demanded the state Legislature to “fix PEIA.” Teachers protested increased premiums and health costs, as well as a pay raise.

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A new survey of women from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that coverage rates for women are at all-time highs, but many women still face affordability and access challenges.

In 2013, nearly one in five women were uninsured. In 2017, after the Affordable Care Act was implemented, that number dropped to one in ten. Nationally, more than 60 percent of women were insured through private insurance. 14 percent of women were insured through Medicaid. More than a third of West Virginians – male and female - are on Medicaid.

Kara Lofton

A West Virginia prevention program targeted at high risk diabetes patients is showing almost immediate results for participants such as Selena Hanshaw, a working mom of four kids ages 6 to 20.

“As a mother of four, I know for myself, you just kind of forget about yourself. You’re just so worried about care for everyone else, you kind of neglect yourself,” said Hanshaw. “I just didn’t want to accept the fact that I had diabetes. I wanted to pretend that it didn’t exist.”

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A Charleston-based law firm has filed a class action suit against 21 medical companies, including the opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma to sue for damages incurred by prenatal exposure to opioids

The suit was filed this week by the firm Thompson and Barney. Kevin Thompson said the intent is to create a fund for babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, meaning infants born dependent to opioids.

“In this case the equitable relief would be a medical monitoring fund,” Thompson said.

Kara Lofton

Several West Virginia health organizations, including West Virginia Prevention First and the state's Department of Health and Human Resources have joined together to launch the Health & Hope WV Initiative. Prevention First is a conglomeration of organizations that collect and disseminate information and facilitate communication, according to a press release.

Organizers say they hope the new site and media content will both serve as a comprehensive resource and help combat some of the stigma addiction still faces.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

A group of West Virginia agencies launched their year-long campaign, “Year of the Child” at a kickstart event at the WV culture center yesterday. The initiative is designed to address the impact of the opioid crisis on West Virginia’s children.

Speakers represented groups such as the West Virginia Child Advocacy Network, Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Central West Virginia and the National Association of Social Workers.

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Analysis of recent hospital billing records across the country found that charges for outpatient cancer services vary widely from facility to facility, but on average, exceed what Medicare patients are charged by two to six fold.

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