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 / WVPB

Thousands of autistic children in West Virginia find themselves stuck on treatment wait lists for years, missing their best chances for improvement as 2- and 3-year-olds.

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The prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) seems to have reached a plateau, with as many children affected by ASD in the United States today as two years ago, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last reported on the subject. No West Virginia specific data is available.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1 in 68 school-aged children has ASD in the United States, according to a report published yesterday in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Surveillance Summary.

Alzheimer's Disease, dementia, elderly, couple, worried
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  37 thousand West Virginians have Alzheimer’s Disease, according to a report released this week from the national Alzheimer’s Association.

For the first time, the annual Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures report also included a national survey on the financial cost of Alzheimer's or dementia. It shows the diseases can be really expensive for families and caregivers, costing Americans 236 billion dollars in 2016.

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Governor Earl Ray Tomblin signed a bill this week giving the more than 1,700 nurse practitioners in West Virginia the ability to diagnose and treat patients without physician oversight.

Nurse practitioners in West Virginia are required to work under the guidance of a physician. But in the past, advanced practice nurses couldn’t always find physicians to sign off on their work, sometimes leaving patients without care.  House Bill 4334 attempts to address that problem.

Obama
Steve Helber / AP Photo

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin and Senator Joe Manchin join President Obama at the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta, Georgia Tuesday. According to a press release, Obama will announce Administrative actions to further the fight against the drug epidemic.

The Administrative actions include expanding access to treatment by releasing $94 million to 271 Community Health Centers to increase substance use disorder treatment services. West Virginia community health centers in Huntington, Weirton, Dawes, Scott Depot and Rock Cave will receive a total of $1.7 million in funding.

Health Wagon
Kara Lofton / WVPB

In Appalachia, barriers to healthcare include distance from a provider, lack of transportation, lack of health insurance, and the inability to take the time off of work to drive, wait and be seen. So throughout the region, mobile health units are attempting to bridge that gap and bring services to some of the populations that need them the most.

Outside of an old train station in southwestern Virginia, Teresa Gardner and Paula Hill-Meade are seeing patients.

Opioids, opioid, painkillers, perscription, narcotics, doctors, narcotics
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Unintentional fentanyl-related drug overdose deaths in Ohio increased by almost six-fold in one year, beginning in 2013. Late last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in partnership with the Ohio Department of Health, analyzed available data to assess risk factors for overdose.

Yesterday, the CDC released a report that found the “risk factors for fentanyl-related overdose deaths included: male gender, white race, some college or less education, history of a substance abuse problem, and a
current mental health issue.”

Opioids, opioid, painkillers, perscription, narcotics, doctors
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President Obama’s administration is doubling down on efforts to reduce prescription opioid and heroin abuse across the nation after two major announcements in the past week.

www.stmarysdoc.com/ / St. Mary's Medical Center

Cabell Huntington Hospital wants to buy St. Mary’s Medical Center. The Herald-Dispatch reports that the West Virginia Health Care Authority has granted a certificate of need, meaning the authority deems the combination of the two Huntington hospitals is needed and consistent with the state's health care goals.
The two hospitals separately are the largest employers in Huntington, with nearly 5,000 employees between them. They are also each among the top ten largest employers in the state.

cabellhuntington.org/ / Cabell-Huntington Hospital

Historically, hospital mergers have meant higher healthcare costs for patients. So when Cabell-Huntington Hospital announced it would buy St. Mary's Medical Center over a year ago, a federal consumer protection agency stepped in to prevent the consolidation. Now, West Virginia legislation that made it to Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’ desk Saturday could remove barriers to the merger and set a precedent for hospitals in similar standoffs around the country.

Kara Lofton / WVPB

Three out of four people do not take their prescription medication as directed, and one out of three people never fill their prescriptions according to a national group that tracks such things.  So several schools of health professionals, including students from the University of Charleston pharmacy school, are trying to increase awareness about the issue.


Three out of four people do not take their medication as directed, and one out of three people never fill their prescriptions, according to the national medication adherence campaign Script Your Future. Health professional students, including pharmacy students from the University of Charleston, are trying to increase awareness about the issue.

Dusic
Kara Leigh Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Human Papillomavirus – more commonly known as HPV -- is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. It is so common that almost all sexually active individuals will get it at some point, which puts them at risk for developing various cancers. The good news: HPV is preventable. The bad news: vaccination rates are low nationwide, with particularly troubling statistics coming out of West Virginia.

child, depression, behavioral health, mental health, anxiety, agression, bullying, loneliness, alone, tears, sadness, boy
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Children in the West Virginia welfare system are nearly three times as likely as those in other states to be placed in group-care facilities. But a new program, called Safe at Home West Virginia, is beginning to change this pattern.


Energy, heat, money, thermostat, heat pump, furnace
Dave Mistich via Tableau Public

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources has announced a second application period for the federally funded Low Income Energy Assistance Program. The program is available to state residents with income at our below 130 percent of the federal poverty line in need of assistance paying home heating bills.  

Applications are being accepted from February 29, 2016 – March 11, 2016 from new households that were not previously approved for assistance.

The maximum allowable gross income levels for LIEAP FY 2016 are listed below:

HOUSEHOLD SIZE

Healthy Bodies Healthy Spirits Network

In partnership with Try This West Virginia, the West Virginia Healthy Bodies, Healthy Spirits network held a press conference today to highlight March as “Healthy Bodies, Healthy Spirits” month.

Joshua Sowards, the Healthy Bodies, Healthy Spirits/Try This coordinator, explains. “Healthy Bodies, Healthy Spirits network is about collaborating on the ground, with projects that are available and resources to get churches and faith-based organizations to help lead the way in making West Virginia healthy,” he says.

Last week, a collaborative project between West Virginia State University, the University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates and the World Health Organization brought thousands of scholars, researchers, professionals and students to Dubai for a conference titled “Solutions for Better Life”. Kara Lofton sat down with West Virginia Commissioner of Public Health Rahul Gupta, who was a keynote speaker at the conference, to talk about the experience.

call center, Help 4 WV
Kara Lofton / WVPB

Six months ago, First Choice Services, with funding from the Department of Health and Human Resources, launched Help 4 WV, a text, chat and call line. Although the program is new, early data shows it’s doing what it’s supposed to – connecting those in need with preexisting services.

“I smoked weed for the first time when I was 8 years old, which kind of progressed,” says Jaimee Moffitt, a phone operator at the Help 4 WV call center and a former addict. 

401(K) 2012 / www.401kcalculator.org

Seven southern and Appalachian states, including West Virginia, received Health Impact Project grants yesterday from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts to promote health in southern and Appalachian states.

The goal is to fund projects aimed at addressing health inequities in southern and Appalachian states.

Doctor, medicine
sudok1 / Dollar Photo Club

People who have a terminal illness often prefer to spend their last days at home, rather than a hospital. WVU published research this month showing there’s a way to make it easier for those people to do so. In reality, it all comes down to paperwork.  

Janet Black looks up from her bed. She is terminally ill with end-stage lung disease and is due to be discharged into hospice care any day.

Cigarette, tobacco
nikkytok / Dollar Photo Club

A new Tobacco-Free Coalition from the Tennessee Department of Health has proclaimed February 22-26 as Tennessee Quit Week.

According to a press release, “It is part of a statewide effort to raise awareness of the Tennessee Tobacco QuitLine and other free resources available to help Tennesseans quit smoking and/or using other tobacco products.”

Learn more and find a calendar of Quit Week events at http://tn.gov/health/topic/FHW-tobacco. Join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #QuITTInTimeTN.

Heart Disease, Cholesterol, American Heart Association, Heart, Heart Health, Body, Veins, Blood, Health, Appalachia Health News
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The Virginia Department of Health, Mount Rogers Health District is offering cholesterol clinics to residents in Bland, Carroll, Grayson, Smyth, Washington and Wythe counties and the cities of Bristol and Galax.

High cholesterol is one of the major risk factors leading to cardiovascular disease, according to the American Heart Association. In the United States, heart disease continues to be the number one killer for both men and women.

The clinics will be available at all district health department locations.

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The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services confirmed the first case of Zika virus infection in a North Carolina resident today. The adult, whose name was withheld, had recently traveled to a country with ongoing Zika virus transmission. The patients’ symptoms have resolved. 

chapelboro.com

Free radon testing kits are now available to all 100 North Carolina counties, according to a press release earlier this week.

The kits are available through the NC Radon Program, which is administered by the Department of Health and Human Services. Officials are distributing the kits through county health departments, although the press release noted supplies are limited.

401(K) 2012 / www.401kcalculator.org

The West Virginia Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities has announced funding opportunities for the expansion of some health services across the state.

Swimmerguy269 / wikimedia Commons

  West Virginia University office of wellness and health promotion has launched a Collegiate Recovery Program to offer addiction and recovery support to students.

The goal of the program is to connect college students who are seeking recovery from substance abuse and addictive behaviors to peer-support and services.

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School-based fluoride rinse programs have been available to West Virginia schools for decades. Advocates argue they are still one of the cheapest and most effective tools schools have for preventing tooth decay. However, they are not well utilized. Recently, the Bureau for Public Health, which funds these programs, has begun a push to get more schools to take advantage of them.

At Mount Hope Elementary School in Fayette County, health educator Rosalie McCauley passes out toothbrushes and plastic cups of bubblegum-flavored fluoride mouth rinse to students.

Zika, United States, Mosquitos, virus, Appalachia
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While West Virginia continues to be free of the Zika virus, the Appalachian states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, Alabama and Georgia have all reported cases. The virus is spread through mosquitoes and was first dectected in South America.

Breast, Breast Cancer, Cancer, surgery, pink, pink ribbon
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West Virginia University Cancer Institute has become the first hospital in the state to offer a specialized breast cancer treatment that can shave weeks off treatment time for some patients.

The treatment is called Intraoperative Radiation Therapy. This is how it works: Directly after surgery to remove the cancerous lump, a radiation applicator is inserted directly into the cavity previously occupied by the tumor. Specialists then apply concentrated radiation to the area. Surgery and radiation are completed in one visit.

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Representatives from 37 citizen groups fighting for “water justice” met Tuesday at the Capitol to release a letter of solidarity with Flint, Michigan.

The letter, dated February 9th, parallels the 2014 West Virginia Water Crisis with the water crisis currently unfolding in Flint.

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