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

A few weeks ago, my panoramic sunroof seemingly spontaneously cracked into thousands of pieces while I was driving 70 miles an hour on I-26 W, more than six hours away from home.

 

“I mean it’s still like together,” I told my mom in a voicemail, “but a thousand pieces. I think the only reason it’s still together is because of the tape you and I put up a while ago.”

 

 

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Funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program – known as CHIP, is about to run out and Congress has not renewed funding for it. The kicker is that funding for CHIP has been approved, but is wrapped up in a House spending bill that is unlikely to pass the Senate.

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A United Nations expert on extreme poverty and human rights visited Charleston today for a public meeting on the systemic causes and manifestations of poverty in West Virginia.

The meeting covered social protection and the criminalization of homelessness, as well as health and rural poverty. About 40 people attended - including representatives from groups such as West Virginia Free, the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and West Virginians for Affordable Health Care.

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Brooke sits beside her mom on the couch at Rea of Hope’s New Life Apartments. Rea of Hope is an addiction and recovery center for women struggling with alcohol or drug abuse.

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A U.S. House subcommittee focused on the opioid epidemic in Appalachia during a hearing this morning on Capitol Hill. 

The Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management focused on economics - specifically the impact of the opioid crisis on efforts in Appalachia to spur economic development and growth in distressed communities.

Witnesses included representatives from the economic development agency the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

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A new study has found that people referred to treatment for opioid addiction are much less likely to get referred to medication assisted programs if they are coming from the criminal justice system.

The study authored by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that fewer than 5 percent of those referred for treatment from the criminal justice system were directed to medication-assisted treatment programs, compared to 40 percent of clients referred for treatment from other sources, such as health-care providers or employers.

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A team of researchers at Ohio State University is trying to determine what anti-drug messages are most likely to cause potential drug abusers to say no to drugs.

28 participants watched 32 30 second PSAs while in an functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner. Half were at high-risk of drug abuse and half were at low-risk. Drug abuse risk was assessed with a self-report measure that the participants had completed earlier.

The researchers looked specifically at connectivity patterns between different parts of the brain while the anti-drug messages played.

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Host Intro: Two senior health policy officials visited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Monday in Atlanta to talk about the Trump administration’s effort to tackle the opioid crisis. 

Both Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services administrator Seema Verma and Acting Secretary of Health and Human Services Eric Hargan attended the press conference. During his remarks, Hargan said that the opioid crisis is a top priority for the Trump administration.

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A new report from the National Institutes of Health has found that across the United States, more than 90 percent of homes have three or more detectable allergens.

The study found that in about 73 percent of homes, at least one allergen was found at an elevated level and exposure to several elevated allergens was most prevalent in rural areas.

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Community and health advocates gathered at the University of Charleston today to protest the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to do away with carbon pollution regulations. While the EPA’s first and so far only public hearings took place to collect comments about the proposed repeal in the capitol building, another press conference and panel discussion took place across town.

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In the next episode of Window's into Health Care - our occasional series talking with health experts from around the state - health reporter Kara Lofton sits down with  Department of Health and Human Resources Cabinet Secretary Bill Crouch to talk about his work and what he feels are the biggest health issues the state is facing.

In the transcript below, Crouch talks about how the DHHR is dealing with the opioid crisis, concerns about the state's growing foster care crisis and how chronic conditions like diabetes and obesity impact West Virginia. 

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A growing number of Americans have high deductible health insurance plans – meaning they have to spring for the first few thousand dollars of care before insurance coverage kicks in. A new study suggests that despite a rise in these types of plans, most Americans aren’t shopping around for better prices.

The study used data from a national poll to examine the behavior of more than 1600 adults under the age of 65 who had high deductible health plans. 

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WVU Medicine announced today (Thursday) plans to construct at 10-story tower dedicated to women and children’s services.

The 152 million dollar project will take about three years to complete, but will add 150 beds to Ruby Memorial Hospital.

Phil Saul is the Executive Vice President for hospital and children’s health at WVU Medicine.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Cooking healthy for a holiday crowd can be expensive - but it doesn’t have to be.

“So, if we think about vegetables and that kind of thing, one thing we can do for sure is instead of doing fresh vegetables up here in the produce area, we could do canned vegetables or we could do frozen vegetables,” said Marshall nutritionist Mckayla Hart. “This time of year, typically those are a lot cheaper than buying fresh.”

Hart stands in the produce aisle at the Walmart in Huntington.

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Open enrollment for insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplaces started last week. Things are a little bit different this year and recent announcements from the Trump administration have resulted in a fair bit of consumer confusion. So there are a few major changes to be aware of. First, this is a very shortened enrollment period.

 


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Pregnant women today are more likely to have chronic conditions that could cause life-threatening complications than at any other time in the past decade, a new study suggests.

 

The study looked at a national sample of more than 8 million childbirth deliveries over 10 years and analyzed the how common chronic conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and substance-abuse disorders were in the mothers.

 

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The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program for five more years. All three of West Virginia’s representatives voted in favor of the bill.

Funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, more commonly known as CHIP, expired on September 30th due to Congressional inaction. CHIP provides insurance to 9 million children, including more than 20,000 West Virginians. 

A bill to fund the program has been languishing for several weeks in the Senate.

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Open enrollment for health insurance opened this week and things are a little bit different this year. 

The enrollment window this year is half what it has been. Buyers now have six weeks instead of 12 to sign up for a plan through the Affordable Care Act marketplace.

Another change this year is that premiums have increased dramatically – about 29 percent for Blue Cross Blue Shield Plans and 19 percent for CareSource plans on average. The increase will affect about 15 percent of West Virginians in the marketplace.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

In 2016, 40 percent of Lakewood Elementary School students were being raised by a grandparent. That’s a stunning statistic considering that kids being raised by grandparents sometimes struggle with behavioral issues, and behavioral issues can cause problems with academics.

This year, that number dropped to 15 percent, but Lakewood principal Kelly Hayes thinks that’s a temporary dip, with more in the pipeline.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Grandchildren being raised by grandparents often spend months or even years of their lives bouncing from one home or situation to another. Inconsistency and a constant sense of the unknown can fuel anxiety, anger and aggression in them.


Patrick Morrisey, W. Va. Attorney General
Janet Kunicki / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

A bipartisan group of state attorneys general, including West Virginia’s Patrick Morrisey, are urging health care companies to develop programs that might mitigate opioid abuse.

The letters urge the companies to adopt programs that promote better prescribing practices, such as limiting prescriptions of opioids to seven days for new patients, limiting the daily dose of opioids based on strength and requiring the initial use of immediate-release formulas.

The letters point to a similar program implemented by CVS Health Corporation as an example of work well done.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Congressman Evan Jenkins hosted a roundtable in Charleston yesterday focused on the federal response to fentanyl and other dangerous synthetic opioids that are flooding the Appalachian region. Fentanyl is one of the deadliest opioids on the streets today. Just 3 milligrams of the drug can kill an adult male compared to about 30 milligrams of heroin.

 

 

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The analysis looked at the percentage of children with Adverse Childhood Experiences – commonly known as ACEs. West Virginia scored higher than the national average of 46 percent.


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Late last week, President Trump announced the federal government would stop Affordable Care Act subsidies to insurance companies, which the White House argues are illegal.

About 19,000 West Virginians received such subsidies in 2016, with an average monthly saving to their insurance bills of a about $100, according to U.S. Department of Health & Human Services data.

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At the Kanawha County circuit court, the Roberts family is celebrating. Today, Andy and Debbie have adopted their grandchildren, Preston, age 6, and Tesla,19 months.

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At the Epsworth United Methodist Church in Ripley, West Virginia, five grandparents sit around a table listening to a speaker tell them, “You are not alone.”

 

 

Although prayer is mentioned frequently at the meeting, religion is not the subject of today’s conversation - rather, how to communicate with grandchildren after grandparents are thrust into the role of primary caregivers.

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In 2014, more than a third of all children who were removed from their homes due to parental alcohol and drug use were placed with relatives. In many ways, that’s good news for kids. Research shows that grandfamilies protect against trauma and promote resilience. But the arrangement can also be incredibly difficult for the grandparents themselves - many of whom are older and dealing with their own challenges - especially when it comes to physical health.

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As the opioid crisis continues to impact Appalachia, children are being left behind. This morning we have the first of a series of stories about grandparents who take on the role of primary caregiver for their grandchildren. To begin the series, health reporter Kara Lofton talks with professor Megan Dolbin-MacNab - a researcher at Virginia Tech who is studying grandparent headed families - about the health impacts of this arrangement. 

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A new health care bill to replace the Affordable Care Act was recently introduced in the U.S. Senate. The bill would fundamentally alter Medicaid financing and reduce federal spending for health coverage, according to a new analysis released today by the nonpartisan think tank Kaiser Family Foundation.

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Joseph Reed has been a family doctor in Buckhannon, West Virginia for more than 50 years. Now in his early 80s, Reed continues to see patients a couple days a month at St. Joseph’s hospital. In our next installment of our occasional series, Windows into Health Care, health reporter Kara Lofton talks to Reed about his career and how he’s seen medicine change over the last half century. 

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