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

Adobe Stock

Moderate to vigorous aerobic activity is associated with a lower risk of several cancers. But a new study has found that weightlifting can also help reduce risk for certain kinds of cancers.  The study, published in the most recent issue of the journal for the American College of Sports Medicine, looked at the impact of weightlifting and cancer risk in 10 common types of cancer.  Researchers found weightlifting significantly reduced risk of colon cancer. For kidney cancer, weightlifting caused risk to trend downward.

Adobe Stock

Five hospitals in West Virginia have been recognized as high performing by the annual U.S. World and News Report “Best Hospitals” report. 

Charleston Area Medical Center was ranked overall number one in the state followed by WVU Medicine. 

Mon Health and St. Mary’s Medical Center were tied for third and Thomas Memorial was fifth. 

Adobe Stock

A new study has found that for patients with heart disease, exercise may prevent or improve artery stiffening that is associated with heart failure.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in West Virginia — mostly from heart attacks or heart failure. Heart failure occurs when arteries in the heart become stiff — due to a combination of reduced elasticity and the buildup of harmful chemicals. 

But a new study published last month in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that exercise could prevent or improve artery stiffness. 

WVU Medicine

Nationally, nearly a quarter of all rural hospitals are struggling to stay open. In West Virginia, almost 40 percent of rural hospitals are at risk of closure. There are several reasons for that. 

 

 

“Inability to recruit physicians to small communities, declining population base, roughly 10,000 people a day go on Medicare and Medicare [which] doesn’t cover the cost of care in a hospital environment,” explained Dave Ramsey, CEO and president of Charleston Area Medical Center. 

AP images

The fate of the Affordable Care Act was back in federal court today after a lower court judge ruled the law unconstitutional. If the ruling is upheld, the entire United States healthcare system would undergo massive changes. In Charleston, supporters of the Affordable Care Act held a mock trial in front of Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s office in support of the law.

Physician attentively looks at mans brain x-ray results
Adobe Stock

Mon Health System and WVU Medicine have announced a collaboration to provide round-the-clock teleneurology services at three hospitals. The initiative is designed to provide quicker care to urgent stroke patients. 

 

The services will be available at the three Mon Health hospitals in Morgantown, Kingwood and Weston. As part of the collaboration, Mon Health physicians will have access to Board Certified Neurologists from WVU who will quickly assess and recommend treatment for urgent stroke patients, according to a press release. 

Courtesy of the Department of Education

In one year, from 2017 to 2018, tobacco usage among American youth skyrocketed by almost 40 percent. The culprit? E-cigarettes. 

Adobe Stock

Low-income Americans are dying at a higher rate than high-income Americans. In fact, the life span of low-income Americans is becoming shorter – a trend largely attributed drug and alcohol related deaths, which has been called deaths of despair.

“The least well-off Americans have seen their wages become stagnant, their jobs become obsolete, their neighborhoods crumbling in various ways. And so there’s a thought that that leads to despair for less educated Americans and they turn to drugs or suicide,” explained University of Michigan professor Arline Geronimus.

Adobe Stock

A new regional medical school campus is expected to launch next June in Charleston.

 

The initiative is a collaboration between the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine and Charleston Area Medical Center who announced the two organizations had signed a letter of intent earlier this week.

 

Charleston Area Medical Center is providing space for the campus, including use of its existing training facilities, according to a press release.

 

Adobe Stock

Over the past 30 years, the annual Kids County Data Book has been tracking things like low birth-weight babies, children in poverty and young children not in school. Researchers track if states do better, worse or the same among 16 markers of health, education, economic well-being and family life.

The new report, released this week, found that from 2016 to 2017, West Virginia improved on 10 of the 16 markers and did worse on 6. Nationally, America saw improvements on 11 of the 16 markers.

Adobe Stock

In the United States, breastfeeding rates are lower among low-income women and higher among high-income women. This is despite research that shows breastfeeding can provide lifelong health benefits to a baby and potentially save new parents money.

Andrea Reedy is one of nine children. Her mother breastfed Andrea and the rest of them. So when Reedy got pregnant, she wanted to breastfeed too.

“It was just kind of something that I knew was there, knew I was capable of, because I had that example,” she said.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months after birth, says the American Academy of Pediatrics, citing research that says breastfeeding is healthy for infants. It protects against diseases, obesity and stomach issues, helps the mother lose weight, and decreases risk of some cancers. But although breastfeeding is “natural,” for many women, it’s not “easy.”

When Emma Pepper got pregnant, she was totally on board with breastfeeding -- until her son was born.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting

West Virginia officials and the U.S. Department of Justice announced they’ve reached a settlement after an investigation found West Virginia to be violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The state was found to have too many children with serious emotional or behavioral disorders in out-of-state residential facilities. The settlement will bring those children in state over the next five years.

At a press conference, officials called the agreement “landmark” and said that it will affect generations to come.

Kara Lofton/ West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Across most of central Appalachia, the population is declining as young people leave to find work. Those who stay, are rapidly aging. In West Virginia, for instance, about 16 percent of the population is 65 or older, according to a Department of Health and Human Resources report. Seniors are expected to be about a quarter of the total population by 2030. 


Photo courtesy of Lauren Headley

The United States has some of the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world -- and unlike most other first-world countries, our rates are going in the wrong direction.

American women are three times more likely to die during or after birth than women in Great Britain and eight times more likely than women in Scandinavian countries.

Adobe Stock

A California advocacy organization is trying to reinvent America’s approach to children’s mental health. The idea is to remove mental health care from the traditional medical system and instead integrate resilience and community supports into the very fabric of society.

 

Adobe Stock

A new study found that very few patients at high risk of an opioid overdose are being prescribed the opioid reversal drug Naloxone when seen in a health care setting.

Adobe Stock

Direct care providers work with some of our most vulnerable citizens, such as the elderly and people with disabilities. But recruiting and retaining quality caregivers like Taylor Reynolds is becoming increasingly difficult in West Virginia.

Reynolds has been working as a caregiver for people who have severe Autism for five years and says she loves her job at a care provider called Autism Services. But three years ago, she went back to school to prepare for different work.

Adobe Stock

A new study found that when pregnant moms quit smoking during pregnancy – especially early in pregnancy – their babies are less likely to be born preterm.

Adobe Stock

West Virginia youth who need intensive non-family residential treatment have traditionally been served out of state. Now, the West Virginia Bureau for Children and Families will try and move some of those kids back in state to comply with new federal regulations.

In February, President Donald Trump signed the Family First Prevention Services Act, which included major reforms for child welfare. The legislation is essentially designed to help keep kids with their families or in a family-like setting.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

For families struggling with Alzheimer’s in Appalachia, the road can be lonely and long. Alzheimer’s is a brain disease that is the most common cause of dementia in older adults. Patients with the disease can live as long as 20 years after diagnosis.

Adobe Stock

A new study found that from 2015 to 2017, the number of fentanyl-related deaths rose sharply while deaths involving prescription opioids began to decline.

Adobe Stock

Birth control has been covered by insurance since the Affordable Care Act took effect, but states like West Virginia still have high numbers of unintended pregnancies. So in the 2019 legislative session, West Virginia lawmakers passed a bill that will allow pharmacists to distribute birth control without a prescription from a doctor’s office.

 

 

The idea behind the legislation was simple – reduce the barriers to birth control and the number of unintended pregnancies might fall.

Adobe Stock

A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report examined a 2018 outbreak of Hepatitis A in West Virginia associated with drug use and homelessness.

Between January 1 and August 28, 2018, the Kanawha Charleston Health Department identified 664 cases of Hepatitis A. In August of 2018, the West Virginia Bureau of Public Health requested assistance from the CDC to deal with the outbreak. According to the report, the majority of patients testing positive for the disease reported current or past illicit drug use.

Adobe Stock

A new study has found visits to rural emergency departments increased by more than 50 percent from 2005 to 2016 with the most dramatic usage changes among non-Hispanic white patients, Medicaid beneficiaries and those without insurance. This increase is putting more pressure on already strained safety-net hospitals.

Researchers found the increase may be, at least in part, due to an increase in patients using the emergency department for illnesses that require less care or those that are chronic in nature.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

At the 11th annual Brain Expo, Marshall University sophomore Katie Ghiz is showing fourth graders a video to test how well they pay attention.

You might have seen the video before – in it, six people – three in white shirts, three in dark shirts, pass a basketball. The viewers have to count how many times the people in the white shirt pass the ball.

In the next installment of our occasional series Windows into Health Care, health reporter Kara Lofton spoke with hospice nurse Lori Carter. Carter has been a hospice nurse for 20 years. She said for her and for many of the hospice nurses she knows, the work is a calling. She said some of what she does is straight-up nursing -- managing pain, dressing wounds, and addressing symptoms of end-stage disease. But the most subtle part of the job is helping families navigate one of the most intimate and emotional times of their lives.

Adobe Stock

A West Virginia program designed to reduce infant mortality has received almost 5.5 million dollars in continued federal funding for the next five years.

The Healthy Start Appalachian Parents and Infants Project aims to reduce preterm labor and low birth weight babies by focusing on improving health for women and families. Initiatives include screening and counseling for depression, alcohol, tobacco and other drug use, breastfeeding support, and parenting support.

Adobe Stock

WVU Prevention Research Center is one of 25 academic instutitions to receive five years of funding for public health prevention research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers will use the grant to develop youth substance abuse prevention programs in two West Virginia counties based on an Icelandic model.

Adobe Stock

The National Institutes of Health has begun a clinical trial on a drug designed to treat cravings associated with opioid use disorder. 

There are a handful of drugs already on the market that are commonly used to treat OUD such as methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone. But these are either synthetic opioids or have little impact on cravings specifically. The new drug, if successful, will focus on targeting the cravings felt by some patients who have OUD – and hopefully help them maintain sobriety.

Pages