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

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The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources received a three million dollar grant to help the state combat opioid use disorder among pregnant and postpartum women. 

The grant will support a new initiative called the Maternal Opioid Model, which focuses on improving the quantity and quality of care available to new moms and their babies with Medicaid. West Virginia is one of 10 states to be awarded the five-year federal grant from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. 

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A new study has found that when grandparents were either the main caregiver or lived in the home with children, the children had a 30 percent increased risk in being overweight or obese. 

The authors reviewed 23 studies across the globe and found the risk seemed to be present no matter where in the world the child lived. 

The authors said grandparents can have a big influence on both daily diet -- for instance giving sweets and fried foods as a token of love or through physical activity -- being more likely to excuse a child from chores. 

WVU Photo/ Raymond Thompson Jr.

West Virginians from across the state may have an easier time getting active, thanks to a new project from West Virginia University that aims to increase or improve pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure.

Thirteen projects across the state are receiving grants of up to $5,000 from the WVU College of Physical Activity and Sports Science project, The Center for ActiveWV. The initiative launched in 2019 and aims to combat the state’s obesity epidemic through increased access to healthy foods and physical activity opportunities, according to a press release. 

Courtesy of the WV ACLU project Many Roads Home

In 1965, Charleston, West Virginia was home to about 85,000 residents — now, that number has almost halved. The people who are left look a lot like the population in the rest of the state — namely white and older. And as they age, those older folks need someone to care for them. But across the United States, there’s a direct care worker shortage. 

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A new policy brief from The Commonwealth Foundation has found that the United States spends nearly twice what other wealthy countries spend on health care, but has the lowest life expectancy and highest sucide rate.

The researchers pulled data collected by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and used it to compare American health care spending, outcomes, risk factors and quality to 10 other wealthy countries, including Australia, Germany, Norway and Canada. 

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West Virginia received an “F” grade in the annual American Lung Association’s ‘State of Tobacco Control’ Report. The report highlights state expenditure on tobacco cessation programs, taxes and resident access to cessation services.

 

 

The report calls on West Virginia lawmakers to enact policies such as an increased tobacco tax and more funding for state prevention programs.

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A new study has found that older adults with chronic health issues like heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder are much more likely to also have problems with memory loss. 

The researchers analyzed three years of data from an annual Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-assisted phone survey. All 50 states, the District of Columbia and several U.S. territories participated. 

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An Ashland, Kentucky, based hospital has announced it will be closing at the end of September, resulting in the loss of about 1,000 area jobs. 

Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital announced it will be closing in a press release earlier this week. 

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The West Virginia Office of Drug Control Policy announced the launch of a new online Overdose Data Dashboard that tracks drug overdoses across West Virginia.

The data is broken into sections -- suspected drug overdoses that emergency medical services responded to and hospital emergency room visits related to overdoses -- as well as by month and county.

Since January of last year, West Virginia emergency rooms have received more than 6,700 visits related to overdoses and EMS has responded to more than 6,600 suspected overdoses. 

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West Virginia has some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the country – especially for participants in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, more commonly known as WIC. But the Department of Health and Human Resources is working to change that, by providing WIC participants with an app that provides 24/7 breastfeeding support. 

The app is called Pacify and it connects users to International Board Certified Lactation Consultants to answer questions and concerns about breastfeeding.

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A new study has found that less than a third of American adolescents and young adults who experienced a nonfatal overdose were able to get addiction treatment within 30 days. 

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The University of Rochester Medical Center has been awarded a multi-million-dollar federal grant that will help fight the worst effects of the opioid in Appalachia.

The three-year, 6.7-million-dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will connect substance use disorder experts from the University of Rochester Recovery Center with local health care providers in 23 Appalachian counties. The counties span New York, Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

In Clay, downtown Main Street is maybe a half mile long.  Amid shuttered storefronts, the two most prominent stores are Family Dollar and the Dollar Tree. 

 

Like the rest of southern West Virginia, the opioid epidemic has hit Clay hard.

 

 

“I would venture to guess that every single student in this entire school has been affected by addiction in some way,” said Leslie Osborne, the school counselor.

100 Days in Appalachia

If you ask state departments, “Are there standards of care that all facilities treating opioid-dependent pregnant women have to follow?” The short answer is, “No, there are not exact protocols on how to do that,” said Dr. Connie White, deputy commissioner for the Kentucky Department of Public Health. 

“Like anyone that you treat with a substance use disorder, it’s very individualized.”

West Virginia University

In the late 1990s, the tobacco industry agreed to pay billions of dollars in fines to state governments to offset some of the medical costs associated with caring for the millions of Americans dealing with the effects of nicotine addiction. 

 

Inspired by the tobacco model, state and local governments came together in recent years to sue Purdue Pharma, manufacturer of the drug OxyContin, for its role in the opioid crisis. That lawsuit came to a tentative resolution Wednesday. 

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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced today that West Virginia will receive approximately 6 million dollars for the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program. 

The project originally launched in 2010. It currently serves every state in the union, as well as some territories and the District of Columbia. The goal is to help at-risk parents and families improve child and maternal health, prevent child abuse and neglect, and promote school readiness. 

 

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The community health center New River Health has partnered with Fayette County schools to offer a concussion-management protocol for athletes. 

The idea behind the protocol is to test high school athletes before they are injured so medical providers have a baseline on record. Then, if a concussion is suspected, the athlete is tested again to allow for a comparison between pre and post-concussion data. 

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Two rural hospitals in Appalachia -- one in Wheeling, one just across the river in Ohio -- announced they were closing in mid-August. 

 

 

 

Altogether, the closures will directly impact about 1,100 jobs. But, indirectly, it could affect the entire economy of the area. 

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice
WV Governor's Office

Gov. Jim Justice and WVU Medicine held a press conference today at Wheeling Hospital to announce preliminary plans to cover the health care and job gap left in the Northern Panhandle following the announcement of two hospital closures last month. 

 

WVU Medicine CEO Albert Wright said WVU-owned Reynolds Memorial Hospital had recently hired a handful of new physicians and plans to add 9-10 new exam rooms within its emergency department, which will allow the hospital to support an additional 15,000 patient visits per year.

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A new study has found that suicide is on the rise – especially in rural areas. 

Researchers from West Virginia and The Ohio State Universities looked a national suicide data over a 17-year period. They found that during that time, suicide rates jumped 41 percent with the highest rates in rural, low-income counties. West Virginia, for instance, has the 8th highest suicide rate in the nation.

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New West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources data suggests fatal drug overdose deaths might be leveling off or even decreasing slightly.

The preliminary data from 2018 suggests a 6 percent decline in overdose deaths from 2017, according to a press release.

Opioids are still the most common type of drugs seen in overdose deaths, with the most deaths coming from Fentanyl and heroin. 

Those numbers are decreasing, though. 

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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced more than 1.8 billion dollars in funding to states and territories for combating the opioid epidemic.

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Representatives from WVU and WVU Medicine say they are “very close” to announcing a solution to some of the job and health care losses projected in the northern panhandle after two hospitals announced they were closing earlier this month.

 

In an interview with WV Metro News Thursday, WVU President Gordon Gee said there are plans to expand on what WVU Medicine is already doing in the northern panhandle.

 

Corey Knollinger / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Earlier this month, two rural hospitals -- one in Wheeling, one just across the river in Ohio -- announced they were closing. Since then, stakeholders have been meeting to discuss strategies for maintaining at least some of the services the hospitals provided -- especially mental health care. Because in rural states like West Virginia, losing a facility doesn’t just impact the community but can have ripple effects across the state. 

 

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West Virginia has the highest rate of heart disease in the nation. But a new study has found eating healthy foods -- regardless of specific diet -- can help reduce the risk for heart disease. 

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Elderly women with breast cancer who are also battling anxiety, depression or other mental health conditions are more likely to use opioids and die, according to a new study. 

In a press release from the University of Virginia, the researchers said their findings point to a need for better mental health care for patients with breast cancer. And that physicians should consider alternative pain management techniques such as physical therapy, massage and acupuncture. 

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A new study has found that patients undergoing heart and lung surgery are almost twice as likely to develop an opioid dependence as patients undergoing general surgery. 

The study, published this month in the Annals of Thoracic Surgery, found that about 16 percent of patients who had lung surgery and 13 percent of patients who had heart surgery became persistent opioid users. 

Persistent opioid use describes someone who was not taking opioids before surgery, but continued to use the opioid prescription after physical recovery is complete.

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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.

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In the wake of mass shootings more public health officials are calling for gun violence to be treated as a public health concern. Health reporter Kara Lofton spoke with West Virginia University sociology professor and former police officer James Nolan about whether taking guns away or incarcerating more people would increase public safety. He argues reducing violence may be a matter of building stronger, more engaged communities. Here's part of that conversation.

 

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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. 

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