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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As of Thursday morning, March 26, Sundale Nursing Home in Morgantown has 28 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and is being called “ground zero” for the outbreak in West Virginia.

 

Health reporter Kara Lofton spoke with Dr. Lee Smith, executive director and county health officer for the Monongalia County Health Department, who has been helping coordinate the response to the outbreak.

Gov. Jim Justice gives an update on coronavirus response and alerts in a virtual briefing with media and citizens on March 24, 2020.
WV Governor's Office

In Gov. Jim Justice’s daily briefing on the coronavirus, he announced three more residents and several nursing home staffers have tested positive for the disease. 

In an interview with WV MetroNews earlier Tuesday, the governor said he isn’t sure how coronavirus got into the Sundale nursing home in Morgantown, but that the instance of community transmission is "worrisome."

Office of Gov. Jim Justice


Gov. Jim Justice issued a “stay home” order Monday and shut down all nonessential businesses, including cabins and restrooms at state parks. State and local park trails will stay open as well as golf courses. 

Gov. Jim Justice held a statewide address Saturday, urging West Virginians to take the coronavirus seriously, stay home and take care of the elderly. The governor announced the number of confirmed cases in the state is now 12 but the address did not include any other major updates.

West Virginia University

Work is underway in West Virginia to develop tests for coronavirus. 

Clay Marsh, WVU Health Sciences Vice President and Executive Dean, said several entities, including WVU, are in the process of developing their own test for the disease. 

“We’re not necessarily trying to replace anybody,” he said. “We’re just trying to add to the ability to test more people, more quickly.” 

Elementary Classroom
Douglaspperkins / Wikimedia Commons

Updated March 15, 2020 at 9:00 p.m.

 

Although no cases of the novel coronavirus have been found in West Virginia yet, Gov. Jim Justice announced Friday, March 13, all West Virginia schools are to close on Monday as a precaution. 

 

WV Governor's Office

Only a handful of states have no reported coronavirus cases to date, one of which is West Virginia. Gov. Jim Justice held a press conference Thursday to talk about the state’s plan to prepare. 

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Mon Health has announced they hope to build a small format hospital in the Fairmont Region. The much smaller facility would replace Fairmont Regional, which announced it was closing late last month. 

According to a Tuesday press release, Mon Health will seek a certificate of need to build a small format hospital in the Fairmont Region. A certificate of need is required by many states, including West Virginia to build new health care facilities. 

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The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources now has the capacity to test for coronavirus in-state. Prior to this point, tests had to be sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

In a press release, Governor Jim Justice said this will allow the state to respond faster to contain the disease if needed. Commissioner of public health Dr. Catherine Slemp said they expect commercial testing will soon be available, but the DHHR is working to make sure results are reported to the state so officials can keep accurate surveillance.

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In the light of the spread of coronavirus abroad, Marshall University has announced it will cancel all university-sponsored international travel for at least the next 10 days. The announcement was made in response to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and in consultation with the university’s chief medical officer, according to a press release. 

West Virginia University

West Virginia University has launched a website dedicated to information about coronavirus. It includes the university’s response plan for the university community if the virus were to spread to West Virginia as well as information for the general public, including two informational videos.

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County and city agencies met Monday at the Kanawha Charleston Health Department to work out a plan if the Coronavirus were to come to West Virginia. 

The meeting was closed to the public, but afterward health officer Dr. Sherri Young spoke with the press. She said the discussions centered around where is the disease now, what do they need to do to keep the public healthy and what public health agencies need to do to prepare if COVID-19 spreads to West Virginia. 

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This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

 

As coronavirus continues to spread in the United States, people are starting to wonder -- how at risk am I? Health reporter Kara Lofton spoke with Dr. Jennifer Horney, an epidemiologist at the University of Delaware, about what we know about coronavirus so far and what we might be able to expect.

 

 

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Two West Virginia state agencies have partnered to offer free transportation to treatment and recovery care services for people with Opioid Use Disorder. 

As of March 2nd, individuals with opioid use disorder will have access to a free ride from the West Virginia Public Transportation Association to treatment. The new initiative is part of the state Opioid Response Grant from the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 

Photo illustration courtesy Kentucky Hospital Association

This month Fairmont Regional Hospital announced it was closing its doors. It's the fourth Appalachian hospital to do so in the last six months. Health Reporter Kara Lofton spoke with West Virginia Hospital Association President Joe Letnaunchyn about why so many rural hospitals are struggling and what he sees as possible solutions.


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Charleston Area Medical Center has announced it will be collaborating with Greenbrier Valley Medical Center in Greenbrier County and Plateau Medical Center in Fayette County to improve access to advanced care specialists at CMAC. According to a press release, the first initiative will be tele-cardiology support.

Fairmont Regional Medical Center via Facebook

This is a developing story and will be updated. 

 

In an internal memo to employees, Fairmont Regional Medical Center announced today, Feb. 18,  it will be closing citing financial difficulties. 

 

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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.

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