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

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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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. 

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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
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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. 

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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