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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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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West Virginia University researchers have found that suicide rates are higher among some Medicaid-insured youth than those with private insurance. 

 

The researchers analyzed suicide trends among 10-to-18-year-olds in 16 states. They found that the suicide rate for Medicaid-insured youth ages 10-to-14 of both sexes was higher than in non-Medicaid youth.

 

Lead researcher Dr. John Campo said the difference may be because kids in the Medicaid population may be exposed to more trauma than wealthier peers. Trauma is associated with suicide risk.

 

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Hollywood tells us that love stories are about the beginning -- catching an eye across a crowded room, a first date, a dramatic proposal. We see little, if anything, after the fairytale wedding. But for many, the greatest testament to love is not the first moments, but the last.

And, for some of us, navigating the last moments means asking for help.

United for Medical Research

In its proposed budget released this week, the Trump administration called for big cuts to national medical and science funding institutions. In response, a medical research advocacy organization has published a brief on the impact of National Institutes of Health funding.

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Kentucky may become the 34th state to license certified professional midwives after the State House of Representatives voted 96-1 on a bill to establish a state license. 

Certified Professional Midwife is a credential developed by the North American Registry of Midwives. These midwives aren’t nurses or doctors but do have specific training, clinicals and must pass an exam in order to obtain licensure. They specialize in providing maternity care for women wanting to give birth at home and in birthing centers.

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Three WVU researchers surveyed more than 2200 teachers in 49 counties on how the opioid crisis has impacted classrooms.

Courtesy of Faith in Action

Caring for loved ones as they age can be incredibly demanding. It can also leave the caregiver feeling forsaken by society -- especially as families move away from the home base, leaving fewer people to share responsibilities.

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Researchers at West Virginia University Cancer Institute are studying whether a blood test could detect colorectal cancer.

According to a press release, the first of its kind blood test looks for an abnormal gene associated with colorectal cancer. If the gene is detected after the screening test, a healthcare provider would recommend the patient for a colonoscopy. Colonoscopies are semi-invasive procedures used to diagnose and treat precancerous tumors or early cancer.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Cheryl Powell lives in senior housing in Nitro. She’s  63 years old and has been receiving Meals on Wheels for a couple of years.

 

“Because I’ve had strokes and different things wrong with my body,” she explained.  

After her strokes, Powell really couldn’t get out to grocery shop. Or go anywhere for that matter.

“I’m blind in this eye and I’m getting cataracts in this one, so it’s hard,” she said.

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Four rural West Virginia community health centers will be awarded about 14 million dollars from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The awards are split between Community Health Systems, Community Care of West Virginia, New River Health Association and Shenandoah Valley Medical System. Each health center has multiple locations, spreading across most of the state.

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Several studies have shown that being exposed to light at night can throw off our biological rhythms. A WVU neuroscientist is now exploring whether limiting exposure to light at night may be a new way to treat weight gain.

Randy Nelson, chair of the Department of Neuroscience at the West Virginia University School of Medicine, found that exposure to light, even in small doses like a nightlight, can cause weight gain in animal models.

KaraLofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

This story is part of an ongoing series examining aging in Appalachia. You can read more here.

As we grow old, many of us will find we need help with everyday tasks, like cooking, cleaning and bathing.

In West Virginia, there are few programs that can help, and those that do serve the state’s aging population are overburdened -- with waitlists that can stretch months or years -- or require applicants to qualify for Medicaid.

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A new study has found that Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act led to a profound impact on diagnosis and survival rates of colorectal cancer in parts of Appalachia.

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The percentage of West Virginia adults aged 60 and older is growing more rapidly than any other part of the population.  And most of them, like 91-year-old Paige Omohundro, want to stay home as they age.

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From 2013-2017, the average annual health care spending for individuals with employer-sponsored insurance increased almost 17 percent nationwide. But some states felt the burden more than others. West Virginians with employer sponsored insurance, now have the highest per person spending. But it’s not that people are using health care more, it’s that the price is going up.

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More than 300 West Virginians on Medicaid overdosed between 2014 and 2016. Researchers from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health wanted to see what kind of care those people got afterward.

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