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

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Update: This story originally aired on NPR on June 26. Since then 10 counties have been declared federal disaster areas and the state of emergency has been lifted for 32. The death count has been updated to 23.

Marsha Larch lived in the same Clendenin, West Virginia, home for 50 years – ever since she got married at the age of 16.

“And I never seen water like this before in my life,” she said.

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At least three cases of illness due to carbon monoxide poisoning have been confirmed following the West Virginia floods. Here’s what happened:

After the floods, entire towns lost power for days. Some areas continue to experience widespread power outages. To bridge the gap, many residents turned to gas generators, gas or charcoal grills and camp stoves. But when used in an enclosed space or near an open window, these items can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The two tents set up in a grocery store parking lot in Clendenin were overflowing with people waiting for tetanus vaccines Tuesday afternoon. A shipment of about 1,000 had been promised from out of state, but the FedEx truck holding them was held up in Memphis. Health Right, a free clinic based in Charleston, had about 50 to offer.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

As of Saturday afternoon, 23 fatalities related to the flooding have been confirmed by state emergency officials after storms rolled into West Virginia early Thursday. Thousands were left without power and several roads rendered impassable.

WVPB's Kara Lofton traveled to northern Kanawha County Saturday and took these images of the flooding damage. For complete coverage of the storms and flooding, follow our ongoing coverage here.

Heavy rains cause the ground to collapse underneath the Main Street Motors office building in Richwood, WV.
Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

As many as five fatalities related to the flooding were reported as of midday Friday after storms rolled into West Virginia early Thursday. Thousands were left without power and several roads rendered impassable.

WVPB's Kara Lofton travelled to Richwood on Thursday evening and took these images of the flooding damage. For complete coverage of the storms and flooding, follow our ongoing coverage here.

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10 Federally Qualified Health Care Centers have joined to form a new Accountable Care Organization (ACO). The initiative hopes to improve access to care to underserved communities in West Virginia by changing the way physicians get paid.

Traditionally physicians operated on a fee for service model (the more patients you see the more money you make). Now, advocates are hoping for a patient outcomes model (the better your patient does the more money you make).

Kara Lofton / WV Public Broadcasting

At the emergency room at Preston Memorial Hospital, nurses are wheeling 47-year-old John Shaffer to an imaging room. He’s been having chest pains and trouble breathing.

“I went to my family doctor first and they did an EKG and then I came here,” he said. The distance between his doctor’s office and the hospital is about ten miles. The next closest hospital is close to an hour away – a distance not unheard of in rural Appalachia.

Recent research shows almost a third of Appalachia’s rural hospitals are vulnerable to closure, though.

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The West Virginia office of Rural Health will receive nearly $200,000 in federal funding intended to help workforce development and provider placement in rural, underserved areas.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin said in a press release Thursday he hopes the grant will improve access to healthcare for rural communities throughout West Virginia.

According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, it would take 25 percent more providers than are currently available in West Virginia to meet the state’s rural healthcare needs.

1 in 3 Campaign via Facebook

A national reproductive health advocacy group is stopping in Charleston today to increase local conversation about abortion.

One in three women have an abortion in their lifetime, according to the group Advocates for Youth who is hosting a campaign by the same name.

Charleston its sixth stop on the 1 in 3 Campaign is nationwide tour. The tour includes stops in states with some of the strictest abortion laws in the country.

West Virginia advocates will gather tonight at the union building at 9 and at the Capitol at 10 after Live at the Levee to host a lightshow.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Jennings Harrison worked in a coal mine for 36 years, over which time he accumulated back problems, neck problems, carpal tunnel in his wrist and precancerous nodules on his lungs.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Today marked the ribbon cutting ceremony for a pulmonary rehabilitation center in Lincoln County. Named after Grace Anne Dorney – a COPD patient and wife of longtime Nightline anchor Ted Koppel – the new clinic will provide exercise, education and support to help patients learn to breathe better.

Advocates for the program call it “life changing” and working to open new centers around the state.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, affects more than 10 percent of West Virginians. It is the third leading cause of death in the United States.

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In October 2014, Aila Accad’s 35-year-old son passed away in a West Virginia intensive care unit.

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West Virginia is one of the unhealthiest states in the country. The grassroots community health organization Try This West Virginia is hoping to change those statistics from the ground up.

Try This is having its third annual conference at West Virginia Wesleyan this weekend. The event includes breakout sessions, speakers and mingling opportunities for residents dedicated to turning around West Virginia’s health statistics. 

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Earlier this week the Charleston Gazette-Mail published an investigative report about “pill mills” in southern West Virginia. These are pharmacies that accept and distribute extraordinarily large numbers of prescription painkillers. Some of the doctors who have sent patients to these pharmacies have since been indicted on federal charges related to drug trafficking and abuse.

Kara Lofton sat down with Gazette-Mail reporter Eric Eyre to talk about the current lawsuit surrounding the pharmacies and how they have fueled West Virginia’s drug epidemic.

WVU Medicine

WVU Medicine Trauma Center has acquired a computer simulator that mimics driving distracted or under the influence of alcohol. The device is designed for youth ages 14-21 and will be used in collaboration with an existing initiative “Trauma Nurses Talk Tough.”

A $5,000 State Farm Insurance grant and a network of sponsors funded the $11,000 purchase. The simulator has debuted at Morgantown high school and will be taken to other high schools, health fairs, universities and public events.

 
 

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A new 22-bed orthopaedic hospital is opening on a floor of Ruby Memorial as part of an effort to meet growing demand for complex orthopaedic care in the region. Existing outpatient orthopaedic clinics will continue to provide services.

The new WVU Medicine facility will provide hip or knee replacement, and orthopaedic procedures for traumatic injuries, metabolic bone disorders, musculoskeletal oncology, spine, joint degeneration, cartilage regeneration, sports injuries, ankle arthroplasty, and hand and shoulder disorders among other things, according to a press release.

Kara Lofton / WV Public Broadcasting

As part of an effort to change students' perspectives about using food as medicine, medical students at WVU Charleston took a cooking class yesterday.

“One of the things that we talked about is probably 70 percent of the adults that they'll see in the clinics have some form of metabolic disease that is directly related to nutritional status,” said Doctor Rosemarie Lorenzetti, a professor of family medicine at West Virginia University Medical School. The class was co-led by Lorenzetti and CAMC Executive Chef Bill Dodson.

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In 2013, Governor Tomblin chose to expand the state’s Medicaid program, providing healthcare coverage for 150,000 more West Virginians. Up until this point, Medicaid expansion has had no impact on the state’s budget.

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If you are a healthcare provider in West Virginia today – a dentist, doctor, counselor, therapist – and a Medicaid patient comes into your office for treatment, you might not get paid for seeing them. Or the payment will be delayed for…well you don’t actually know how long the payment will be delayed.

This is all due to the state budget crisis.

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Mangus Manske

Legislation designed to support babies born addicted to drugs passed unanimously in the United States House Of Representatives yesterday.

The bill is called The Nurturing and Supporting Healthy Babies Act. It was introduced by West Virginia U.S. representative Evan Jenkins. It is designed specifically to help babies who have neonatal abstinence syndrome, also known as NAS.

www.wvuniversityhealthcare.com

Jefferson Medical Center in Ranson has been designated one of the top 100 critical access hospitals in the country according to a new study.

The study compared factors such as outcomes, quality and cost in rural and critical access hospitals across the country. Just one West Virginia hospital came out as a top performer nationwide. Meanwhile 12 West Virginia Hospitals are doing so poorly that they are vulnerable for closure.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

At Edgewood Summit retirement community in Charleston, 93-year-old Mary Mullens is waxing eloquent about her geriatrician.

“Poor old doctor Goldberg…There’s only so much a person can do, and he sure got a lot to do and does it so well,” she said.

Todd Goldberg is one of just 36 geriatricians in West Virginia, according to the American Geriatrics Society. The state needs more than four times that many.

“With the growing elderly population across America and West Virginia, obviously we need healthcare providers,” said Goldberg.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

In a tiny basement living room in southwestern Virginia, two women and their husbands listen to Joanna Davis talk about what might go wrong during their births.

“So this is an Ambu bag, and if your baby was in trouble and needed help breathing this is what we would use,” she begins.

Davis is a home birth midwife based in southwestern Virginia, but serves a significant swath of central Appalachia. Several months ago, she held a birthing class for two families interested in using her services.

Kara Lofton / WVPB

At a federal prison in Morgantown, Jeff Marrero is working with his service dog Biley on how to close doors. The golden retriever walks over to the door, tugs the thick rope wrapped around the door knob and pulls it closed.

Breast, Breast Cancer, Cancer, surgery, pink, pink ribbon
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The West Virginia cancer coalition Mountains of Hope released a five-year strategic plan for reducing the impact of cancer the state. Its goal is to create a centralized framework that collaborating health care practitioners, policymakers and advocates can follow to reduce cancer rates in the state.

www.medscape.com

A team of West Virginia scientists have made a breakthrough in cancer research that could improve the results patients see from lung cancer treatments.

Scientists from the West Virginia University Cancer Institute and the Morgantown-based bio-analytic technology company Protea say they've identified changes that occur at the molecular level in lung cancer cells. Those changes may make the cells resistant to cancer-fighting drugs, something researchers say can be a common problem among cancer patients.

http://wvconnectingcommunities.com/ / WV Connecting Communities

Despite the emphasis in West Virginia on the state's natural beauty and abundant opportunities to take in the outdoors, West Virginia is not considered a bike friendly state, according to the League of American Bicyclists. 

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West Virginia health and research organizations have partnered to increase access to specialty treatment for Hepatitis-C in rural and underserved areas through telemedicine. A kickoff event for the project will be held today at The West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute in Morgantown.

The idea behind the project – named ECHO, or Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes – is to increase patients' access to specialists without having to physically leave their local communities.  It is a national model.

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West Virginia launches its first inpatient substance abuse treatment program in a regional jail today. The 28-bed unit will serve male inmates at the Southwestern Regional Jail in Logan County who are awaiting transfer to prison.

The Logan County program is the ninth treatment facility overseen by the state's Division of Corrections, but the first at a regional jail.

Kara Lofton / WVPB

Thousands of autistic children in West Virginia find themselves stuck on treatment wait lists for years, missing their best chances for improvement as 2- and 3-year-olds.

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