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 new study from Duke Medical Center has found that just three days a week of moderate aerobic exercise may improve thinking skills in older adults with cognitive impairments.

 

 

 

The study looked at older adults who were having trouble concentrating, making decisions or remembering -- but didn’t have severe enough symptoms to be diagnosed with dementia.

 

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A new study from the West Virginia University School of Nursing suggests that loneliness may be making it harder for middle-aged Appalachians to manage chronic health conditions.

The study looked at 90 Appalachians ages 45-64, each with at least one chronic illness, such as diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure. Using surveys, researchers tracked how lonely or socially supported participants were and then measured levels of anger, depression and how those related to their physical and mental health.

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A new study has found that cardiology patients with opioid use disorders have more complications, longer hospital stays and costlier surgeries.

The study looked at 5.7 million patients who underwent cardiac surgery and compared outcomes of those who had opioid use disorders and those who didn’t. While there wasn’t a significant difference the rate of death between the two groups, patients with opioid use disorders had more complications, longer length of stay in the hospital and higher costs.

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Results from a new small study found that more than one in four patients report underusing prescribed insulin because of the high cost of the drug.

At a diabetes center at Yale, Researchers surveyed around 200 patients with type 1 or 2 diabetes. They asked six variations on the questions – do you ever used less insulin than prescribed or don’t take insulin because of cost. They found that a quarter of patients reported using less insulin than they needed because of the high cost of the drug.  

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When the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department closed its harm reduction programs, one of the biggest criticisms of the program was that it led to an increase in crime, vagrancy and homelessness. Those claims are not without merit.

 

 


Ashton Marra

Current best practices for harm reduction programs include a couple provisions: No retractable needles should be distributed, patients should get as many needles as possible regardless of how many they bring back, and barriers to accessing needles should be as low as possible. But sometimes those recommendations are at odds with community acceptance for the practices.

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Less than two years after it began, the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department shut down it’s harm reduction program. Among other things, the program provided thousands of clean needles to drug users with the goal of reducing needle borne diseases, but faced significant pushback from some in the community.  

Todd Huffman via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

Best practices for harm reduction programs call for flooding a community with clean hypodermic syringes. Research shows that in addition to reducing the prevalence of blood-borne pathogens in the community, well-run programs help remove potentially infectious syringes from the community. But some people say that wasn’t happening in Charleston.


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In December  2015, with support from the city of Charleston, the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department launched a harm-reduction program that included a needle exchange. The primary goal was to reduce the risk of diseases commonly spread by sharing needles.

Kyle Mandler

West Virginia's youth obesity rates have soared over the years, and a new report found that more than 35 percent of teens here are overweight or obese. A new statewide youth development organization is trying to address the problem, and teach resilience, by encouraging kids to enjoy their native hills -- on a mountain bike.

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West Virginia is in crisis. As the opioid epidemic grows, we are producing a generation of children impacted by addiction. In October of 2018, more than 6600 children were in the foster care system. And as of May 2018, 83% of open child abuse/neglect cases involved drugs.

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U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart announced Thursday a takedown of drug traffickers in Parkersburg that resulted in the seizure of more than 150 pounds of methamphetamine and 4 pounds of heroin. Officials say this is the largest seizure of methamphetamine in West Virginia’s history.

Stuart said the takedown resulted in the dismantling of a multi-state drug trafficking organization that was distributing meth and heroin in Parkersburg.

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West Virginia University has been awarded 11.2 million dollars to establish a center that focuses on what might make a tumor more likely to grow.

The National Institutes of Medicine awarded WVU a five-year grant to study microenvironments surrounding tumors. The idea is that just as a plant is likely to grow in a sunny garden, a benign tumor may be more likely to grow or become cancerous if its surroundings are primed for growth.

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Research from West Virginia University School of Medicine suggests that if teenagers vape into adulthood, the cardiovascular effects may be as bad as if they’d smoked cigarettes.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting

After a recent round table discussion about West Virginia Kids Health as it relates to the opioid epidemic, Harrison County prosecuting attorney Rachel Romano spoke with Kara Lofton about her work, the juvenile justice system and potential solutions for keeping West Virginia’s kids out of the court. 

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The health research organization The Commonwealth Fund released state fact sheets this week showing changes over time in the percentage of uninsured adults, and enrollment in marketplace plans and Medicaid, among other things. 

The report outlined the changes to health care coverage and access since the inception of the Affordable Care Act.

In West Virginia, the number of uninsured adults went from 23 percent in 2010, to 9 percent in 2017. For the same time period, the number of adults who went without care because of cost fell from 24 to 18 percent.

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An epidemiology professor at West Virginia University School of Public Health is studying the potential benefits of simple meditation or music listening for improving memory and cognitive functioning in adults exhibiting warning signs for Alzheimer’s.

Warnings sign for Alzheimer’s can include losing one’s train of thought, forgetting the content of a movie soon after the credits roll and feeling overwhelmed when making plans or coordinating events.

The infectious liver disease hepatitis A has hit Appalachia hard during the past several months. But your risk of contracting the disease depends on several factors.  

“So it’s very important to understand that there are certain groups of people that are at increased risk, as opposed to the general population,” West Virginia commissioner of public health Rahul Gupta said.  

 


Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Rahul Gupta, MD has resigned from his post as commissioner and state health officer for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, effective Nov. 5. Gupta is moving to the March of Dimes as its senior vice president and chief medical and health officer.

Kara Lofton

Teachers gathered on the steps of the state Capitol Sunday to rally support for electoral candidates who say they will make “fixing” the Public Employee Insurance Agency a top priority.

Organizers hope to continue the momentum they built during the March teacher’s walkout. That action resulted in a 5 percent pay increase for WV teachers and other state employees. Now, they want to tackle PEIA.

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Despite improved state policies to prevent obesity, adult obesity rates now exceed 35 percent in seven states, according to a new analysis. West Virginia ranks number one for obesity and obesity-related diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.

In the annual Robert Wood Johnson State of Obesity report, researchers found West Virginia's adult obesity rate is currently about 38 percent, up from around 24 percent in 2000 and approximately 14 percent in 1990. The current rate is fairly stable from last year’s data.

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Antar Jutla is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at WVU. Jutla has been instrumental in developing a computer program that has helped predict and prevent the spread of cholera in war-torn Yemen. Kara Lofton spoke with Jutla about how super computers and data can impact the spread of waterborne diseases after both natural and manmade disasters.

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A West Virginia University researcher has been awarded a $13.3 million from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute to compare three treatment strategies for rural depressed patients.

Rates of depression tend to be higher in rural areas, and accessing treatment is more difficult.

WVU professor Robert Bossarte will compare three treatment options: prescribing antidepressants alone, antidepressants combined with unguided online cognitive behavior therapy, and antidepressants combined with guided online cognitive behavior therapy. 

Jesse Wright / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court began Tuesday, Sept. 4. Kavanaugh is considerably more conservative than the justice he would replace — a fact celebrated by the anti-abortion advocacy group the Susan B. Anthony List.

The organization has been touring several states during the past few weeks, urging democratic senators like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin to vote to confirm Kavanaugh.

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An analysis of 130 metropolitan areas found that Appalachia has some of the highest rates of pre-existing health conditions in the nation. The report comes in the midst of continued federal proposals to weaken pre-existing condition requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

Among other things, the ACA guaranteed people access to insurance regardless of how healthy they are. Prior to the ACA, insurance companies could decline to provide insurance to people with type two diabetes or cancer, for instance.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

For friends, Becka, Holly and Katie, findings spaces where they feel safe to speak, act and think the way they want can be hard to find.

 

 

Getting outdoors, often with one another or other female companions, is one place the can do that.

During a recent two-day backpacking trip in the Dolly Sods Wilderness in Tucker County, they recounted some of the freedoms they feel afforded in the wilderness.

 

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is stepping in to help the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health track data and investigate a 2018 Hepatitis A outbreak.

The DHHR reports that as of mid-August, West Virginia has had 975 cases of Hepatitis A in 2018. The majority of these cases have been in Kanawha followed by Putnam counties. Therefore, the CDC will focus its efforts in these areas as well.

President Donald Trump during a Charleston rally.
Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

President Donald Trump virtually ignored recent news of former fixer Michael Cohen's federal guilty plea Tuesday night during his latest visit to West Virginia, instead focusing on campaign staples like immigration.

Trump said voting for any democrat would result in eliminating immigration enforcement. If a democrat is elected he predicts they’ll “throw open our boarders and set loose vicious predators and violent criminals.”

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A new study found checking work email during nonwork hours may be detrimental to your health.

The report out of Virginia Tech found that when employers expect personnel to monitor work email after hours, the result was increased employee anxiety, which affected not only the worker themselves, but their families as well.

The study found that employees don’t actually need to spend time on work in their off hours to experience harmful effects – just the expectation of availability was enough to increase strain for employees and their significant other.

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If you are night owl struggling with your weight, you may want to consider becoming early bird instead. A new study has found people with prediabetes who have an “evening preference,” have a higher body mass index than those who do things earlier in the day.

 

Prediabetes is a condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not yet type 2 diabetes.

 

The study compared patients with prediabetes who go to bed, eat meals, and are more active and alert later in the day with those who do things earlier in the day. 

 

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