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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Prenatal exposure to alcohol, even in low doses, may cause a wide spectrum of major problems in fetal brain development, a new study found.

Researchers studying mice found that alcohol exposure during pregnancy can cause a wide and unpredictable range of deficits in fetuses. They think this might be due to differences in how fetal brain cells try to protect against alcohol and other toxins.

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The cost of treating hepatitis C has dropped some in the past year or so. But price – drugs can list around 100,000 for a course – is still a barrier and can put a big burden on insurance programs like Medicaid, which has to make tough decisions about who qualifies for the lifesaving drugs.

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West Virginia has joined Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico and the District of Columbia in an antitrust lawsuit against six drug manufacturers.

The defendants in the multistate case are accused of violating antitrust laws, including the West Virginia Antitrust Act. The Act outlaws contracts or conspiracies that might fix, control or maintain market prices of any commodity or service.

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Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have tried to figure out why patients with diabetes have higher rates of hospitalization and readmission than the rest of the population and what can be done to prevent it.  

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West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin and fifteen other U.S. Senators sent a letter to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency yesterday urging them to further lower the amount of opioids manufacturers are allowed to produce in 2018.

The letter calls specifically for reducing opioid quotas, which are the legal amount of opioids drug companies are allowed to manufacture in the U.S.

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Nimish Metha has been a pediatric emergency medicine doctor at Women and Children’s Hospital in Charleston for more than 16 years. Kara Lofton talked with Metha about what it’s like to work in the ER, what items he wouldn’t have in his own home after seeing children come into the hospital with injuries and how he’s seen the opioid epidemic impact the pediatric population.

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Researchers at Stanford University have tracked physical activity by country in the largest study on human movement to date. The study used step data from anonymous smart phone users in more than 100 countries.

The study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health, followed a 2012 estimate published in the Lancet that more than 5 million people die each year from causes related to inactivity.

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Invasive pneumonia may impact life expectancy by up to ten years, according to a study from Marshall University school of medicine.

The study found that patients who recover from the most severe form of invasive pneumonia, called pneumococcal pneumonia, live on average ten years less than those who didn’t get the disease.

Pneumococcal disease is caused by a type of bacteria that infects the lungs and can potentially spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders held two health care rallies yesterday in Covington, Kentucky and Morgantown, West Virginia, telling attendees to put pressure on their state representatives to vote against the GOP health care plans. Kara Lofton spoke with Sanders about his visits and what he thinks the proposed legislation would mean for Appalachia. 

WVU Medicine

WVU Medicine Children’s has established a pediatric craniofacial center that will provide plastic and oral surgery, counseling and social work for kids with skull and face abnormalities such as a cleft lip or palate. The center is the first of its kind in the state.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

A vote on the Republican plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act has been put on hold after several Republican Senators, including West Virginia's Shelley Moore Capito, have publicly said they cannot support it. Nationally, opposition for the bill continues to mount as more and more groups release reports about the negative impacts the current bill could have on access to treatment in rural areas, like much of West Virginia.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

As the opioid epidemic continues to devastate lives throughout Appalachia, health officials are reporting a spike in “second wave” epidemics like Hepatitis C. One way to combat the epidemic may be more needle exchange programs like the one at the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.

Once a month, Jeff Crist, an employee of the free clinic West Virginia Health Right, goes there to gently waylay participants as they walk in.

“Would you like to get tested for hep. C today?” he asks patients over and over again.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Six West Virginians held a sit-in at Senator Shelley Moore Capito’s office in Charleston yesterday saying they wouldn’t leave until she votes against the Senate bill to replace the Affordable Care Act. The group was peacefully arrested around 5pm.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

This week, the U.S. Senate debuted their GOP health bill, a plan that includes deep cuts to Medicaid. These cuts would have dramatic impacts on hospital finances in every state, according to an analysis released this morning by the Commonwealth Fund, particularly in Medicaid expansion states like West Virginia.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Last year, Richwood Middle and High School were damaged beyond repair in historic flooding and the schools moved into temporary spaces for the 2016-’17 school year.

But when the schools moved, the kids didn’t just lose their buildings, they also lost their school-based health center. Now  a bureaucratic quagmire may prevent the middle school families from having a center next year.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Analysis released this week found West Virginia could be one the most negatively impacted states in the country if Congress passes the House health care bill to replace the Affordable Care Act.  The health policy think tank Kaiser Family Foundation reports reductions in Medicaid or block grant financing would be especially harmful to communities in West Virginia and ten other states.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

West Virginia University Medicine is taking a closer look at a little-known approach to cancer treatment called narrative medicine with the aim of improving the treatment experience for doctors and patients alike.

The idea with narrative medicine is that if doctors get to know patients through their life stories, the physicians will be able to improve their ability to care for their patients, beyond simply managing symptoms.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Two major non-partisan research groups released a study this week about the impact of Medicaid on children, families and communities in small-town, rural America.

“For the country as a whole we found that the role of Medicaid and CHIP in reducing the rate of insurance for kids and adults is even more important in rural areas and small towns,” said Joan Alker during a press conference at Riverside High School in Belle. “It’s disproportionately important to these communities.”

Photo illustration courtesy Kentucky Hospital Association

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a report Tuesday, June 6, saying the GOP House health bill would negatively impact Medicaid expansion by shifting costs to states -- a move the CBPP said would harm millions, regardless of timing.

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Last year we ran a story about the shortage of geriatricians in West Virginia. In it, we featured Todd Goldberg, the only full-time geriatrician in Charleston and head of the West Virginia University geriatrics fellowship program.

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