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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The free clinic West Virginia Health Right held a press conference yesterday (Wednesday) in Charleston in response to a newspaper article that lumped Health Right’s Needle exchange program in with the City of Charleston. Charleston’s needle exchange program recently came under fire from Charleston Mayor Danny Jones and Police Chief Steve Cooper due to an increase in the number of needles found in public places.

The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department launched a needle exchange program in 2015 to reduce the risk of exposure to HIV and hepatitis C.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

“We have a problem that’s bringing us to our knees,” said West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Cabinet Secretary Bill Crouch at a press event in Charleston. A representative from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration visited West Virginia Monday to announce an additional $330,000 of funding for opioid abuse prevention and treatment.

“The opioid problem and substance abuse problem affects virtually every family in West Virginia,” he continued.

WVU

The Center for Disease Control’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health released a study on the largest cluster of complicated black lung cases ever reported. Kara Lofton spoke with WVU School of Public Health physicians Carl Werntz and Anna Allen about the study and what it means for West Virginia.

ALLEN: We actually have been noticing this trend over the last, about 18 years, that it has been going back up. And I think this might have just been the study that captured it in a, in the big picture.

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A new study has found that women with high physical fitness at middle age were nearly 90 percent less likely to develop dementia decades later, compared to women who were moderately fit.

 

The study measured women’s cardiovascular fitness based on an exercise test. When the highly fit women did develop dementia, they developed it an average of 11 years later than women who were moderately fit, or at age 90 rather than 79.

 

WVU

LOFTON: So, you are the new director of the Drug Control Policy Office. Previously, you were executive director and health officer of the Kanwaha-Charleston Health Department. You did deal with a lot of opioid issues at the Health Department previously. Will your strategy change in this new position?

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The 2018 County Health Rankings report was released today. It found significant health disparities across the state, particularly between the north and south.

Kara Lofton

The new Public Employee’s Insurance Agency task force met today at the Capitol. The task force was mandated by the governor in response to recent striking by teachers who demanded the state Legislature to “fix PEIA.” Teachers protested increased premiums and health costs, as well as a pay raise.

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A new survey of women from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that coverage rates for women are at all-time highs, but many women still face affordability and access challenges.

In 2013, nearly one in five women were uninsured. In 2017, after the Affordable Care Act was implemented, that number dropped to one in ten. Nationally, more than 60 percent of women were insured through private insurance. 14 percent of women were insured through Medicaid. More than a third of West Virginians – male and female - are on Medicaid.

Kara Lofton

A West Virginia prevention program targeted at high risk diabetes patients is showing almost immediate results for participants such as Selena Hanshaw, a working mom of four kids ages 6 to 20.

“As a mother of four, I know for myself, you just kind of forget about yourself. You’re just so worried about care for everyone else, you kind of neglect yourself,” said Hanshaw. “I just didn’t want to accept the fact that I had diabetes. I wanted to pretend that it didn’t exist.”

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A Charleston-based law firm has filed a class action suit against 21 medical companies, including the opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma to sue for damages incurred by prenatal exposure to opioids

The suit was filed this week by the firm Thompson and Barney. Kevin Thompson said the intent is to create a fund for babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, meaning infants born dependent to opioids.

“In this case the equitable relief would be a medical monitoring fund,” Thompson said.

Kara Lofton

Several West Virginia health organizations, including West Virginia Prevention First and the state's Department of Health and Human Resources have joined together to launch the Health & Hope WV Initiative. Prevention First is a conglomeration of organizations that collect and disseminate information and facilitate communication, according to a press release.

Organizers say they hope the new site and media content will both serve as a comprehensive resource and help combat some of the stigma addiction still faces.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

A group of West Virginia agencies launched their year-long campaign, “Year of the Child” at a kickstart event at the WV culture center yesterday. The initiative is designed to address the impact of the opioid crisis on West Virginia’s children.

Speakers represented groups such as the West Virginia Child Advocacy Network, Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Central West Virginia and the National Association of Social Workers.

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Analysis of recent hospital billing records across the country found that charges for outpatient cancer services vary widely from facility to facility, but on average, exceed what Medicare patients are charged by two to six fold.

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A new study from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health has found that a significant number of e-cigarette devices generate aerosols with potentially unsafe levels of lead, chromium, manganese and/or nickel. Chronic inhalation of these metals has been linked to lung, liver, immune, cardiovascular and brain damage, as well as cancers.

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Taking as little as a 15-minute walk after each meal can help you lose weight, lower blood sugar, improve circulation and aid in digestion among other things, according to Mon Health family medicine doctor Gabrielle Sakellarides.

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A group of Marshall University students, faculty and staff have assisted in stopping child trafficking cases in Latin America. The work was done through a partnership with the nonprofit Operation Underground Railroad.

The work involved sex trafficking cases in Latin America, the Caribbean and Southeast Asia. Select students in Marshall’s Open Source Intelligence Exchange program worked to provide open source intelligence collection and analysis for law enforcement and other clients. Open source refers to data collection from publicly available sources.

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Outside of a 4th Avenue bus stop in Huntington, Ronni Stone is smoking a cigarette. She started when she was 15 years old and has been smoking for 35 years. She says she’s tried to quit about four times but was only able to last for about a week before the withdrawal symptoms made her light up again.

Marshall University
Wikipedia / en.wikipedia.org

A Marshall University physician has been awarded a five-year almost 11 million dollar grant from the National Institutes of Health to investigate obesity and obesity-related conditions in West Virginia.

Uma Sundaram, vice dean for research at the Marshall University School of Medicine and a gastroenterologist, will be the grant’s principal investigator.

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West Virginia will be the first state in the nation to allow Medicaid to fund treatment for newborns exposed to opioids in the womb.

When their exposure to opioids ends at birth, infants with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome experience withdrawal symptoms. They include tremors, vomiting, seizures, excessive crying and sensitivity to loud noises, lights and colors. Infants are weaned from opioid dependence by using small doses of morphine or methadone.

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Eight years ago, Chelsea Carter was facing up to 20 years in federal prison for burglary and conspiracy charges. Instead, her judge sent her to drug court where she was able to get treatment.

 

She has since completed a master’s degree in counseling and earlier this month, petitioned the Boone County court to expunge her record, a request that was granted. Here’s Carter telling her own story of addiction and how drug court, “saved her life,” as she puts it.

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About 700 women across the United States die each year from pregnancy or pregnancy-related complications. A new report has found that most of those deaths are preventable. 

The report published by the CDC Foundation used data from nine maternal mortality review committees. The committees estimate more than 60 percent of pregnancy-related deaths were preventable. Nearly 50 percent were caused by hemorrhage, cardiovascular conditions, or infection, but the conditions causing death varied widely by race.

The OberPorts via https://www.drrainbow.org/

The social justice advocacy organization Covenant House has launched a health care website linking LGBTQ West Virginians with statewide resources and providers. 

The site, called DrRainbow, includes tabs on finding a “LGBTQ friendly” provider and community health resources. In an email, Covenant House said the website is an attempt to address the rising health disparities in the LGBTQ community. About 30 percent of transgender patients report delaying or not seeking care due to discrimination, according to a report published in the June edition of the journal Medical Care.

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Congress passed a bipartisan budget deal early this morning that, among other things, authorizes funding for several health care programs. Here’s what West Virginians need to know about the bill.

In September, the funding for community health centers was allowed to run out – there are 30 of these centers in West Virginia. The budget bill not only reauthorized funding for the centers but increased their allocation to 3.8 billion dollars for the current fiscal year and 4 billion in 2019, up from 3.6 last year.

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West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin released a report today detailing the impact the opioid crisis has had on his state. 

In the intro, Manchin said the goal of the report is to bring more attention to the negative and pervasive effects of opioids on the state.

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A new study of more than 6,000 first graders across the U.S. has found that the number of children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders is larger than previously thought. 

Over a six-year period, researchers collected data from more than 6,000 children in four communities in the Midwest, Rocky Mountain, Southeast and Pacific Southwest that were thought to represent an accurate sampling of the United States. There is no state-by-state specific data available.

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New research by the Chartis Center for Rural Health has found that current and pending federal health policies are putting a bigger financial strain on already struggling rural hospitals. 

The report found the percentage of rural and critical access hospitals working at a negative operating margin has increased from 40 to 44 percent. 

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Bobak Ha'Eri / Wikimedia Commons

On the last day of the annual GOP retreat at the Greenbrier Resort last week, two West Virginia congressmen said combating the opioid epidemic is a top priority for federal legislators. The press conference came a day after about 500 people gathered at the gates of the resort to advocate for programs like Medicaid and community health center funding.

Evan Jenkins opened Friday’s press conference by describing the scope of the opioid crisis both in West Virginia and nationally and what Congress is doing to tackle it.

Dave Mistich / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Dr. Michael Brumage, former executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, has been named director of the West Virginia Office of Drug Control Policy. 

Brumage replaces director Jim Johnson who retired from the position in January. In a press release, Governor Jim Justice said he’s confident that Brumage is the right person to tackle West Virginia’s opioid crisis.

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There are 30 of community health centers in West Virginia serving more than 400,000 people. Congress didn’t include funding in its latest continuing budget resolution, which means federal funding for those centers is about to run out. If that happens, people like Julie Pratt may not have access to the care they need.

Pratt is self-employed. She got health insurance through her husband’s  job when he was working. Then he retired and she was able to buy insurance through the Affordable Care Act Marketplaces.

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West Virginia University researchers are partnering to investigate whether "bioelectric signaling" can be used to treat breast cancer. 

Most cancer research focuses on the chemical workings of the body. But how cells communicate electrically may impact cancer too.

Basically, cancer cells are a part of the body, but are mutated, causing tumors. Generally, the body has mechanisms to deal with the mutations, but sometimes the mechanisms fail due to overwork or age or exposure to toxins among other things.

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