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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School-based fluoride rinse programs have been available to West Virginia schools for decades. Advocates argue they are still one of the cheapest and most effective tools schools have for preventing tooth decay. However, they are not well utilized. Recently, the Bureau for Public Health, which funds these programs, has begun a push to get more schools to take advantage of them.

At Mount Hope Elementary School in Fayette County, health educator Rosalie McCauley passes out toothbrushes and plastic cups of bubblegum-flavored fluoride mouth rinse to students.

Zika, United States, Mosquitos, virus, Appalachia
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While West Virginia continues to be free of the Zika virus, the Appalachian states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, Alabama and Georgia have all reported cases. The virus is spread through mosquitoes and was first dectected in South America.

Breast, Breast Cancer, Cancer, surgery, pink, pink ribbon
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West Virginia University Cancer Institute has become the first hospital in the state to offer a specialized breast cancer treatment that can shave weeks off treatment time for some patients.

The treatment is called Intraoperative Radiation Therapy. This is how it works: Directly after surgery to remove the cancerous lump, a radiation applicator is inserted directly into the cavity previously occupied by the tumor. Specialists then apply concentrated radiation to the area. Surgery and radiation are completed in one visit.

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Representatives from 37 citizen groups fighting for “water justice” met Tuesday at the Capitol to release a letter of solidarity with Flint, Michigan.

The letter, dated February 9th, parallels the 2014 West Virginia Water Crisis with the water crisis currently unfolding in Flint.

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West Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina have issued advisories for the Zika virus, urging caution, particularly for pregnant women traveling to areas where the disease is circulating.

WVPB

Two central Appalachian healthcare non-profits, out of eleven nationwide, were awarded grants of about 180,000 each today from AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation. The grants are intended to support already successful work in improving regional cardiovascular health. 

Sick, woman, pregnancy, thermometer, fever, flu, cold
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Pregnant women hospitalized with the flu, especially severe cases, should be treated early with antiviral medication, according to a study published today in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

The study included 865 pregnant women who were hospitalized with flu from 14 states. Sixty-three of these patients, or about 7 percent, had severe illness.

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A report released today from Families USA found that West Virginia has one of the most successful Medicaid expansion programs in the country.

The report used U.S. Census data to compare the rate of uninsured workers in all 50 states during 2014, the first year Medicaid expansion was offered. It found that West Virginia had reduced uninsured worker rates by 30 percent – 5 points higher than the expanded Medicaid state average. Non-expansion states reduced their uninsured worker rates by 13 percent on average.

Lyme, tick, Lyme disease, IDSA, infectious disease, WVU
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In June of 2007, Victoria Snyder, then age-nine, attended a week-long church camp. During the week she began to feel sick – muscle aches, lethargy, headaches. A doctor at the camp thought it might be the flu, but she didn’t get better. So after camp, her mother, Christine, took her to see a pediatrician.

“The pediatrician found a bullseye ring on her stomach,” said Christine. “I felt a lot of relief when they put her on antibiotics because with Lyme disease, we knew what we were dealing with.”

Health, doctor, nurse, mask, breathing, health insurance
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The West Virginia Bureau for Public Health announced legislation today that, if passed, could modernize the state’s public health system and increase revenue.

The proposed legislation would make it easier for local health department to bill insurance companies at the maximum allowable rates. 

Currently, the state subsidizes many local programs and services. In a Tuesday press conference, Commissioner for the Bureau for Public Health Rahul Gupta said that this model is unsustainable - especially considering that more WV residents than ever before are insured.

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The Local Foods, Local Places partnership is a yearly federal award to communities around the country to help integrate local food strategies into economic development efforts. The award was given to six Appalachian communities in 2016, including one in West Virginia.

The initiative started in 2014 as part of the White House Rural Council’s work to support communities that want to make local foods a stronger part of the local economy. There are now 60 Local Foods, Local Places partnerships across the country. More than a third are in Appalachia, including four in West Virginia.

Kara Lofton / WVPB

The West Virginia National Guard’s Medical Detachment conducted their annual recertification for army medics today at the Center for National Readiness Memorial Tunnel.

Medics, CNR Tunnel, Army, Training
Kara Lofton / WV Public Broadcasting

The West Virginia National Guard’s Medical Detachment conducted their annual recertification for army medics this morning at the Center for National Readiness Memorial Tunnel.

In addition to a written test, the medics were required to complete seven training exercises, which varied from attending to victims of a car crash to evacuating soldiers from combat. 32 medics, four of them women, participated in the training.

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The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has issued new depression screening recommendations that focus on pregnant and postpartum women.

The report was published earlier this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It updates 2009 recommendations for adult depression screenings.

"Pregnant women are a vulnerable population especially in the postpartum period," said Doctor Leo Brancazio, chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at West Virginia University School of Medicine.

Photo courtesy of Joe Beckett

Dr. Joseph Beckett, Director of Marshall University’s athletic training program, is the only West Virginian to be awarded the Most Distinguished Athletic Trainer Award from the Mid-Atlantic Athletic Trainers’ Association for 2016.

The MAATA District includes universities and organizations in Virginia, Washington, D.C., Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia.

Charleston, Snow
Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

As state road crews continue to clear snow and debris from secondary routes, for many, digging out from under as much as a foot of snow or more has just begun. The West Virginia Bureau for Public Health is reminding residents shoveling snow could put some at risk for heart-attacks or other health related problems.

Mentalhealthfirstaid.org / Mental Health First Aid USA

You may have heard about the August 2015 Philippi school shooting that never was. A state trooper and a pastor talked a boy who had taken his class hostage into surrendering his weapon. No one was harmed.

In a way, the experience was a success - an affirmation that school violence can be prevented. At least that’s the hope of Project AWARE, a federal grant awarded to three West Virginia counties last year. This is the first year of implementation.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / WV Humanities Council

Federal funds are heading to a Mingo County health center to support health care options and expand access to care.

U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin announced the nearly 350 thousand dollar grant for the Williamson Health and Wellness Center in Mingo County Thursday.

The funds were awarded through the Health Center Cluster Grant Program, an initiative of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, according to a press release.

Image composite by Mountain Messenger

Marshall and West Virginia universities have partnered to support health-related research projects through a new grant program. Each university has pledged $250,000 a year for three years, which will eventually total $1.5 million.

The grant program, which was announced in August, is designed to support research to “better serve West Virginians,” and to attract future funding from outside sources, according to a Wednesday press release. 

Kara Lofton / WVPB

Of the 718 public schools in West Virginia, 129 have school-based health centers (although note that some elementary/middle or middle/high schools share a center). Just over 30 percent of those, including Riverside High School in Belle, have mental health services.

“I think it’s [the mental health services] a good thing because a lot of teenagers struggle with depression or something wrong with them - they think that - especially in adolescence, the way the brain develops and all that stuff,” said Lillian Steel-Thomas, a senior at Riverside.

Office of National Drug Control Policy

Five Appalachian counties were designated as High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas today, including Jefferson County, West Virginia. The designation allows the counties to receive federal resources to improve drug control and reduce illicit use.

High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTAs) are defined as areas determined to be critical drug trafficking regions in the U.S., according to a news release from the Office of National Drug Control Policy. There are 28 HIDTAs across the country, and each includes several counties.

National Institutes of Health / commons.wikimedia.org

On January 1st, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit requirements changed for about 38 thousand adults in West Virginia. These individuals must now meet a work requirement of 20 hours a week or be enrolled in a work or education-related training program to continue receiving food assistance. Those who do not meet these requirements will cease to be eligible for benefits after three months.

 

The West Virginia Department for Health and Human Resources announced a change today (Monday) in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. As of January 1, 2016, able-bodied adults without dependents in nine West Virginia counties must meet a work or education requirement in order to continue receiving SNAP benefits.

To avoid losing their benefits, SNAP recipients ages 18-49 with no dependent children need to either work or be in an educational program for 20 hours a week, every week.

Kara Lofton / WVPB

Google colorectal cancer survival rates and a rather shocking American Cancer Society chart pops up.

Kara Lofton / WVPB

The most common way children are exposed to lead these days is from the lead-based paint almost universally found in homes built before 1980. (Lead-based paint was outlawed in the late ’70s.)

When the paint deteriorates and chips, it causes dust particles that can be inhaled or even eaten (think slobbery teething toy belonging to a 10-month-old on the floor next to an old baseboard covered in lead-based paint).

Human papillomavirus, more commonly called HPV, is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States, affecting about 1 in 4 Americans. The HPV virus can cause cervical cancer, of which West Virginia has the highest incidence rate in the country.

The Environmental Protection Agency has reached a settlement with the carbon material and chemical company Koppers Inc. The settlement is aimed at preventing oil spills into the Ohio River from the company’s Follansbee facility in Brooke County. The river provides drinking water to 5 million people and is widely used for recreation. 

Make the Call WV

The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced the launch of a smartphone app and website designed to help West Virginians fight drug addiction.

The app and website are intended to be companions to the already existing website Help 4 WV. Both new platforms connect people with substance abuse and mental health resources in their immediate area.  

“One of the biggest challenges that we’ve seen as part of the reduction of demand for opiates - either prescription opiates or heroin - is getting the resources to the people who need them when they need them.”

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West Virginia has the highest rate of youth drug overdose deaths in the country, according to a new national report.

The study, produced by the non-profit Trust for America’s Health, found that nationwide, youth drug overdose deaths have more than doubled among people aged 12-25.

CT Scan
beodao / Dollar Photo Club

  In an effort to catch lung cancer earlier and in more people, Charleston Area Medical Center (CAMC) has begun a lung cancer screening program. Lung cancer is the most prevalent type of cancer in West Virginia, according to the West Virginia Cancer Registry.

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