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

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. 

Dollar Photo Club

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.

Dollar Photo Club

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.

Dollar Photo Club

The prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) seems to have reached a plateau, with as many children affected by ASD in the United States today as two years ago, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last reported on the subject. No West Virginia specific data is available.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1 in 68 school-aged children has ASD in the United States, according to a report published yesterday in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Surveillance Summary.

Alzheimer's Disease, dementia, elderly, couple, worried
Dollar Photo Club

  37 thousand West Virginians have Alzheimer’s Disease, according to a report released this week from the national Alzheimer’s Association.

For the first time, the annual Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures report also included a national survey on the financial cost of Alzheimer's or dementia. It shows the diseases can be really expensive for families and caregivers, costing Americans 236 billion dollars in 2016.

Dollar Photo Club

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin signed a bill this week giving the more than 1,700 nurse practitioners in West Virginia the ability to diagnose and treat patients without physician oversight.

Nurse practitioners in West Virginia are required to work under the guidance of a physician. But in the past, advanced practice nurses couldn’t always find physicians to sign off on their work, sometimes leaving patients without care.  House Bill 4334 attempts to address that problem.

Obama
Steve Helber / AP Photo

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin and Senator Joe Manchin join President Obama at the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta, Georgia Tuesday. According to a press release, Obama will announce Administrative actions to further the fight against the drug epidemic.

The Administrative actions include expanding access to treatment by releasing $94 million to 271 Community Health Centers to increase substance use disorder treatment services. West Virginia community health centers in Huntington, Weirton, Dawes, Scott Depot and Rock Cave will receive a total of $1.7 million in funding.

Health Wagon
Kara Lofton / WVPB

In Appalachia, barriers to healthcare include distance from a provider, lack of transportation, lack of health insurance, and the inability to take the time off of work to drive, wait and be seen. So throughout the region, mobile health units are attempting to bridge that gap and bring services to some of the populations that need them the most.

Outside of an old train station in southwestern Virginia, Teresa Gardner and Paula Hill-Meade are seeing patients.

Opioids, opioid, painkillers, perscription, narcotics, doctors, narcotics
Dollar Photo Club

Unintentional fentanyl-related drug overdose deaths in Ohio increased by almost six-fold in one year, beginning in 2013. Late last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in partnership with the Ohio Department of Health, analyzed available data to assess risk factors for overdose.

Yesterday, the CDC released a report that found the “risk factors for fentanyl-related overdose deaths included: male gender, white race, some college or less education, history of a substance abuse problem, and a
current mental health issue.”

Opioids, opioid, painkillers, perscription, narcotics, doctors
Dollar Photo Club

President Obama’s administration is doubling down on efforts to reduce prescription opioid and heroin abuse across the nation after two major announcements in the past week.

www.stmarysdoc.com/ / St. Mary's Medical Center

Cabell Huntington Hospital wants to buy St. Mary’s Medical Center. The Herald-Dispatch reports that the West Virginia Health Care Authority has granted a certificate of need, meaning the authority deems the combination of the two Huntington hospitals is needed and consistent with the state's health care goals.
The two hospitals separately are the largest employers in Huntington, with nearly 5,000 employees between them. They are also each among the top ten largest employers in the state.

cabellhuntington.org/ / Cabell-Huntington Hospital

Historically, hospital mergers have meant higher healthcare costs for patients. So when Cabell-Huntington Hospital announced it would buy St. Mary's Medical Center over a year ago, a federal consumer protection agency stepped in to prevent the consolidation. Now, West Virginia legislation that made it to Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’ desk Saturday could remove barriers to the merger and set a precedent for hospitals in similar standoffs around the country.

Kara Lofton / WVPB

Three out of four people do not take their prescription medication as directed, and one out of three people never fill their prescriptions according to a national group that tracks such things.  So several schools of health professionals, including students from the University of Charleston pharmacy school, are trying to increase awareness about the issue.


Three out of four people do not take their medication as directed, and one out of three people never fill their prescriptions, according to the national medication adherence campaign Script Your Future. Health professional students, including pharmacy students from the University of Charleston, are trying to increase awareness about the issue.

Dusic
Kara Leigh Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Human Papillomavirus – more commonly known as HPV -- is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. It is so common that almost all sexually active individuals will get it at some point, which puts them at risk for developing various cancers. The good news: HPV is preventable. The bad news: vaccination rates are low nationwide, with particularly troubling statistics coming out of West Virginia.

child, depression, behavioral health, mental health, anxiety, agression, bullying, loneliness, alone, tears, sadness, boy
Dollar Photo Club

Children in the West Virginia welfare system are nearly three times as likely as those in other states to be placed in group-care facilities. But a new program, called Safe at Home West Virginia, is beginning to change this pattern.


Energy, heat, money, thermostat, heat pump, furnace
Dave Mistich via Tableau Public

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources has announced a second application period for the federally funded Low Income Energy Assistance Program. The program is available to state residents with income at our below 130 percent of the federal poverty line in need of assistance paying home heating bills.  

Applications are being accepted from February 29, 2016 – March 11, 2016 from new households that were not previously approved for assistance.

The maximum allowable gross income levels for LIEAP FY 2016 are listed below:

HOUSEHOLD SIZE

Healthy Bodies Healthy Spirits Network

In partnership with Try This West Virginia, the West Virginia Healthy Bodies, Healthy Spirits network held a press conference today to highlight March as “Healthy Bodies, Healthy Spirits” month.

Joshua Sowards, the Healthy Bodies, Healthy Spirits/Try This coordinator, explains. “Healthy Bodies, Healthy Spirits network is about collaborating on the ground, with projects that are available and resources to get churches and faith-based organizations to help lead the way in making West Virginia healthy,” he says.

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