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

Adobe Stock

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources announced a 20-slot expansion to their Traumatic Brain Injury Waiver.

The program allows qualified recipients over the age of three are able to remain in their homes as opposed to going to an institutional setting, such as a nursing home.

Around 66 people are already on the program. The extra money is possible in part due to an increased Federal match.

Adobe Stock

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources released an analysis today of the factors that contribute to a person’s likelihood of fatally overdosing. 

The report presents a kind of “profile of an overdose victim in West Virginia.” Researchers found that men are twice as likely to die from a drug overdose as women. They also found that men working in blue collar industries that have a higher risk of injury may be at an increased risk for overdose death.

About 70 percent of those who fatally overdosed had Medicaid in the 12 months preceding their death.

Adobe Stock

A new study published this month in The Journal of Pain found that as little as a 10 percent reduction in body weight helps obese pain patients reduce chronic pain.

Several previous studies have shown that people who are obese tend to have higher levels of pain.

But pain related to obesity is usually associated with joint and weight-bearing body parts such as knees, hips and lower back.

The new study found that reducing body weight in obese patients can help improve not only joint pain but also abdominal, arm, chest and jaw pain.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

West Virginia passed the Medical Cannabis Act in April 2017, qualifying patients with a written doctor’s certification to use medical cannabis and to buy it from registered dispensaries. The bill was a big shock – no one thought it would actually pass. But supporters of the bill say it didn’t go nearly far enough, while opponents say it went too far.

On January 4th about 50 people gathered outside of the Capitol building to rally for more favorable legislation.

Adobe Stock

The Appalachian Regional Commission has just awarded more than 1.3 million dollars to support economic development projects throughout West Virginia.

Adobe Stock

West Virginia Medicaid recipients now have access to new services aimed at screening and treating substance use disorders. 

West Virginia Medicaid was awarded a waiver from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in October last year, authorizing the state to expand substance use disorder treatment coverage.

Adobe Stock

Kristin Phillips is one of two physical therapists in West Virginia specializing in women’s health. In this episode of our occasional series, Windows into Health Care, health reporter Kara Lofton talks with Phillips about the main issues she sees in her practice. A warning to listeners, this episode includes detailed descriptions of women’s health issues and may not be appropriate for all listeners. The interview runs about eight minutes.

Adobe Stock

West Virginia’s drug epidemic may be leading to increases in what’s called “familial sex trafficking.” Family members trading sex with a child in their family for drugs or money. But spotting the problem and prosecuting the offenders is very difficult.  

That’s because all forms of human trafficking, whether for labor or sex, are severely underreported in West Virginia, according to homeland security agent Brian Morris. Morris co-chairs a state task force that’s trying to figure out how common human trafficking is.

Adobe Stock

A new study has found that moderate exercise can reverse heart damage caused by age and a sedentary lifestyle – if it’s begun early enough and performed with enough frequency. 

Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern studied a group of about 50 participants over the course of two years.

The study found that in order for exercise to help reverse heart damage, the exercise regimen needs to start before the age of 65 when the heart retains some plasticity – meaning it is still able to remodel itself.

Adobe Stock

A new study published this week in the Journal of Clinical Oncology has found that high out-of-pocket costs may be causing insured Americans with cancer to forego treatment when a wide range of oral cancer drugs are prescribed.

Adobe Stock

Doctors at WVU Heart and Vascular Institute have implanted a permanent artificial heart pump into a Maryland man with a failing heart in the first surgery of its kind in West Virginia.

Adobe Stock

A new study from Indiana University has found that the Affordable Care Act led to an increase in early-stage cancer diagnosis in Medicaid expansion states like West Virginia. 

 

The research suggests that public health insurance may increase cancer detection. Early cancer detection is linked to better outcomes for patients and fewer deaths. West Virginia has one of the highest rates of cancer in the nation.

Adobe Stock

A new study out of Rush University Medical Center found that eating just one serving a day of green, leafy vegetables may be linked to a slower rate of brain aging. 

The study found that people who ate at least one serving of green, leafy vegetables a day had a slower rate of decline on memory tests and thinking skills than people who rarely or never ate those vegetables. Green leafy vegetables include kale, broccoli, mustard greens, collards and spinach.

A few weeks ago, my panoramic sunroof seemingly spontaneously cracked into thousands of pieces while I was driving 70 miles an hour on I-26 W, more than six hours away from home.

 

“I mean it’s still like together,” I told my mom in a voicemail, “but a thousand pieces. I think the only reason it’s still together is because of the tape you and I put up a while ago.”

 

 

Adobe Stock

Funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program – known as CHIP, is about to run out and Congress has not renewed funding for it. The kicker is that funding for CHIP has been approved, but is wrapped up in a House spending bill that is unlikely to pass the Senate.

Adobe Stock

A United Nations expert on extreme poverty and human rights visited Charleston today for a public meeting on the systemic causes and manifestations of poverty in West Virginia.

The meeting covered social protection and the criminalization of homelessness, as well as health and rural poverty. About 40 people attended - including representatives from groups such as West Virginia Free, the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and West Virginians for Affordable Health Care.

Adobe Stock

Brooke sits beside her mom on the couch at Rea of Hope’s New Life Apartments. Rea of Hope is an addiction and recovery center for women struggling with alcohol or drug abuse.

Adobe Stock

A U.S. House subcommittee focused on the opioid epidemic in Appalachia during a hearing this morning on Capitol Hill. 

The Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management focused on economics - specifically the impact of the opioid crisis on efforts in Appalachia to spur economic development and growth in distressed communities.

Witnesses included representatives from the economic development agency the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Adobe Stock

A new study has found that people referred to treatment for opioid addiction are much less likely to get referred to medication assisted programs if they are coming from the criminal justice system.

The study authored by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that fewer than 5 percent of those referred for treatment from the criminal justice system were directed to medication-assisted treatment programs, compared to 40 percent of clients referred for treatment from other sources, such as health-care providers or employers.

Adobe Stock

A team of researchers at Ohio State University is trying to determine what anti-drug messages are most likely to cause potential drug abusers to say no to drugs.

28 participants watched 32 30 second PSAs while in an functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner. Half were at high-risk of drug abuse and half were at low-risk. Drug abuse risk was assessed with a self-report measure that the participants had completed earlier.

The researchers looked specifically at connectivity patterns between different parts of the brain while the anti-drug messages played.

Adobe Stock

Host Intro: Two senior health policy officials visited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Monday in Atlanta to talk about the Trump administration’s effort to tackle the opioid crisis. 

Both Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services administrator Seema Verma and Acting Secretary of Health and Human Services Eric Hargan attended the press conference. During his remarks, Hargan said that the opioid crisis is a top priority for the Trump administration.

Adobe Stock

A new report from the National Institutes of Health has found that across the United States, more than 90 percent of homes have three or more detectable allergens.

The study found that in about 73 percent of homes, at least one allergen was found at an elevated level and exposure to several elevated allergens was most prevalent in rural areas.

Adobe Stock

Community and health advocates gathered at the University of Charleston today to protest the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to do away with carbon pollution regulations. While the EPA’s first and so far only public hearings took place to collect comments about the proposed repeal in the capitol building, another press conference and panel discussion took place across town.

Adobe Stock

In the next episode of Window's into Health Care - our occasional series talking with health experts from around the state - health reporter Kara Lofton sits down with  Department of Health and Human Resources Cabinet Secretary Bill Crouch to talk about his work and what he feels are the biggest health issues the state is facing.

In the transcript below, Crouch talks about how the DHHR is dealing with the opioid crisis, concerns about the state's growing foster care crisis and how chronic conditions like diabetes and obesity impact West Virginia. 

Adobe Stock

A growing number of Americans have high deductible health insurance plans – meaning they have to spring for the first few thousand dollars of care before insurance coverage kicks in. A new study suggests that despite a rise in these types of plans, most Americans aren’t shopping around for better prices.

The study used data from a national poll to examine the behavior of more than 1600 adults under the age of 65 who had high deductible health plans. 

Adobe Stock

WVU Medicine announced today (Thursday) plans to construct at 10-story tower dedicated to women and children’s services.

The 152 million dollar project will take about three years to complete, but will add 150 beds to Ruby Memorial Hospital.

Phil Saul is the Executive Vice President for hospital and children’s health at WVU Medicine.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Cooking healthy for a holiday crowd can be expensive - but it doesn’t have to be.

“So, if we think about vegetables and that kind of thing, one thing we can do for sure is instead of doing fresh vegetables up here in the produce area, we could do canned vegetables or we could do frozen vegetables,” said Marshall nutritionist Mckayla Hart. “This time of year, typically those are a lot cheaper than buying fresh.”

Hart stands in the produce aisle at the Walmart in Huntington.

Adobe Stock

Open enrollment for insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplaces started last week. Things are a little bit different this year and recent announcements from the Trump administration have resulted in a fair bit of consumer confusion. So there are a few major changes to be aware of. First, this is a very shortened enrollment period.

 


Adobe Stock

Pregnant women today are more likely to have chronic conditions that could cause life-threatening complications than at any other time in the past decade, a new study suggests.

 

The study looked at a national sample of more than 8 million childbirth deliveries over 10 years and analyzed the how common chronic conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and substance-abuse disorders were in the mothers.

 

Adobe Stock

The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program for five more years. All three of West Virginia’s representatives voted in favor of the bill.

Funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, more commonly known as CHIP, expired on September 30th due to Congressional inaction. CHIP provides insurance to 9 million children, including more than 20,000 West Virginians. 

A bill to fund the program has been languishing for several weeks in the Senate.

Pages