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

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On a recent Friday night in Beckley, the Riverside Warriors battled the Woodrow Wilson Flying Eagles in the first football game of the season.

Senior Brody Bess was on the field. His appearance in the game is remarkable in that this past winter, he had not one, but two major knee surgeries following ACL tears.

 

The problem started in middle school.

 

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The organization Mental Health Matters is holding a series of panel presentations around the state to advocate for juvenile justice and community-based mental health care for youth.

Yesterday’s forum, the second of six, was held at the University of Charleston and included panelists from mental health, education and legal backgrounds. During the forum, panelists discussed West Virginia’s lack of funds for mental and behavioral health intervention, a lack of coordination of services and the statewide deficit of therapists and counselors.

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U.S. attorney General Loretta Lynch is traveling to Lexington, Ky., Tuesday, Sept. 20, as part of Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week.

According to a news release, Lynch plans on holding a student town hall at a high school, meeting with parents who have lost children to heroin overdose, and speaking at the University of Kentucky on how the administration is addressing addiction through prevention, enforcement and treatment.

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Several Virginia organizations have partnered to create a voucher program to help improve access to fresh, affordable produce in Montgomery County.

The vouchers are redeemable at the Christiansburg Farmers Market and are available through the Department of Social Services, Community Health Center of the New River Valley and the Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children. The vouchers can be used for eligible food through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

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New studies released this week show West Virginians are experiencing slower growth in health care premiums, increased access to coverage, and higher quality of care under the Affordable Care Act.

Only 6 percent of people in West Virginia went uninsured in 2015, down from 14.6 percent in 2010, according to new Census data. That drop means 156,000 West Virginians gained coverage in five years, according to a U.S. Department of Health & Human Services press release.

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West Virginia University’s Telepsychiatry Program received a $1.2 million grant this week from the Health Resources and Services Administration to expand telemedicine services in four West Vi

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Through the window of the HealthNet helicopter, miles of stopped traffic could be seen on interstate 64-westbound. The pilot turned and it became clear why -- one semi-truck had rear-ended another, crumpling the front end of the second truck like a discarded tin can.

 

The helicopter landed on the road.

 

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For those of you who have to buy insurance through the Affordable Care Act it’s that time of year again – open enrollment is just around the corner. But finding the right plan can be both confusing and time consuming. That’s why for the second year the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services are awarding grants to West Virginia organizations that support in-person help in shopping for the right plan.

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Almost 36 percent of adults in West Virginia are obese, according to a new report from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. West Virginia’s obesity rates are surpassed only by Louisiana while Colorado has the lowest percent nationwide.

Strawberry Smoothie
Ashrafi19 / wikimedia commons

More than fifty people, including at least three West Virginians in Berkeley and Jefferson counties, have tested positive for hepatitis A.  The outbreak has been traced to frozen strawberries imported from Egypt and used by the chain Tropical Smoothie Cafe. The most common way a person contracts hepatitis A is by eating something that has been contaminated with the feces of an infected person, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The strawberries were linked to the outbreak in early August.

Jesse Wright / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

An increasing body of research is showing that students who have time for physical activity in their school day tend to perform better on tests and have an easier time concentrating.

 

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During Tuesday's show, we talked about West Virginians who are struggling with high deductibles that come with plans they bought through the Affordable Care Act, or ACA as it’s also known. Deductibles are what a consumer has to pay before their insurance kicks in. That story elicited quite a bit of feedback from our listeners. So today, health reporter Kara Lofton talks with Renate Pore, chairwoman of the West Virginia Medicaid Coalition, about some of the ways the ACA is affecting West Virginians.

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In a beautiful old home in downtown Charleston, 3-month-old Josephine is nursing quietly. Josephine’s mother, Sarah Brown, is a middle-class well-educated woman.

“It’s a big convenience factor for me – you know I’ve got everything I need right there,” said Brown.

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Bob Bailey runs a catering and event planning business in Wheeling. He was insured for 21 years through Mountain State Blue Cross Blue Shield. He had a $250 deductible and paid a monthly rate or premium, of about $500 a month.

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At the Turner Medical Spa in Cross Lanes, you can get vein treatments, chemical peels and Botox injections among a number of other aesthetic services. But the key word here is aesthetic – these are all optional cosmetic procedures and none of them are covered by insurance. In fact, the Turner Medical Spa doesn’t take insurance at all – it is a cash only practice.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Elizabeth Brown, M.D., operates a small, thriving private practice in South Charleston. “Most doctors want to practice, that’s why we went into medicine,” she said in a recent interview.

But being in private practice isn’t easy. Across America, doctors are leaving private practice in droves, citing reimbursement challenges and greater overhead costs. For some, staying means deciding to not take certain insurances.

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Herb Myers is one of the only geriatric psychiatrists currently working in West Virginia’s nursing homes. He is also an old friend of health reporter Kara Lofton. Lofton sat down with Meyers a few weeks ago to discuss the state of geriatric psychiatry in West Virginia and what will happen when Meyers retires next year.

LOFTON: You have worked in geriatrics for a number of years in West Virginia. Psychiatry is not something you usually associate with a nursing a nursing home. Why is that important to have geriatric psychiatry in a nursing home?

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Outside of the North Charleston Community Center, several groups of girls practice cheerleading under the watchful eye of their mothers.

Some of the families at the center today came because of a community outreach fair organized by Family Care West Virginia.

The idea is to help people from the neighborhood access some of the preventative service Family Care offers. Many families in this community are low income and struggle to access affordable healthcare. That’s where the health centers come in.

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The Department of Health and Human Resources announced today that disaster SNAP benefits provided more than $4.5 million in nutrition assistance benefits to thousands of West Virginians affected by June’s floods.

The disaster supplemental nutrition assistance - or disaster SNAP- program was aimed at residents in the 12 counties most affected by June’s flooding. The program provided almost $400 in assistance to about 5,000 residents who don’t normally receive SNAP benefits. The program also assisted almost 44,000 individuals who had been receiving SNAP benefits before the floods.

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A West Virginia health insurance company is launching a mobile clinic to improve access to care for certain patients across the state.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

June 24th, 3am. Outside Liberty Baptist Church in Richwood, a few exhausted staff sat silently smoking cigarettes in the dark. Power was out throughout the town - and no one wanted to speak to the media. Nursing home administrator Belinda Stear wearily agreed to speak for a few minutes by flashlight inside the church’s kitchen.

“The water started rising, it was raining, we were watching the river just like we always do,” she said.

Around 1pm Thursday, Stear made the call to evacuate residents to Liberty Baptist Church – which sits on higher ground above the nursing home.

Mountain Top, Mountaintop, mining
Bob Bird / AP Photo

The federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement announced  it will fund a million dollar review of current research on  links between surface coal mining and human health risks. The announcement came more than a year after the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection formally requested the review.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Federal and state health agencies are surveying households in two counties to assess the impact of the recent flooding on communities in southern West Virginia.

The survey uses a standardized questionnaire to evaluate the physical and behavioral health of a household. It also assesses residents’ knowledge of access to information and resources for recovery.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Instead of relying entirely on prescription medicine to solve medical problems, healthcare providers at a free clinic in Wheeling, W.Va., are prescribing healthy, fresh foods to a pilot group of patients. It’s a grant-funded initiative called Farmacy, offered through the clinic, Health Right Wheeling, and a food advocacy organization, Grow Ohio Valley.

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The Department of Health and Human Resources and the West Virginia University School of Public Health released a major plan this week to improve the state's healthcare system.

The two agencies recommend that a third, independent nonprofit group be founded. This nonprofit would coordinate state and federal healthcare resources and oversee the transition from fee-for-service payment (you pay based on the services you receive) to value-based healthcare (you pay based on your health outcomes).

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New research shows that formal education, work that stimulates the brain and social interaction may help protect the brain from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

The research was presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Toronto this week.

The first showed that people who work closely with other people may have a healthier brain longer and be able to delay the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Another showed that working out the brain with challenging tasks may counteract the negative effects of a bad diet.

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At Valley Health in Milton, West Virginia, family doctor Matthew Weimer usually sees between 20-30 patients a day. This volume isn't unusual for local doctors, but Weimer said it can cause problems for patients.

Kara Lofton / WV Public Broadcasting

Residents affected by the June 23 may qualify for special Disaster SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits. Disaster SNAP benefits can be used by families to purchase food lost in the floods.

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U.S. Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito announced Thursday that three West Virginia institutions will split over a million dollars in federal awards to establish a new telemedicine network in rural communities and schools.

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West Virginia Public Broadcasting

During the heavy rains earlier this summer, sewers systems overflowed and even broke, pastures flooded and rivers breached their banks. All this water mingled into a contaminated soup of surface water, sewage and chemicals. As one public health expert put it – anything that was on the road during the flood had the possibility of getting in the water.

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