Appalachia Health News

Appalachia Health News tells the story of our health challenges and how we overcome them throughout the region. 

Kara Leigh Lofton

Reporter Kara Leigh Lofton covers topics such as women’s health, chronic disease and substance abuse.

Her reports document the health-related innovation, improvement and success within the Appalachian region.

Follow her on twitter at @KaraLofton and #Appalachiahealth

Appalachia Health News is produced with support from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, CAMC, Marshall Health and WVU Medicine.

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Late last week, President Trump announced the federal government would stop Affordable Care Act subsidies to insurance companies, which the White House argues are illegal.

About 19,000 West Virginians received such subsidies in 2016, with an average monthly saving to their insurance bills of a about $100, according to U.S. Department of Health & Human Services data.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

First Lady Melania Trump visited West Virginia yesterday to tour Lily’s Place – a facility in Huntington that serves babies born addicted to substances. Her visit sheds more attention on the Ohio Valley’s addiction crisis.

About 5 percent of all children born last year in West Virginia were affected by drugs -- the highest rate in the country. Aaron Payne has this report on efforts to treat both newborns and parents in the grip of addiction.

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At the Kanawha County circuit court, the Roberts family is celebrating. Today, Andy and Debbie have adopted their grandchildren, Preston, age 6, and Tesla,19 months.

A nursery where drug-affected babies are treated at Lily’s Place in Huntington, W.Va.
Aaron Payne / Ohio Valley ReSource

A new federal study, called “Federal Action Needed to Address Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome,”recommends educating both health care providers and pregnant women on screening and prenatal care to address drug addiction and withdrawal in newborns.

West Virginia Rep. Evan Jenkins and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito say it's the first federal study on neonatal abstinence syndrome to examine the best practices and approaches to treating infants exposed to opioids during pregnancy. 

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At the Epsworth United Methodist Church in Ripley, West Virginia, five grandparents sit around a table listening to a speaker tell them, “You are not alone.”

 

 

Although prayer is mentioned frequently at the meeting, religion is not the subject of today’s conversation - rather, how to communicate with grandchildren after grandparents are thrust into the role of primary caregivers.

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In 2014, more than a third of all children who were removed from their homes due to parental alcohol and drug use were placed with relatives. In many ways, that’s good news for kids. Research shows that grandfamilies protect against trauma and promote resilience. But the arrangement can also be incredibly difficult for the grandparents themselves - many of whom are older and dealing with their own challenges - especially when it comes to physical health.

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As the opioid crisis continues to impact Appalachia, children are being left behind. This morning we have the first of a series of stories about grandparents who take on the role of primary caregiver for their grandchildren. To begin the series, health reporter Kara Lofton talks with professor Megan Dolbin-MacNab - a researcher at Virginia Tech who is studying grandparent headed families - about the health impacts of this arrangement. 

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 The University of Texas Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital released a study this month showing that diet and exercise may improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy. Healthy eating is already encouraged during treatment but diet plans are uncommon. When it comes to physical activity, the study says, doctors are cautious when suggesting an exercise routine.

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A new health care bill to replace the Affordable Care Act was recently introduced in the U.S. Senate. The bill would fundamentally alter Medicaid financing and reduce federal spending for health coverage, according to a new analysis released today by the nonpartisan think tank Kaiser Family Foundation.

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Joseph Reed has been a family doctor in Buckhannon, West Virginia for more than 50 years. Now in his early 80s, Reed continues to see patients a couple days a month at St. Joseph’s hospital. In our next installment of our occasional series, Windows into Health Care, health reporter Kara Lofton talks to Reed about his career and how he’s seen medicine change over the last half century. 

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A new study indicates that children exposed to high indoor levels of pet or pest allergens during infancy may have less risk of developing asthma.

Previous studies found that reducing exposure to things that aggravate asthma like pet dander can help control the condition. But the new study, published today in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that exposure to certain allergens before asthma is established, may help prevent kids from developing asthma at all.

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A bipartisan coalition of 37 states and territories are calling on health insurance companies to help find solutions to the nation’s opioid crisis.

West Virginia and Kentucky attorney generals Patrick Morrisey and Andy Beshear announced the coalition in press conference at Marshall University Monday afternoon.

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If you look at the data, West Virginia has enough pediatricians to cover the number of children here. What there aren’t enough of is many pediatric specialties such as pediatric allergists, neurologists or rheumatologists. And that’s forcing many families like the Laxtons to seek care out of state.

Lori Laxton met me at McDonalds in Beckley. When her daughter was four she began having trouble with her kidneys.

The closest pediatric urologist was at the University of Virginia Medical Center - 3.5 to four hours away from her home in Pineville.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, lawmakers and union leaders are raising concerns about practices at the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration amid an increase in coal fatalities. As Becca Schimmel reports, officials are asking questions about MSHA’s compliance assistance program.

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28 counties in West Virginia are at risk for a potential HIV outbreak, according to a 2016 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many of the vulnerable communities are rural areas in southern West Virginia. Recently, more than $1 million in federal funding has been awarded to a West Virginia University project aimed at preventing an HIV outbreak in southern West Virginia. 


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A number of studies have been published in recent years looking at the connection between sitting too much and poor health outcomes. But a new study published today found that adults who sit for one to two hours at a time without moving may have a higher mortality rate than adults who sit for the same total amount of time, but in shorter segments.

Study participants who sat more than 13 hours a day usually in bouts of 60 to 90 minutes at a time were twice as likely to die earlier than those who sat for the same amount of time, but got up and moved more frequently.

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A new study has found that sedentary older adults who add less than an hour of moderate physical activity per week can improve overall physical functioning.

Researchers analyzed data from more than 1600 men and women ages 70-89 over an average of 2.6 years. All had problems moving normally at the beginning of the study and most reported fewer than 20 minutes of physical activity a week.

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At the St. Joseph’s Hospital women’s health clinic in Buckhannon, midwife Kathy Robinson is using a doppler to look for a heartbeat during a prenatal visit. Women travel to Buckhannon for prenatal care from as far as two hours away.

 

 

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Experts and advocates gathered in Morgantown yesterday for the West Virginia University Children’s Health Policy Summit to talk about policy issues related to children’s health care.

 

 


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Millennials may be less likely to use opioids to manage chronic pain than older generations, a new nationwide survey has found.

One in five millennials who used opioids to manage pain say they regretted it.

Instead, millennials report preferring lifestyle changes to improve pain management such as exercising, eating right, quitting smoking and losing weight.

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A new study published this month in the journal Obesity has found that mothers who gained more weight during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy than deemed healthy by the Institute of Medicine were 2.5 times more likely to have babies be born large.

Large birth weight, meaning more than 8.5 pounds, is associated with a higher risk of childhood obesity.

Maternal obesity and weight gain in pregnancy have already been strongly linked to the development of overweight and obesity in children, but this is the first study to pinpoint the implications of when weight gain occurs.

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Five states, including West Virginia, have adult obesity rates above 35%, according to the 2016 State of Obesity Report. American’s waistlines have been steadily increasing since data collection began in 1990, but the problem is particularly acute in the Southeast and Midwest.

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Fifty years ago there were around 65 birth facilities in West Virginia. Now, there are only 24, which means pregnant women have to travel farther to give birth and, often, for prenatal care.

 

Take Deana Lucion, for example. Lucion was 20 weeks pregnant when the last remaining obstetrician in McDowell County retired, effectively closing Welch Community Hospital’s birthing services.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, 50 years ago, there were about 65 birth facilities in West Virginia. Now, there are 24, which means increased drive-time for access to care for today’s pregnant mothers. As Kara Lofton reports, closure of these facilities also means decreased access to women’s health services.

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Lung experts at Ohio State University Medical Center are testing whether nicotine can help people with a particular type of chronic inflammatory lung disease called sarcoidosis. If left untreated, sarcoidosis can cause severe lung damage and even death.

It is not completely understood why patients develop the disease, but some experts think it may happen when your immune system responds to a trigger, such as bacteria, viruses, dust, or chemicals.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Liam Rusmisel is a different kid this year. On the first day of kindergarten he walked into the classroom, head held high, according to his teachers. This is no small feat for a kid who had a bit of a rough start to last year.

 

 


West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, a new report spells out just how far Appalachia has fallen behind the rest of the country on key health measures. As The Ohio Valley ReSource's Mary Meehan explains, the gap continues to grow.

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The West Virginia Department of Health and Human resources announced it will use $22 million in settlement monies received from drug distributors to combat the drug epidemic in West Virginia. 

The money came from a suit that found defendant drug companies failed to detect, report and stop the flood of suspicious prescription drug orders into the state. The defendants denied any liability, but the parties agreed to the settlement to avoid litigation.

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President Donald Trump's Commission on the Opioid Crisis recently recommended that the president declare the opioid crisis a national public health emergency. The commission said that such a declaration could free up money to fight the epidemic.

Back in April, we aired a special report about the opioid epidemic here in Appalachia. So this week, we’re going to revisit that story to remember how some Appalachians became addicted, and what a battle for sobriety can be like.

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In part one of this occasional series, Windows Into Health Care, health reporter Kara Lofton talks with Crittenton Services CEO and President Kathy Szafran on the issue of Trauma and Poverty.

Szafran outlines work Crittenton is doing to provide trauma-informed elementary schools - exploring ways to break the cycle of trauma by working with both kids and their families and provide insight into the effect trauma can have on the developing brain. 

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