Karen Brown


Karen is a radio and print journalist who focuses on health care, mental health, children’s issues, and other topics about the human condition. She has been a full-time radio reporter for NEPM since 1998. Her features and documentaries have won a number of national awards, including the National Edward R. Murrow Award, Public Radio News Directors, Inc. (PRNDI) Award, Third Coast Audio Festival Award, and the Daniel Schorr Journalism Prize.

Karen’s work has appeared on NPR, in The New York Times, and other outlets. She previously worked as a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer. She earned a Masters of Journalism from the University of California at Berkeley in 1996.

Ways to Connect

A health care worker places a cotton swab into a vile after taking a sample from someone being tested for COVID-19 last month at a drive-through testing area at Somerville Hospital.
Jesse Costa / WBUR

Western Massachusetts health care providers say they have much better access to COVID-19 testing than a month ago, but ideally, they would like even more.

Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, Mass.
Kevin Gutting / Daily Hampshire Gazette / gazettenet.com

As the number of new COVID-19 cases in western Massachusetts is beginning to flatten or decline, some hospitals say they're starting to think about opening to non-urgent services.

Newly released from prison in April 2020, James Watson is flanked by his lawyers, Madeline Weaver Blanchette (left) and Barb Munro.
Courtesy / Barb Munro

A Massachusetts man who's been locked up for 41 years is out of prison while he makes the case he was wrongfully convicted. He was released in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A desk in a physician's office.
Karen Brown / NEPR

Primary care doctors are supposed to be the first stop for the COVID-19 crisis. They're who you call if you have symptoms, partly to relieve pressure on hospitals.

But the pandemic has put immense financial strain on primary care practices.

The campus of UMass Amherst.
Hoang 'Leon' Nguyen / The Republican / masslive.com

College students around the country are finishing the semester in a much different place than they started — many back with their families, in their hometowns — as classes continue online.

Vibra Hospital in Springfield, Mass.
Don Treeger / The Springfield Republican

A state-affiliated psychiatric hospital in Springfield, Massachusetts, is dealing with several COVID-19 cases.

Northampton police officer Justin Hooten shows a box of Narcan installed at the station, free to the public. He's involved with the DART program, which has scaled back its services.
Karen Brown / NEPR

A couple months ago, the most talked-about public health epidemic in New England was opioid addiction. While the COVID-19 pandemic has since taken over, the drug crisis has not gone away. But addressing it has become much harder.

UMass Amherst scientist Richard Peltier used a mannequin to test a sterlized N95 mask.
Courtesy UMass Amherst

A UMass Amherst scientist says he's shown that a high-grade medical mask — often considered disposable — can be sterilized and re-used at least once.

The town hall in Greenfield, Massachusetts.
File photo / MassLive / masslive.com/photos

Municipal offices across Massachusetts are closed to the public because of COVID-19, but many employees are still required to come in.

Homemade masks sewn by Northampton, Mass., clothing-maker Caitlin Carvalho, who is donating them to hospitals and other organizations.
Courtesy of Caitlin Carvalho

As President Trump has resisted using the full range of his executive powers to address the shortage in medical supplies like masks, regular citizens across the country are offering to hand-sew them at home and donate them to hospitals and other institutions. 

Packages containing medical provisions like medications, supplies and equipment, shown in 2016.
Senior Airman Andrea Posey / U.S. Air Force

Massachusetts public health officials are recruiting volunteers for a medical reserve corps to help with the coronavirus response, though they say no medical training is necessary.

Hampden County Sheriff Nick Cocchi speaks about new precautions at the Ludlow jail on March 16, 2020.
Karen Brown / NEPR

Jails in western Massachusetts have announced new restrictions to help stop COVID-19 from reaching the inmate population.

The campus of UMass Amherst.
File photo / Daily Hampshire Gazette / gazettenet.com

The University of Massachusetts is joining a growing list of colleges and universities in closing campus to most students and moving to online learning, at least for now.

Hospitals leaders from western Massachusetts meet with U.S. Rep. Richard Neal to discuss COVID-19 preparation on March 6, 2020.
Emma Rubin / NEPR

Updated at 4:27 p.m.

As of Saturday, Massachusetts officials say there are 13 confirmed or presumed cases of COVID-19 in the state – including the first from western Mass. The state's public health department confirmed a man from Berkshire County was among the newest cases.

Bags that carry ballots to polling places in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Carol Lollis / Daily Hampshire Gazette / gazettenet.com

Northampton, Massachusetts, officials have decided not to redo the city’s override vote, despite a ballot shortage in one precinct.

Croix Paquette, pictured at right, is in recovery and works with the DART program.
Karen Brown / NEPR

Croix Paquette is a Tennessee native and a natural storyteller. One story he often tells is about the last day he used drugs.

Providence Hospital in Holyoke, Massachusetts.
Hoang 'Leon' Nguyen / The Republican / masslive.com/photos

Mental health workers are decrying the planned closing of Providence Hospital's inpatient psychiatric unit in Holyoke, Massachusetts.

Presidential candidate and Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders greets supporters at his campaign rally at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Mass., on February 28, 2020.
Hoang 'Leon' Nguyen / The Republican / MassLive.com/photos

Updated at 11:11 p.m.

A few thousand supporters of Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders rallied Friday night at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, a few days before voters in Massachusetts and 13 other states weigh in on the Democratic nomination.

Police officers attend a Drug Addiction and Recovery Team kickoff event for Hampden County cities and towns.
Karen Brown / NEPR

A program in Massachusetts that offers help to drug users, as an alternative to arrests, started in Hampshire County. The Drug Addiction and Recovery Team (DART) is now moving into Hampden County. But police in Springfield aren’t taking part, and there’s little information about what they are doing for overdose survivors.

Croix Paquette, at left, is in recovery from drug addiction. He works with Sheryl Holmes, at right, who lost her son to an overdose.
Karen Brown / NEPR

You might not expect Sheryl Holmes to be among those who consider the Drug Addiction and Recovery Team (DART) a success. Less than a month after a DART officer with the Belchertown police first made contact with her family, her son Caleb, 18, died of an overdose.

DART recovery coach Susan Daley, at left, with DART client Charlie Lopez.
Karen Brown / NEPR

Charlie Lopez and Susan Daley meet most Wednesday evenings at the Nest, a recovery meeting room in Belchertown, Massachusetts.

Emily Ligawiec at a recovery center in Holyoke, Massachusetts, where she's been living.
Karen Brown / NEPR

Emily Ligawiec, 29, has to sign visitors in to her recovery program in a grand Victorian house run by the Gandara Center in Holyoke, Massachusetts.

Pregnant woman.
Tatiana Vdb / Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/kit4na

A UMass Amherst study has found a possible link between prenatal exposure to some common household chemicals and autism.

A stack of medical bills.
Karen Brown / NEPR

Consumer advocates say they're encouraged by a flurry of congressional legislation to rein in surprise medical bills, including one sponsored by U.S. Representative Richard Neal of Springfield.

Emily Ligawiec has to sign in visitors to the recovery program she attends in a grand Victorian house in Holyoke, Mass. She can't bring people to her room. She only recently earned phone and car privileges.

"We get 24, 48, 72-hour passes every weekend," she said.

But Ligawiec doesn't mind the restrictions. The 29-year-old is grateful she's alive to follow them, after a decade of addiction — first to prescription painkillers, then pills she bought in the street, then heroin.

"I had gone down a pretty dark path," she said.

Soldiers in military exercises at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.
Marcie Casas / Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/marciecasas

Umass Amherst researchers say soldiers with severe brain injuries are more likely to develop mental health disorders than previously thought.

Former Springfield police detective Steven Vigneault
Dave Roback / The Republican / masslive.com/photos

Federal charges have been dropped against Steven Vigneault, a Springfield, Massachusetts, police officer accused of kicking a juvenile during a 2016 arrest.

Casino gambling chips.
Jamie Adams / Creative Commons / flickr.com/people/74159937@N00

The city of Springfield announced it has hired two community health workers to help address problem gambling, nearly a year and a half after the MGM casino opened. 

Opioid prescription drugs.
Ajay Suresh / Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/ajay_suresh

Paying attention to gender differences in why people become addicted to opioids can improve treatment, according to a UMass Amherst study.

Volunteers Tom Andros, left, Mark Castro, top, and Luke Wing sort boxes of incoming food at the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts in Hatfield.
Kevin Gutting / Daily Hampshire Gazette / gazettenet.com

Food pantries in western Massachusettts are expecting an influx of clients as a result of the Trump Administraton's latest cuts to the federal food stamp program known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).