7 months ago

Telemedicine advances & broadband are keys to Alabamians’ long-term health

COVID-19 cases have spiked across Alabama, hitting our state’s low-income and African American counties with a vengeance. Perry County now has per-capita infection rates exceeding peak levels in New York City, while Lowndes County – with its long, storied history of civil rights’ struggles – has also suffered enormously.

Throughout the country, telemedicine grew astronomically during the pandemic; patients and practitioners have turned to virtual video “visits” to avoid the risks of face-to-face discussions. But those without home computers are effectively shut out of these services.

Both our values and our concern for public health demand we close this divide. Closing the digital divide should be part of the long-overdue national reckoning on social justice.

Meeting this challenge is going to take cooperation and creativity, not finger-pointing and political posturing. Elected officials need to get skin in the game if we are going to bring broadband to those who need it for critical services such as telehealth.

First, we need to get broadband infrastructure into rural communities. Nationwide, 95% of all communities are wired for broadband. But big infrastructure gaps still exist across swaths of rural America, where longer distances and fewer potential customers make network infrastructure a lot more expensive to build. Twenty-seven percent of rural Alabamans currently don’t have fixed broadband deployed in their neighborhoods.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will soon start distributing $20 billion in new funding for rural broadband projects, which is a good start. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), the majority whip and highest-ranking African American in Congress, is leading a bipartisan effort in both Houses to speed up that FCC program, while getting rid of outdated eligibility restrictions that limit competition, steer buildout projects to favored contractors, and keep many capable providers on the sidelines.

More competition and better oversight should help avoid the poor performance seen in earlier federal broadband programs, when too many dollars were spent non-competitively and went to areas that already had broadband infrastructure rather than unserved rural communities with the greatest needs.

Second, we need to get more people online in the communities where high-speed service is already available. Twenty-seven percent of Americans still don’t subscribe to home broadband service even though broadband providers have stepped up with heavily discounted or even free service for low-income customers. In federal surveys, 60% of non-subscribers say they just don’t have any need or interest in-home broadband.

It will take a sustained, united effort to change these misguided views on the importance of broadband. Community groups, health advocates, local governments, and tech and broadband companies all need to join together in a public-private partnership to accomplish universal digital literacy by a date certain.

We need to do a much better job evangelizing broadband connectivity to those who don’t think the internet is important to them. Broadband opens lots of doors – educational, economic, health care and much more. Telemedicine can literally save lives, and broadband can vastly expand the quality of life in many other ways. We need to tell this story more compellingly to get everyone signed up.

Third, we need to permanently dismantle obsolete public policies that discriminate against telemedicine. When the pandemic hit, federal agencies quickly (if belatedly) relaxed restrictions on telemedicine and expanded reimbursements for telehealth services under Medicare and other federal health programs. Alabama followed suit with new, temporary licensing rules and Medicaid reimbursements. Instead of letting these reforms expire when conditions return to “normal,” federal and state governments should make these temporary policies permanent.

Healthcare providers across Alabama recognize the potential for remote, broadband-connected telemedicine services to revolutionize health care delivery and close access gaps.

I teamed with several local doctors to start the Telemedicine Hub of Alabama – an online service through which patients can access low-cost primary care, mental health care, and pharmacy services. Remote services like these are particularly critical to reach patients in areas impacted by hospital closures; 17 hospitals across Alabama have closed in the last decade.

We need public policies and public-private partnerships that encourage innovation and investment. And we need better rural broadband infrastructure and higher broadband adoption rates to ensure every Alabamian can access telemedicine apps and services.

This will take an investment of time, resources, and leadership – but we can crack this code if all the stakeholders work together. The long-term health of Alabamians depends on it.

Curtis Cannon is Managing Partner of Axis Recovery, a Birmingham based strategic healthcare consultancy firm

1 hour ago

Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator taking applications for 2021 class

Startups from around the world are encouraged to apply for the Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator 2021 class.

In its second year, the innovative program, located in Birmingham, seeks early-stage startups focused on emerging energy technologies. Areas of interest include smart cities, electric grid resiliency and sustainability, industrial electrification, connectivity and electric transportation.

The class will run for 13 weeks and include 10 companies. Through their participation in Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator, startups will receive seed investment, business coaching and mentorship through Techstars’ worldwide network of business leaders.


At the end of the 90 days, the program will culminate in Demo Day, a public pitch event on Dec. 9.

“We had a fantastic first year, made successful through the hard work and creativity of our inaugural class, even during a pandemic,” said Nate Schmidt, Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator’s managing director. “If you have an energy tech startup, you simply don’t want to miss out on the amazing opportunities and relationships this accelerator will provide your business.”

Techstars Alabama is supported by Alabama Power, the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, the Alabama Department of CommerceAltecPowerSouth and the University of Alabama. They play a key role in the accelerator process, with the common goal of growing the number of startup companies based in Alabama and making the area a hub of innovation activity.

The application deadline is May 12. For more information, visit the Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator program page at Techstars.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 hours ago

VIDEO: Gov. Ivey extends mask mandate, lottery could be an option as gambling bill languishes, Merrill backs off ‘no excuse’ absentee balloting and more on Alabama Politics This Week …

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and political consultant Mecca Musick take you through Alabama’s biggest political stories, including:

— Did Governor Kay Ivey make the right decision when she extended the mask mandate?

— Is the Alabama Legislature going to look to move forward with the lottery if they can’t get a more comprehensive gambling bill?

— Why did Secretary of State John Merrill support and then retract his support for “no excuse” absentee voting?


Jackson and Musick are joined by Matt Murphy of Talk 99.5 in Birmingham to discuss the issues facing the state of Alabama this week.

Jackson closes the show with a “Parting Shot” at Alabama Democratic Party Chairman and State Representative Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa) for not following through on his plan to make the party more relevant in Alabama.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 AM weekdays on WVNN and on Talk 99.5 from 10AM to noon.

6 hours ago

Mo Brooks: Stopping H.R. 1, amnesty keys to winning in 2022 midterms — ‘Then we will be able to neuter Joe Biden’

FLORENCE — With the third month of the 117th Congress now underway, House Democrats have pushed forward in their efforts to pass H.R. 1, which would impose so-called reforms to the country’s voting system.

Also among the priorities for Democrats, who control the White House, House and Senate, are immigration measures that could include amnesty for illegal aliens.

During an appearance at the Shoals Republican Club on Saturday, U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) panned those efforts and said he hoped to stymie the progress of House Democrats on those two fronts.


Brooks told those in attendance that if Republicans could prove successful in those efforts, it would set the GOP up for wins in the 2022 midterm elections and hamstring President Joe Biden’s push to promote a left-of-center agenda.

“We’ve got to stop H.R. 1, and we’ve got to stop the amnesty and citizenship that Joe Biden has promised,” he said. “If we do those two things, then we’re going to take back the House in 2022. I hope we will take back the Senate in 2022. And then we will be able to neuter Joe Biden over the next two years if we control the House and Senate and set the stage as well for us taking back the White House in 2024 with whoever our nominee may be.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

7 hours ago

2021 Birmingham Heart Walk goes virtual

COVID-19 has forced many nonprofits to shift gears in their fundraising efforts and the American Heart Association (AHA) is no exception. The AHA’s 2021 Birmingham Heart Walk has been reimagined as a digital experience this year to maintain necessary safety protocols due to the ongoing pandemic.

Through the event design, AHA is striving to get more people moving in Birmingham while continuing to raise life-saving funds and keep participants safe in the process. The Birmingham Heart Walk is Saturday, June 12, from 9-11 a.m. and participants can walk from anywhere.

Leading up to the event, participants are encouraged to track their activity through the “Move More Challenge” using the free Heart Walk activity tracker app that can be downloaded from Apple or Google Play. Once registered, users have 30 days to log minutes, and any activity counts. Top movers and fundraisers will be recognized on Heart Walk day.


“The American Heart Association holds a special place in my heart,” said Southern Company Vice President of Technology David Coxwho will chair the walk for the second time. “They have done so much for my family and for my daughter, Emily, who was born with multiple congenital heart defects. I’m pleased to partner with this outstanding organization in their efforts help our community connect and stay active as we adapt to this virtual world.”

More than 600,000 Americans die each year from heart disease, and the risks have only been compacted by the pandemic. Among COVID-19 hospitalizations, 40% are heart or stroke patients, so this year, donations from the Heart Walk will help fast-track COVID-19 research and train front-line workers in addition to the many other research projects and resources funded by the AHA.

Fundraising and activities for the Heart Walk are beginning to ramp up as the warmer months approach.

“Now is the time to sign up, lace up and start fundraising for the 2021 Birmingham Heart Walk,” said Hannah Carroll, Heart Challenge director of the Birmingham AHA. “Signing up now ensures you won’t miss any of the fun this year, like Rally Days and our new activity tracker.”

On Feb. 18, Cox hosted a virtual kickoff for business leaders in the Birmingham area who will be fielding teams at this year’s Heart Walk. He encouraged counterparts to begin their fundraising efforts by saying, “We’re here for a reason – to fight for a world of longer, healthier lives.”

To view Emily’s story, click here. To learn more about the 2021 Birmingham Heart Walk or to create a team, click here.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

10 hours ago

Schoolyard Roots growing stronger, smarter kids in Alabama

When kids participate in the life of a garden, they see the complete cycle of growing food, cooking and preparing it to eat. School gardens are exciting places for kids to learn basic academic subjects, too.

The Tuscaloosa community came together more than 10 years ago to develop a garden-based learning program called the Druid City Garden project, now called Schoolyard Roots.

Schoolyard Roots employs a full-time teaching staff that provides garden lessons for students, as well as professional development training for teachers. The school gardens provide an outdoor experience rare to many students. They are more likely to make healthy choices and try new foods. Students gain a sense of responsibility, to collaborate and work together as a team.


“When we see a child’s health and education improve, we know that we’re not only investing in that child’s life today – we’re helping them build a better future,” said Nicole Gelb Dugat, interim executive director. “Schoolyard Roots builds community through food. By increasing access to fresh, locally grown produce, we empower our community to make healthy and sustainable food choices.”

In March 2020, the impact of COVID-19 significantly affected the teaching community. Almost immediately, the Schoolyard Roots team began distributing produce from its gardens directly to local families. By the end of last year, the program had distributed more than 750 pounds of fresh garden vegetables to the community.

“We stewarded our gardens as fresh-air sanctuaries, where children and adults could relax, refocus and reconnect,” said Dugat. “Through it all, we shared vegetables and flowers. We cultivated moments of peace and learned together. We could not have done any of it without our incredible community of supporters.”

They found hope and inspiration in the small miracle of seeds planted by the students. Gardens bring joy, peace and courage in times of struggle. And gardens remind us to have hope for new growth and what is to come.

Schoolyard Roots partners with Tuscaloosa-area elementary schools to bring learning to life through teaching gardens. The nonprofit works in 11 elementary schools across Tuscaloosa County.

Its mission is to build healthy communities through food with the Gardens 2 Schools program.

Gardens support and encourage healthful eating as a key component of children’s physical wellbeing, which can aid their academic and social success, too. The garden is woven through many aspects of a school’s curriculum and adapted for different grade levels.

“The Gardens 2 Schools program cultivates curiosity,” Dugat said. “The program teaches the students how to work together (and) learn self-reliability and compassion.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)