4 weeks ago

UAB commitment to state vital in COVID-19 response

COVID-19 has affected virtually every facet of life in Alabama, and there may be nowhere that is more apparent than at the University of Alabama at Birmingham — an institution leveraging its expertise to fill a critical leadership role in response to the pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has showcased the vital importance of UAB to Alabama and the world,” said UAB President Ray L. Watts. “We continue to leverage research and innovation, community service, patient care, and education to make a big difference.”

As the country began to take note of the devastating virus, UAB’s world-renowned infectious diseases experts provided accurate and timely information across Alabama and beyond, and they have continued to collaborate with local, state and federal elected leaders, deliver critical information to our community, and inform media audiences worldwide.

UAB set an example for the state with early, decisive action to flatten the curve and promote aggressive social distancing among its 22,000 students, 23,000 employees and its patients from across Alabama, who account for more than 1.7 million visits a year to UAB medical facilities.

As a world-renowned research-intensive academic medical center, the state’s eyes turned to UAB Medicine for guidance on how to protect against the virus, medically prepare for a pandemic and care for patients once it arrived.

Preparing for the worst on the front lines

“When the COVID-19 crisis started, UAB Medicine took the position that we were going to do everything we could to help Alabama regardless of the cost,” said Will Ferniany, Ph.D., CEO of the UAB Health System. “We planned and prepared and shared what we knew to help others across the state plan and prepare as well.”

  • UAB experts prepared treatment guidelines and best practices and shared them with hospitals across the state.
  • UAB supply chain leaders provided support and advice to the governor’s office, the Alabama Hospital Association and Jefferson County’s supply chain efforts to secure personal protective equipment (PPE), not just for UAB, but for all health care providers across the state.
  • UAB pulmonologists helped the state evaluate proposals to purchase additional ventilators and made recommendations on the most appropriate options.
  • As the pandemic grew, UAB worked with state and local health departments, emergency management agencies, and Jefferson County on a plan to transform the Sheraton Birmingham Hotel’s 377 rooms into treatment rooms for patients in the event of a surge.
  • Plans were also coordinated with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on creating two 36-bed acute care units, if needed, in the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center.
  • UAB physicians served on advisory panels and task forces to collaborate with and provide critical medical insights with local and state officials.
  • The UAB Health System and the Division of Geriatrics created a five-point plan to help nursing homes cope with the pandemic. Town hall meetings with the Alabama Nursing Home Association, Alabama Hospital Association, and state and local health departments resulted in a care continuum to develop strategies to fight the spread of infection in nursing facilities and provide a best practices care plan for testing and treating infected patients.
  • A similar effort is underway with state and private mental health facilities, where the UAB Department of Psychiatry is helping establish guidelines on the use of PPE and provide testing support.

Caring for those infected

UAB leveraged its large team of critical care physicians and nurses, as well as advanced knowledge and technologies, to care for complex COVID-19 cases, supporting higher recovery rates and saving lives. In addition to patient care, UAB led efforts to care for frontline health care heroes at UAB and beyond.

UAB Medicine made rooms available at nearby hotels for health care providers who did not want to return home and risk infecting their families. The university even offered a residence hall for self-isolating UAB staff and Birmingham-area first responders who had tested positive for COVID-19 or who had not tested positive but were worried about going home to their families. With the university’s full backing, the belongings of student residents who had returned home were packed and stored. The facility was thoroughly sanitized, and rooms were offered at no cost to frontline health care heroes.

UAB Health System member Baptist Health did the same, working with Auburn University at Montgomery to offer free housing to team members who had been exposed to COVID-19 or had family members at home with compromised immune systems.

Medical West Hospital, also a member of the UAB Health System, ramped up telemedicine in all of its primary care clinics to provide needed continuing care and testing ability. The hospital is also working with area nursing homes to contain the spread of the virus in those facilities through aggressive testing and best practices of evaluation and mitigation.

Recognizing disparities

Recognition of the disproportionate burden of disease on minority populations was highlighted in an editorial by Selwyn Vickers, M.D., senior vice president for Medicine and dean of the UAB School of Medicine, along with 14 medical school deans and health leaders. The editorial, published in USA Today, drew attention to the higher rates of infection and mortality in persons of color, and called for refinement of governmental and health care responses to pandemics to provide greater access to resources for the underprivileged and underserved.

A second thought-provoking editorial penned by Vickers and the group of deans stated the case for increased medical education in social determinants of health. The editorial, published by the American Association of Medical Colleges, calls for changes in medical school curriculum to better educate the next generation of physicians on the effects of health disparities on population health.

The School of Public Health, led by Dean Paul Erwin, Ph.D., and Shauntice Allen, Ph.D., has reached out to residents of the Housing Authority of the Birmingham District to answer questions and dispel myths about coronavirus and race. The school and local faith communities have hosted live events on Facebook and used YouTube videos to reach this underserved population.

SOPH’s Bertha Hidalgo, Ph.D., has maintained an active presence on social media in both Spanish and English to provide information to the general population about COVID-19 and to help break down the science to people without scientific backgrounds.

In a partnership between JCDH, Birmingham Strong, federally funded health centers in the area, and UAB’s Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center, UAB launched additional testing sites in disadvantaged neighborhoods across the Greater Birmingham area. A call center for appointments was set up and neighborhoods identified. The clinics feature drive-in and walk-up testing, and they anticipate testing between 50 and 100 individuals per day at each site.

“As we reopen across the state, we know that it will be vitally important to continue community testing,” said Jordan DeMoss, vice president for Clinical Operations at UAB Hospital. “We understand that not everyone is capable or willing to come to our downtown testing site. We feel it is important that we reach out, especially to our underserved communities, for testing, for education and for awareness as we build trust in the health care system.”

The health system also supports underserved residents of Jefferson County as it moves forward with plans to operate Cooper Green Mercy Health Services as part of a University Authority. The Authority will provide better access to UAB’s high-quality care for Cooper Green patients.

Testing innovative therapies

In addition to being on the front lines of patient care and serving others doing the same, UAB is on the front lines of drug discovery, spearheading the development of possible therapeutics against COVID-19. One of the most promising treatments is remdesivir, developed under the guidance of the UAB-led Antiviral Drug Discovery and Development Center.

Dr. Anthony Fauci of the NIH has said that remdesivir is now the standard of care for hospitalized patients with moderate to severe illness. UAB is the only hospital in Alabama able to offer these treatments for our citizens through multiple clinical trials:

  • Remdesivir
  • Nitric oxide
  • Convalescent plasma
  • Selinexor
  • Tocilizumab
  • Canakinumab on cytokine release syndrome

Supporting community testing

UAB Hospital administrators and leaders in pathology have been able to secure hard-to-get testing equipment, materials and PPE to expand testing in the region, as well as expand testing into previously underserved areas. UAB medical students volunteered at community testing sites and manned phones lines to deliver results.

Due to UAB’s efforts in molecular testing led by Sixto Leal, M.D., UAB was among the first academic medical centers in the country to offer in-house testing by launching a laboratory-developed test in March. Leal and his team are currently testing between 300 and 500 samples daily with COVID-19 RNA testing, confirming the presence of the virus in patients, with a turnaround time of less than 24 hours. This includes all inpatient admissions and health care workers, as well as all patients undergoing surgical procedures at UAB Hospital, and labor and delivery patients. A second COVID-19 RNA testing platform with less than two hours’ turnaround time is now operational as well.

To support the Jefferson County Department of Health, UAB developed a testing call center and drive-in site on UAB property. That site has now tested more than 5,000 community members. Hospital laboratories quickly geared up to increase testing capacity, now processing 600 tests per day.

Medical West Hospital worked closely with mayors in west and southwest Jefferson County, and tested more than 600 patients with the help of Cahaba Medical Care.

Baptist Health quickly opened two Coronavirus Care Clinics in mid-March, within a week of one another, with phone screening/testing and a drive-up appointment model. To date, the clinics have served nearly 20,000 patients via phone screenings and more than 2,500 patients via drive-up screenings. These clinics helped identify COVID-19-positive patients in a drive-up clinic setting allowing for a safe and seamless referral to appropriate medical care.

Reopening the state

On the eve of Alabama’s updated stay-at-home measures that allowed greater access to retail, UAB distributed posters through an extensive grassroots effort for retailers and individuals to encourage safe shopping to allow businesses to remain open.

In addition to awareness, tracking the virus is a critical element in the reopening plan. A group of UAB experts created www.helpbeatcovid19.org, a symptom tracker to help determine the spread of the virus. More than 58,000 people are using this tool to track their daily symptoms, providing up-to-date information that tracks the progression of symptoms in communities in real time. The resulting interactive map shows hot spots that indicate a rise in symptoms.

UAB public health experts also launched predictive models to help decision-makers accurately assess the likely trajectory of COVID-19 in the state.

  • Suzanne Judd, Ph.D., developed a Jefferson County COVID-19 community-based disease outbreak model and provided it to the JCDH.
  • Jerry McGwin, Ph.D., has developed a model for the UAB Health System to predict the trajectory and characteristics of COVID-19 patients to aid in UAB’s personnel and resource management and planning.
  • McGwin has also developed a model to predict the trajectory and characteristics of COVID-19 patients admitted to hospitals in Jefferson County and in the state of Alabama to aid in resource management and planning.
  • Andrew Rucks, Ph.D., and W. Jack Duncan, Ph.D., are creating graphs that plot the daily path of COVID-19 in Alabama and Jefferson County from mid-March to the present. The graphs show the total number of cases, deaths and hospitalizations on any given date.

UAB experts are also members of panels looking at ways to safely and effectively reopen the state.

  • Vickers serves on the executive committee of the governor’s task force.
  • Jeanne Marrazzo, M.D., director of the UAB Division of Infectious Diseases, serves on the state coronavirus task force.
  • Other medical professionals are serving as advisers to elected officials at the local, regional and state levels on the progress of the virus, and of the efficacy of efforts to flatten the curve and reduce the incidence of infection.
  • The UAB Health System is actively working with hospitals in the region on guidelines for opening elective surgery and returning to normal patient volumes.

Putting the UAB research engine to work

In addition to ongoing drug development and clinical trials work, UAB is ramping up new research in the fight against COVID-19. In March, UAB launched the Urgent COVID-19 Research Fund, and in three weeks raised $1.1 million from Birmingham and state business leaders.

The money was dedicated to clinical and basic research projects proposed by UAB faculty in the School of Medicine, in conjunction with the Hugh Kaul Precision Medicine Institute. A request for applications for basic science proposals was issued in mid-March to faculty of the school. Fifty-two proposals were submitted. In late April, 14 projects were selected for funding.

Among those projects:

  • Vaccine development
  • Repurposing FDA-approved medications for use against COVID-19
  • Discovery of novel therapeutic targets
  • Disease tracking systems
  • Improvements in testing platforms
  • Creation of reagents for use in antibody immunity studies
  • Bio-repositories
  • Clinical registry of COVID-19
  • Creation of animal models of COVID-19
  • Understanding the cytokine release syndrome implicated in patients with severe disease

Outreach to Birmingham — and the world

UAB began regular media briefings in February to better inform the public about the novel coronavirus threat, prior to the first identified cases in Alabama.

  • UAB faculty have been regular fixtures on local and national television and quoted in major media publications around the world.
  • UAB has presented regular media briefings to state media outlets, in conjunction with the City of Birmingham, Jefferson County Department of Health and Emergency Management Agency.
  • UAB’s uab.edu/coronavirus website offers information, videos, images, infographics and more that have been shared widely in social and traditional media, reaching hundreds of thousands of people online.
  • The helpbeatcovid19.org website provides a place for the public to donate money, material or just show their support for frontline health care workers, first responders or those in need.

Educational leadership

UAB and the University of Alabama System have taken a leadership role in helping institutions of higher education plan toward a safe return to campus when in-person classes and activities resume.

The UA System established a task force made up of representatives of all three campuses and leveraging UAB’s extensive medical expertise to develop plans for reopening universities — guidance that will be shared with other institutions across the state.

“We are extremely fortunate that UAB, home to one of the world’s foremost academic medical centers, is part of our system,” said UA System Chancellor Finis St. John. “With knowledge and guidance from the scientists, doctors, researchers and numerous higher-education experts on our campuses, we are developing comprehensive plans to make sure our three campuses are the safest in America when our students return. Our task force will consider strategies of all kinds: testing measures, enhanced cleaning, classroom procedures, housing policies, security and wellness programs, and more.”

Watts says UAB will continue to work aggressively to support Alabama’s fight against COVID-19 and the state’s recovery.

“We have worked very hard to respond to the pandemic from every aspect of our organization,” Watts said. “I’m proud of the people of UAB: frontline health care workers, researchers, support staff, faculty, students and everyone who is a Blazer as we adapt to a new reality. We are also hard at work planning for when this is over, so that UAB will be an even stronger and better organization and be here to serve the people of Alabama.”

(Courtesy of UAB)

9 hours ago

Fmr Gov. Don Siegelman appears to be using outrage over George Floyd to sell new book

Former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman to sell his new book is using robocalls that appear to reference the current unrest over George Floyd’s death while in Minneapolis police custody.

On Thursday afternoon, a Yellowhammer News reporter received a robocall from 1 (800) 890-5875, a number listed as “Robocaller” by the phone protection company NoMoRobo. The voiceover of the robocall was apparently recorded by Siegelman himself.

The message began, “Don Siegelman, your governor here. We’ve got to protect people from the abuse of power by police, prosecutors, or presidents.”

“My new book, Stealing our Democracy, is a wakeup call to action. It’s also number one among new releases on amazon.com,” the message added.

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An individual from the Wiregrass told Yellowhammer News that she also received the voicemail.

In addition to that, at least one Twitter user appeared to have received the robocall.

Siegelman was convicted on June 29, 2006, of conspiracy, bribery and fraud.

The former Alabama Democratic governor appeared to lump in his claimed unjust treatment by the authorities with the death of George Floyd.

Listen:

Siegelman is currently promoting his new book “Stealing Our Democracy.”

Yellowhammer News’ request for comment from Siegelman was not immediately returned. A message was left on his personal cell phone number.

He claimed the book is “#1 among new releases on amazon.com”

Yellowhammer News examined the new releases chart on Amazon.com, which revealed that Siegelman’s book is not in the top 100 best selling new releases.

However, the book is #1 in the sub-subcategory “Urban, State & Local Government Law.”

Urban, State & Local Government Law is one of 12 sub-subcategories of the “Administrative Law” subcategory.

The “Administrative Law” subcategory is one of 23 subcategories under the category “Law.”

“Law” is one of 36 categories into which Amazon divides the kinds new-release books that it sells.

As a matter of record, the book is only available for pre-order. It has not been released to the public yet.

The former governor’s book claims that his downfall and conviction of felony bribery were part of a politically motivated prosecution coordinated by Karl Rove.

His book will be released to the public on June 16.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

9 hours ago

Two charged with capital murder in slaying of Moody PD officer

Two suspects have been charged with capital murder in the case of slain Moody Police Department officer Stephen Williams.

The two suspects are 27-year-old male Tapero Corlene Johnson and 28-year-old female Marquisha Anissa Tyson. Both are from Birmingham and will be eligible for the death penalty if convicted.

At a press conference Friday, St. Clair County Sheriff Billy Murray described said the investigation is still continuing and described it as “complex and intense.”

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Williams was posthumously promoted to lieutenant at the press conference on Thursday by Moody Police Chief Thomas Hunt.

Hunt said Williams had remarked at times that he would like to achieve the rank of lieutenant someday, and now he will forever be known as Lt. Stephen Williams.

The District Attorney for St. Clair County said the two suspects had been in police custody since the shooting on Tuesday night.

Investigators say they have determined that Johnson and Tyson fired weapons at Williams who was responding to a disturbance at a Super 8 Motel.

A GoFundMe page to help Williams’ family has been raising money in recent days.

Williams served the public as a police officer for 23 years before being killed in the line of duty this week.

Governor Kay Ivey commented on the incident earlier in the week, saying Williams “died a hero.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

10 hours ago

Data shows Alabama nursing homes performing better than national average for COVID-19 cases, deaths

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Thursday released facility-specific COVID-19 data for nursing homes across the United States, and an analysis of the data shows Alabama fairing better than the national average.

The data was collected on a mandatory basis by the CDC and currently covers through the week ending on May 31.

Nationwide, the average number of confirmed coronavirus cases per 1,000 residents in nursing homes was 91.2, while the average number of deaths from the disease per 1,000 residents was 30.2.

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In Alabama, both of those numbers were significantly lower than the national average, at 64.9 and 20.9, respectively.

Alabama Nursing Home Association president and CEO Brandon Farmer issued a statement on the data’s release.

“According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Alabama nursing homes report fewer cases of COVID-19 per 1,000 residents and fewer deaths from COVID-19 per 1,000 residents than the national average,” he confirmed.

“Because we are on the front lines of fighting COVID-19, we expect the number of COVID-19 cases to rise as more tests are administered and the data is added to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) system. The Alabama Nursing Home Association hopes this data will be used to prioritize resources for skilled nursing facilities,” Farmer advised.

“Alabama nursing homes have been transparent from the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he continued. “Our members have reported cases to their local county health department and the Alabama Department of Public Health from the start. In May, we began reporting cases to the CDC. Facilities also inform residents and their family representatives and employees of cases in their buildings. We are following the guidelines set forth by the multiple state and federal agencies that regulate our sector. No other business or health care provider reports COVID-19 cases to more government entities and people than nursing homes.”

Nationwide, nursing homes reported 95,515 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 31,782 deaths through May 31. Nursing homes in Alabama reported 1,000 confirmed cases and 335 deaths.

Moving forward, CMS will release the next round of data on June 18. After that date, new data should be released weekly.

“The Alabama Nursing Home Association and its members will continue to work with local, state and federal leaders to address the needs of nursing home residents and employees,” Farmer concluded.

The CMS data can be viewed here.

As of Friday at 2:00 p.m., the Alabama Department of Public Health reported 19,073 total confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state, with 672 deaths.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

10 hours ago

NFIB survey of Alabama business owners shows ongoing COVID-19 related fears

A new study from the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) showed that an overwhelming majority of proprietors are nervous about several aspects of how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting their business.

Yellowhammer News reported in the first week of May that 70% of the NFIB’s membership across the United States was concerned about individuals filing frivolous lawsuits claiming a business had caused them to catch COVID-19.

A poll from the Alabama division of NFIB this week shows that 69% of businesses in the Yellowhammer State remain nervous about lawsuits, and roughly equal amounts are worried whether customers might come back and that it may prove difficult to comply with ongoing regulations.

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The top results of the survey as follows:

  • 70% of owners say they’re very or moderately concerned about getting customers back.
  • 69% are concerned about managing the health and safety of their customers; 66% are concerned about managing the health and safety of employees.
  • 69% are concerned with having to comply with new regulations related to the coronavirus.
  • 68% are concerned about finding an adequate supply of supplies such as hand sanitizer and disinfectant.

NFIB state director Rosemary Elebash told Yellowhammer News Friday that the survey was administered to businesses in every county and every city with a significant population.

“It wasn’t just NFIB members,” Elebash added about the survey, saying the group had worked with a number of trade associations to increase the amount of responses.

The NFIB also continues to strongly support Senator Arthur Orr’s (R-Decatur) bill to grant civil immunity from COVID-19 lawsuits to businesses in Alabama.

Elebash noted in a release that Orr’s bill would be “one of NFIB’s top priorities” if Governor Kay Ivey calls a special session later in the year.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

11 hours ago

Tuberville: Nationwide unrest linked to ‘education and jobs’

Many argue there is much more to the civil unrest across the nation than the lone incident in Minneapolis involving the death of George Floyd while in the custody of the police department. Former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville indicated he agrees with that.

During an appearance on Huntsville WVNN’s “The Jeff Poor Show,” Tuberville, a candidate for U.S. Senate, said based on his interactions with people on the campaign trail, there is a longing to get back to a sense of normalcy in the wake of the heights of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I speak to eight to ten places a day — groups are worried, obviously. I think they’re getting a little more confident they can go out and be around other people,” he said. “And we’re just hoping we can just put this pandemic, and it is a problem, it is serious — again, you’ve got to protect yourself. It’s not going away. It is still here, especially if you’re having health problems and those things. That will go away — but then all of a sudden we get hit with this civil unrest, and again — we’re all Americans. We’re all in this together. We’ve got to find a solution.”

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Tuberville said he is asked for his thoughts by voters while on the trail, to which he said he points to “education and jobs,” and the erosion of the American middle class.

“I had a group ask me today, ‘Coach, what do you think the problem is?’ Education and jobs. We don’t have a middle class anymore,” Tuberville stated. “There are people out there that don’t have the opportunity to advance in this country like they want to. This is not a black issue. This is not a white issue. This is an American issue. We shipped our jobs to China, bottom line. We’re finding out more and more about that every day, and we’ve got to give the opportunity for young men and women to have a chance to grow in this country, and give them a fair chance. Unfortunately, our middle class has dissipated. We have more drugs in this country, and a lot of people take other options. We got to understand — we’re all in this together, 340 million people. We’re either going to make it together or not make together.”

@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 Huntsville’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN.