6 months 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)

12 hours ago

Lt. Gov. Ainsworth back to work and channeling Trump on the coronavirus — ‘Don’t live in fear’

The last few weeks have been very interesting for Alabama Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth.

During a church gathering, he contracted the coronavirus and then passed it to his wife. Although he was not entirely asymptomatic, he did not require any medical treatment. He is now headed back to work and ready to do the people’s business.

This mirrors the recovery of President Donald Trump, who was back to work long before many expected he would be.

Wednesday morning, Ainsworth appeared on WVNN’s “The Dale Jackson Show” to speak about his experiences with this illness and how Alabama Democrats attempted to use the diagnosis to raise money for their party, a move Ainsworth said was “typical” of the behavior of their members. Ainsworth even noted that some in the leadership of the Alabama Democratic Party contacted him to check up on him before the fundraising email went out.

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For Ainsworth, the bigger issue was how they misrepresented his positions by claiming that he opposed masks and science. Neither position is true, he said.

Ainsworth advised that while he opposes the mandate, he doesn’t oppose mitigation efforts like masks and social distancing

“I’ve been wearing masks when I go to events. I practice social distancing, I use proper sanitation. I still got it,” he outlined.

His issue, as it is with many people, is the top down mandate.

“I do not think it’s the government’s role to mandate whether or not we should wear masks. I just don’t believe that,” he advised. “I believe in personal responsibility.”

Ainsworth believes that the fundraising email got sent because Alabama Democrats are in trouble, and they know U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) is going to lose. Ainsworth believes the message Democrats are selling just doesn’t work.

He stated, “They’re desperate, they’re grasping at straws, and I think Dems know in Alabama that their policies and positions don’t resonate with people so what do they do, they try spin stuff and lie.”

While Ainsworth mostly shrugged off the Democrats’ tactics, he also warned that people should take the coronavirus seriously and not weaponize for political gain as some in Alabama and on the national level are doing.

Like President Donald Trump, Ainsworth thinks America has to get back to work but it has to do it safely. He noted that “New York has ruined their economy” with shutdowns and restrictions yet they continue to have issues with the coronavirus.

His advice to Alabamians is simple: “[D]on’t live in fear. Continue to live your life but do it safely.”

Listen:

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

13 hours ago

Alabama AG Steve Marshall slams ‘Big Tech’ as greatest threat to free, fair elections in America

Attorney General Steve Marshall (R-AL) is continuing his leadership in calling on Congress to regulate tech monopolies’ control over the flow of information and political discourse in America.

In a tweet on Wednesday, Marshall commented on Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s testimony that day to the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary. This comes after Twitter blocked the distribution of bombshell reports, beginning with the New York Post, regarding the Biden family’s foreign business dealings. The New York Post’s Twitter account has been locked for two weeks and counting.

In calling for change to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, Marshall remarked, “Twitter is not the Ministry of Truth. It should concern us all when a platform that holds such tremendous power over information uses that power in contradiction of the principles of free speech and freedom of the press.”

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In a statement to Yellowhammer News on Wednesday afternoon, Marshall expounded on the topic in strong terms.

“In recent years, it has become increasingly clear that there is a need to reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996,” Alabama’s Republican attorney general advised. “The egregious actions taken two weeks ago by Twitter and, to a lesser extent, Facebook to suppress a news report of significant public interest—along with speech about it—published in one of our country’s oldest and most-widely-read newspapers in the run-up to a presidential election, has only made the need for reform more evident than ever.”

“Big Tech holds tremendous power over information and brazenly wields that power according to its social and political biases,” he continued. “Indeed, social-media platforms oftentimes appear less guided by the principles of American democracy—such as free speech and press—than by the principles of Orwell’s Ministry of Truth: amplify favored voices and viewpoints, censor disfavored voices and viewpoints.”

Marshall noted, “I agree with Justice Thomas’s recent assessment that courts have expanded Section 230 ‘beyond the natural reading of the [statutory] text,’ and support the recent announcement by Chairman Pai that the Federal Communications Commissions will undertake rulemaking to clarify the meaning of Section 230. But there are issues inherent in Section 230 that can only be fully cured by legislative action.”

“At today’s hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, Senator Ted Cruz opined that Facebook, Google, and Twitter ‘collectively pose … the single greatest threat to free speech in America, and the greatest threat we have to free and fair elections.’ I concur and urge Congress to take action,” he concluded.

Marshall also published a must-read op-ed in Real Clear Policy on this same issue, calling Twitter’s and Facebook’s censorship of the New York Post’s reporting “un-American.”

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

14 hours ago

Ivey administration’s allocation of CARES Act funds underscores importance of, support for first responders

Wednesday is National First Responders Day, and the importance of America’s tremendous first responders is even more magnified this year as the nation continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Alabama, Governor Kay Ivey’s administration recently established the Health Care and Emergency Response Providers grant program. This enabled first responders, including private ambulance and other emergency response service (EMS) providers, to receive federal funds through the state’s share of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The grant program received a total allocation of $35 million, building on the Ivey administration’s total allocation of up to $250 million in CARES Act funds for healthcare-related purposes in Alabama.

This support for first responders and health care providers in general has drawn praise for Ivey and her administration. This includes the Alabama Association of Ambulance Services (AAAS).

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“We applaud Governor Ivey and her administration for recognizing the critical role that EMS and ambulance providers are playing in the state’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” stated Jason Trammell, president of AAAS. “This funding will support providers across the state, who are working around the clock to serve their communities in a safe and efficient manner while their workers are on the frontlines of the fight against this virus.”

The Health Care & Emergency Response Providers grant program includes cash grants in an amount of up to $15,000 for providers that meet certainly eligibility requirements.

“Our company serves some of Alabama’s largest cities as well as its more rural areas. No matter where our providers are operating, health and safety is paramount to our underlying mission,” advised Brett Jovanovich of Lifeguard Ambulance Service. “With the cold and flu season around the corner, and with the increased potential of another wave of COVID-19, we intend to utilize these funds to fully ensure that our paramedics have the PPE and supplies needed for their safety and for the protection of patients in the communities we serve.”

In a statement to Yellowhammer News on Wednesday, Ivey spokesperson Gina Maiola said, “Governor Ivey has the highest respect for the many first responders across our state, especially as they have faced unusual obstacles over the last several months.”

“As the governor remains committed to getting this money in the hands of those who need it, she was proud to award $35 million of the CARES Act money to establish the Health Care and Emergency Response Providers grant program. These providers play a critical role in our state’s response to COVID-19, as well as in our day to day lives, and especially as we celebrate National First Responders Day, Governor Ivey applauds them for their invaluable, tough service,” she concluded.

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

16 hours ago

Air superiority then, space superiority now — The Battle of Britain 80 years hence

Eighty years ago this week, hurricane season ended when the Royal Air Force won the Battle of Britain by stopping the Nazi war machine at the edge of the English Channel. Before the summer of 1940, Hitler had derided Great Britain as a nation of shopkeepers. Göring’s seemingly superior Luftwaffe pilots were outdone by the young British RAF, aided by friendly forces — not the least of which was a squadron of Polish pilots. They had shown the world that the Nazi juggernaut could be countered through perseverance, aided by the novel design of quick and lethal airplanes: the spitfire and hurricane.

Churchill named this battle when he declared after Dunkirk that with the conclusion of the Battle of France, the Battle of Britain would begin. Unlike past battles, the critical objective was as amorphous as it was strategic: the achievement of air superiority. It was a testament to the fact that warfare had changed forever, tilting the scales in favor of technology over brute strength.

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Even Hitler and his retinue of yes-men knew that subjugating Britain would require a risky and complex invasion. The English Channel, though relatively narrow at some points, served as a giant moat that required amphibious landings on slow-moving vessels, which would be vulnerable to attack from above. Nazi control of the air would be the key to a successful invasion. With proper preparations for a seaborne invasion many months out, Göring pushed for an air campaign, and Hitler approved.

The Luftwaffe’s first objective was to destroy RAF airfields, but Luftwaffe planes were not designed for this mission, and their pilots — though experienced — were no match for the RAF’s pilots in spitfires and hurricanes. These planes had unmatched maneuverability, and home-field advantage played an equally important role. The British had a superior early warning radar system that enabled them to plot the likely flight path of incoming enemies and to scramble their gassed and fully loaded planes efficiently. Over Britain, each downed German represented not only a lost airplane but also a lost pilot. Maintaining air superiority was a fight for survival, and the British pilots knew that the fate of freedom for their island, and perhaps for civilization, rested on their shoulders. They turned the tide of the war in fighting, as Churchill noted, “undaunted by the odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger.”

While the concept of air superiority was initially academic, the Battle of Britain proved it critical to modern military success. Since then, the need for air superiority has remained unquestioned. A country might not win with air superiority, but failure was guaranteed without it. The use of airpower to master the skies has been the first order of business in every major conflict since World War II. Even today, with the development of defensive missile shields and the capability of intercepting incoming aircraft and missiles, air superiority is and will remain a critical objective in any conflict. But air superiority is starting to give way to space superiority.

As we become more and more dependent on satellites, and as human activity in space becomes less of a novelty, controlling space will be critical not only for commercial and economic success, but also for global stability and the defense of our nation. The nation that controls space will control the destiny of the entire world. To be dominant in space is to be dominant period, and the dominating nation will have the final say over many aspects of our lives.

Those who would object to the militarization of space do not understand, or refuse to see, today’s reality. The activities of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in space are similar to those of the nations who sought to control the sea in the 19th century and the air in the 20th century. At present, these activities are largely unchecked by other nations and international organizations.

There was a time when the United Nations was capable of limiting space to peaceful means. Similar to the control of nuclear weapons, the United Nations provided a means of achieving an international consensus that limiting weapons in space was beneficial for all nations. But, as with any large organization attempting to achieve consensus among diverse groups, the only real agreement among nations became the lowest common denominator. Thus, UN limits on the militarization of space are limited, weak, and ineffective.

This void of international leadership is being filled by a resurgent communist China, intent on achieving world domination — a long-term national goal. With few international limitations, the CCP is seeking space superiority to impose its ideas on the world and thereby supplant civilization’s shared liberal principles. The UN has been aggressively helpless or simply unable to check China’s dreams of space superiority. While the CCP has yet to obtain the domination it seeks, it is clearly on track with covert military missions, like developing its own GPS system that would aid in obtaining space superiority.

The United States cannot let this happen. Students of history know that many of the great and terrible military conflicts could have been prevented or mitigated with proper foresight and preparation. Unless the United States acts soon to check CCP aggression in space, we may have extremely limited choices in the future.

Our new Space Force must explain the seriousness of this threat and develop strategic plans to protect space from the domination of any one country. This grand effort will require allies who not only understand the threat, but who are financially able to join with the United States to dominate space for peaceful purposes. The free world’s shared cultural and civic traditions could form the basis for ensuring that space can never be dominated by one country.

During World War I and in the following decades, Churchill stressed the importance of developing radar, the tank and the airplane. Without these developments, the Battle of Britain would have ended much differently. As we celebrate the 80th anniversary of victory at the Battle of Britain, and as we understand the strategic necessity of air superiority in protecting the island nation from foreign invasion, we should recognize the strategic necessity of space superiority today.

The United States and her friends cannot allow a country that is utterly opposed to freedom to control space and, in turn, Earth. The free world must develop space first and create enforceable laws to allow space to be an extension of the liberty we currently enjoy. In order to do that, we must overhaul our outdated legal regime concerning the development and deployment of space technologies, support the private development of space properly, and remove the bureaucratic barriers hindering important breakthroughs. We must not surrender space to totalitarians who would use it to subjugate free peoples around the globe. If we heed the call to action and engage in this new endeavor, we can ensure that the limitless possibilities of space are secured for future generations.

Will Sellers is an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of Alabama.

17 hours ago

Mental health crisis care centers to be built in Mobile, Montgomery and Huntsville

MONTGOMERY — State officials gathered on the steps of the capitol Wednesday morning to announce the details surrounding three new mental health crisis care centers to be built around the state.

AltaPointe Health in Mobile, the Montgomery Area Mental Health Authority and WellStone Behavioral Health in Huntsville will be receiving grants from the State of Alabama to build the crisis centers.

Governor Kay Ivey, House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) and Dept. of Mental Health Commissioner Lynn Beshear all spoke at the announcement.

Each center will be open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They are intended to keep people with mental illnesses out of jails and hospital emergency rooms, two places not designed to accommodate such patients.

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“Most importantly,” said the governor at the event, the centers will “improve the quality of life for Alabama families and communities.”

The three centers have been a top priority for Ivey and Ledbetter this year. The governor first mentioned the initiative in her State of the State address in January, and Ledbetter shepherded the funding of the project – $18 million – through the legislative process during the spring session.

Commissioner Beshear referred to the newly announced centers as “pilot grantees” who were selected by an “independent review panel comprised of national experts in crisis care along with subject matter experts in mental illness and substance use.”

Stays in the centers could be as short as a few hours and as long as a few days, according to Beshear, who noted the locations will be staffed by mental and physical health professionals.

Beshear called the type of care that will be provided “recovery-based” and relayed that patients will be given a “warm handoff” after their short stay to services or agencies that can provide longer-term assistance.

Each center will have a “mobile crisis teams” with a law enforcement component that will be able to go into nearby communities and deal with dangerous situations that have mental health issues at their core.

Beshear reiterated multiple times that her department will work closely with the centers to ensure they provide a “continuum of care” to the patients they take in. She said her department has the goal of “opening the gateway to care.”

In terms of size and design, the three centers will vary.

AltaPointe’s center in Mobile will have 21 beds with 15 designated for temporary observation. The center will be open for dropoffs from several nearby counties.

Montgomery Area Mental Health Authority is partnering with two similar organizations to have its center serve 11 counties. The building will be in the capital city, and it will have 21 beds with 10 for temporary observation.

The facility to be built by WellStone Behavioral Health in Huntsville will be the largest of the centers. Local governments in the area are providing an additional $2.1 million. It will have 39 beds, including 15 for temporary observation.

Ivey was asked near the end of the event about the decision not to locate a center in the Birmingham area. She replied that the three centers announced Wednesday were “just the beginning” and “plans for more” are already underway.

“Today is a day of celebration,” said Ledbetter about the approval of the funding for the three sites.

He further remarked he had “never seen a more bipartisan effort” than the legislative push around the project.

“Today’s announcement will not only change Alabamians’ lives. It will help to save lives,” Ledbetter advised.

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