UAB meets needs of campus, community, state and beyond during pandemic

A day after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, the University of Alabama System made immediate plans to transition to online or alternative instruction and remote work at all three campuses. Gov. Kay Ivey declared a state of emergency, and UAB Hospital prepared patient surge plans and implemented visitor restrictions.

At the very onset of the pandemic, it was clear that historic levels of planning, preparation and collaboration would be critical to success, says UA System Chancellor Finis St. John. The UA System Office swiftly created an internal Health & Safety Task Force dedicated to ensuring the safe fulfillment of the System’s core mission of teaching, research and service. The Task Force, led by UAB medical experts, ultimately developed an operational return plan that became a national model for colleges, universities, corporations and nonprofit organizations.

“Our three campus communities and the employees of the UAB Health System proved throughout this challenging period that, while we are individually distinct, we are altogether stronger,” St. John said. “I am grateful for each person in the UA System and the guidance provided by our Board of Trustees, led by President pro tempore Stan Starnes and his predecessor, Ron Gray.”

While uncertainty became the norm in 2020, one thing is certain: The University of Alabama at Birmingham and UAB Medicine were uniquely prepared to help their students, employees and patients, as well as the city, state, nation and beyond, get through the pandemic.

UAB — and its people — responded quickly, strategically and emphatically. The result: During the worst pandemic in more than a century, Alabama’s largest single employer expanded each area of its mission to advance education, research, innovation and economic development, patient care, and community service. UAB also set a record high for enrollment, improved its S&P financial outlook, and became Forbes’ Best Large Employer in the United States, topping the list of more than 500 public and private corporations, hospitals, universities and Fortune 500 companies across dozens of industries and ahead of the likes of Amazon, Google, Mayo Clinic, Microsoft, NASA, Netflix and Yale University.

What made Forbes’ recognition so meaningful, says UAB President Ray L. Watts, is that it is based largely on whether UAB employees would recommend UAB to friends and family. Forbes honored UAB again in April by naming the university and UAB Medicine No. 4 among America’s Best Employers for Diversity and did so a third time in May with its selection as the No. 4 Best Employer for New Graduates 2021, which made it the top ranking institution in education.

“More than a year ago, we didn’t know what impact the COVID pandemic would have on each of us and the many people we serve,” Watts said. “Those were frightening times, but we rolled up our sleeves and adapted. Throughout a difficult year, the perseverance of our people and their dedication to our vision, mission and values — with the unwavering leadership and support from University of Alabama System Chancellor St. John, the System Office team and the UA System Board of Trustees — have been extraordinary. And the results — what we have been able to do for the UAB community and our city, state and beyond — speak for themselves.”

Fulfilling the mission

The pandemic put UAB’s commitment to its mission and the communities it serves on full display.

“UAB has been an international leader in keeping the public safe and informed throughout the pandemic,” said School of Medicine Dean and Senior Vice President Selwyn Vickers. “We answered the call when our institution’s collective knowledge and expertise was needed more than ever. I can’t thank our people enough for working together so selflessly and demonstrating just how outstanding UAB is as an academic medical center and institution of higher learning.”

UAB launched the state’s first appointment-based mass community COVID testing site in conjunction with the Jefferson County Department of Health. Student and employees from across UAB helped the Alabama Department of Public Health with contact tracing, calling upward of 4,000 cases a month by December 2020.

UAB vaccinated its first person on Dec. 18, 2020, and eventually opened five community-based, mass vaccination sites. By May 2021, UAB had administered approximately 200,000 doses of the vaccine to residents in 62 of Alabama’s 67 counties.

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“Every time a site is opened [and I’ve been there] it is this moment of realization that I am a part of hope in the big picture… We’re all in this together, and it’s very very meaningful that I get to be a part of the solution. ”
– Alex Morton

UAB’s Minority Health & Health Disparities Research Center worked with community leaders to reach out to educate underserved populations about the safety and efficacy of vaccinations. Those efforts, along with investing roughly $1.4 million a month to operate five community vaccine sites, including at Parker High School in downtown Birmingham, Cathedral of the Cross AOH church in Center Point and at the Hoover Met, enabled UAB to provide vaccines to racially diverse groups of Alabamians, far exceeding the national average of underserved populations vaccinated — bolstering Alabama’s effort.

The School of Medicine’s Fungal Reference Lab in the Department of Pathology has been a focal point for testing for the entire state throughout the pandemic. Because of the lab’s efforts, UAB was among the first academic medical centers in the country to offer in-house COVID-19 testing after it launched its own, extremely accurate laboratory-developed test in March 2020.

The lab, directed by Sixto M. Leal Jr., M.D., Ph.D., has been analyzing 100 COVID-positive samples a week for the Alabama Department of Public Health to help identify which variants are in Alabama. Leal’s lab also worked closely with UAB Hospital labs and private-sector biomedical companies to scale up and support the GuideSafe™ Entry Testing program in 2020. Free COVID-19 testing was made available to students at all Alabama colleges and universities in advance of the 2020 fall semester, resulting in the largest-scale higher-education testing initiative in the nation.

UAB research also played an important role. Remdesivir — widely used to treat COVID-19 — was developed through research conducted within the Antiviral Drug Discovery and Development Center, anchored at UAB. UAB was among the first U.S. sites chosen to conduct preclinical testing of an inhaled monoclonal antibody for COVID-19 that showed therapeutic efficacy in October. Monoclonal antibodies have been widely heralded for keeping high-risk patients out of the hospital and saving lives.

UAB researchers, led by Fran Lund, Ph.D., in collaboration with Altimmune, have found that a single intranasal dose of the COVID-19 vaccine candidate AdCOVID provides sterilizing immunity in the lungs of vaccinated animals. AdCOVID is currently in a Phase 1 clinical trial to test safety and immunogenicity in people, and Altimmune expects to report topline data in June.

  • Sixto Leal directs the UAB Department of Pathology Fungal Reference Lab which worked closely with UAB Hospital labs and private-sector biomedical companies to scale up and support the GuideSafe™ Entry Testing program. More than 75,000 students were tested, making it the largest-scale higher-education testing initiative in the nation. Leal’s lab also analyzes 100 random COVID samples a week for the ADPH and has identified all known variants in Alabama.

UAB offered testing, patient care, and administrative expertise and support to hospitals and health systems across the state, improving outcomes for many Alabamians struck by COVID-19. UAB experts also collaborated with and provided critical public health and infectious disease insights to local and state officials, and also took a lead role in an aggressive public information campaign to increase knowledge and safety. UAB experts kept a high public profile throughout the pandemic, as they were featured in constant local media coverage and thousands of appearances in national and international outlets.

UAB COVID-19 by the numbers

  • As of May 27, 2021, UAB has administered more than 207,000 vaccinations to residents in 62 of Alabama’s 67 counties.
  • To date, UAB has cared for 4,439 COVID patients in UAB Hospital.
  • UAB hosted 5 Vaccination sites.

The patient care demands of UAB Medicine have been significant. UAB Hospital admitted its first COVID-positive patient in March 2020, starting multiple waves of patient surges that continued to stress the system and its clinical care and support teams. Early in 2021, more than 30 percent of patients in UAB Hospital — one of the largest hospitals in the nation — were people with an active case of COVID-19 or those who had recovered from COVID-19 but were still too sick from complications to leave the hospital.

“Our employees overcame great challenges and pushed through personal and professional anxiety and exhaustion to provide world-class care to thousands of patients throughout the pandemic,” said UAB Medicine CEO Reid Jones. “We continued to innovate to best serve patients and really demonstrated why UAB is so vital to all Alabamians.”

A new multidisciplinary Post COVID Treatment Program was developed to help evaluate patients still experiencing COVID-19 symptoms more than three weeks after a positive test to help them find appropriate specialized care.

A team led by Sue Feldman, Ph.D., professor in UAB’s schools of Health Professions and Medicine, developed the daily Healthcheck tool and worked with Google and Apple to develop the GuideSafe exposure notification app made available to all Alabamians. The anonymous app was designed to alert users if they had been exposed to someone diagnosed with COVID-19.

“With the great challenges we were facing as a university and health system, it would have been easy to turn inward and just try to solve our own problems,” Watts said. “But that’s not who UAB is. Improving outcomes for all Alabamians is our mission and responsibility, and the pandemic showed just how much that’s in our DNA with the high-impact programs we undertook.”

Meeting the needs of students, faculty and staff

A key tenet of UAB’s positive momentum before the pandemic was a shared commitment to shared governance, which only strengthened as the university shifted to remote learning in March 2020.

Students, faculty and staff — from the undergraduate and graduate student government associations to the faculty senate and staff council — were invited at the request of President Watts and Provost Pam Benoit to share important insights in key committees and workgroups.

The dialogue led to new and enhanced resources that helped members of the campus community safely continue their education and jobs — from a robust e-learning platform to guide remote learning to processing grants and other crucial university business.

Prior to the pandemic, UAB’s eLearning and Professional Studies office supported faculty and staff with instructional design services, media production services, academic technology tools and training, and continuing education/professional studies offerings. In March 2020, when UAB courses moved online in response to the pandemic, the eLearning team assisted faculty with course design and technology through online workshops and one-on-one assistance.

“Our eLearning and Professional Studies team developed a dynamic approach to helping students and faculty in the online learning environment. In partnership with talented faculty, this team designed quality face-to-face, hybrid and online courses and programs. The effort of the eLearning and Professional Studies team — and its collaboration with our dedicated faculty — was indicative of UAB’s efforts as a whole across our entire enterprise.”

– UAB Provost, Pam Benoit

“Our eLearning and Professional Studies team developed a dynamic approach to helping students and faculty in the online learning environment,” Benoit said. “In partnership with talented faculty, this team designed quality face-to-face, hybrid and online courses and programs. The effort of the eLearning and Professional Studies team — and its collaboration with our dedicated faculty — was indicative of UAB’s efforts as a whole across our entire enterprise.”

“We are fortunate to work with a faculty body so adept and creative,” said Pam Paustian, Ph.D., associate provost for Academic and Learning Technologies. “It was an incredible team effort based on a shared commitment to our students.”

In July, an Incident Command Committee was established to monitor data and how effective UAB was in implementing operational and safety strategies. “The idea was to bring together campus leaders with access to resources and people to address any areas where additional support may be needed,” said Katie Crenshaw, J.D., UAB chief risk and compliance officer, who chairs that committee.

UAB increased and promoted mental health resources, provided free personal protective equipment, made childcare options available to employees and subsidized it, made vaccines available to employees and the community within Alabama Department of Public Health guidelines, and made COVID-19 testing free and conveniently available to employees. The UAB-developed sentinel testing program developed with GuideSafe was also made available to other institutions across the state.

Ultimately, Watts says, UAB’s efforts saved lives and livelihoods.

“We have worked tirelessly to leverage our resources, expertise and talent and made a big difference in safeguarding the health of people and our economy,” Watts said. “It is incredibly humbling and gratifying to talk to people who continue to thank me for all UAB has done. It is equally gratifying to know the UAB family is proud of what we have all been able to do together for each other and our community.”


Our COVID year from UAB on Vimeo.

Photography and videography: Andrea Reiber, Laura Gasque, Jeff Myers, Carson Young, Andrea Mabry, Steve Wood, Lexi Coon and Amanda Chambers

26 mins ago

U.S. Rep. Jerry Carl urges Biden to undergo tests for ‘mental impairment’

U.S. Representative Jerry Carl (R-Mobile) joined 13 of his congressional colleagues in urging President Joe Biden to undergo an examination to determine his mental fitness to serve.

The group cited a string of embarrassing verbal gaffes by the president as the basis for their request.

In a letter sent to Biden on Thursday, the Republican members of Congress explained, “We write to you today to express concern with your current cognitive state. We believe that, regardless of gender, age, or political party, all Presidents should follow the precedent set by former President Donald Trump to document and demonstrate sound mental abilities.”

They continued, “Unfortunately, your mental decline and forgetfulness have become more apparent over the past 18 months. In March, you forgot the name of the Pentagon, the Department of Defense, and the Defense Secretary, though you had said ‘Secretary Austin’ just a few minutes prior.”

In addition, the letter cites Biden’s telling of an Amtrak story with an inexplicable timeline, forgetting the first line of the Declaration of Independence and obvious disorientation during a visit to Texas as examples for why they believe Biden is in need of cognitive testing.

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The list of gaffes attributable to his mental acuity seems to be piling up for the 46th president.

During the G7 Summit in England recently, he asked British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to introduce the South African president.

RELATED: Biden lashes out at media member and Alabama native Kaitlan Collins over Putin — ‘You’re in the wrong business’

Fox News contributor Tammy Bruce has questioned whether Biden’s cognitive state is a national security liability.

Biden has received criticism in the early stages of his administration for calling on only a predetermined list of reporters during press conferences. The most recent instance of this occurred while Biden was in Geneva, Switzerland, for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Carl and the other letter signers pushed for transparency with any medical assessments being made, as well.

“We encourage you to follow the example set by President Trump by undergoing a cognitive test as soon as possible and immediately making the results available for the American people,” they concluded.

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

51 mins ago

7 Things: Obamacare is here to stay, Juneteenth made a holiday, Alabama wants prison lawsuit narrowed and more …

7. Bringing the least interesting person from the Biden/Harris team will get people vaccinated

  • In an effort to encourage more people in Alabama to take the coronavirus vaccine, second gentleman Doug Emhoff paid a visit to Birmingham at a coronavirus vaccination site.
  • During his visit, Emhoff said for Alabama to reach a vaccination rate of 70%, which is President Joe Biden’s national goal by July 4, “we have work to do.” Currently, almost 49% of adults in Alabama have been vaccinated; nationally, 65% of adults have been vaccinated.

6. Religious foster agency can continue to exclude same-sex couples

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  • In a 9-0 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that Catholic Social Services could continue participating in the Philadelphia foster care program, despite them not allowing same-sex couples to foster through their program.
  • The main claim is that excluding the Catholic organization was a violation of First Amendment rights, but the city argued that the organization “lacks a constitutional right to demand that DHS offer it a contract that omits the same nondiscrimination requirement every other FFCA must follow when performing services for the City.”

5. Mo Brooks welcomes media attacks

  • U.S. Representative Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) has already received attacks in the U.S. Senate race from fellow candidates and media outlets, but Brooks isn’t bothered by the attacks. Instead, he said that the attacks are “one of the best endorsements a Republican candidate can get.”
  • Brooks was specifically referring to attacks from AL.com and the Alabama Reporter. Brooks added that fellow candidate former Business Council of Alabama president Katie Britt is engaging in “fifth-grade tactics where you just start throwing names at other people, and when you do that, you’ve already lost the argument.” He went on to add that Britt “is a registered lobbyist … for the Business Council of Alabama whose number one agenda item has been to import cheap foreign labor.”

4. Air Force continues support of moving U.S. Space Command, another objection dismissed

  • Again, acting Secretary of the Air Force John Roth has said that the decision to move the U.S. Space Command Headquarters from Colorado to Huntsville, Alabama, was not a political decision but rather the decision “was the result of our strategic basing process.”
  • Roth was also very open about providing documents on how the decision was made. He also mentioned that they’re currently in the “environmental analysis” portion of the relocation process. When the question of the cost of a new building came up, Roth said, “We were going to have to build a building whether it was in Colorado Springs or whether it was in Huntsville.” He mentioned the much lower cost of building in Huntsville.

3. More prisons need to be built, but Alabama wants part of DOJ lawsuit dismissed

  • Lawyers for the Alabama Department of Corrections have asked that the portion of the Department of Justice lawsuit against the state prisons specifically claiming shortage of correctional officers and unsafe and unsanitary conditions be dismissed.
  • The Department of Corrections is already under orders from a federal court decision to increase the number of correctional officers at facilities, and lawyers have argued that the allegations about unsafe conditions are too vague and aren’t concerning a majority of the prisons.

2. Juneteenth is a state and federal holiday now

  • Just after it was confirmed as a federal holiday, Governor Kay Ivey announced that she made Juneteenth a state holiday for Alabama. This will allow most state employees to have the day off on Friday, except where it’s essential.
  • Juneteenth is held on June 19 to celebrate the day in 1865 when the last slaves in Galveston, Texas, were freed. Ivey intends to have the legislature consider making Juneteenth a state holiday, but she could also declare the day a holiday in future years, as well.

1. Supreme Court upholds Obamacare

  • The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the decision that the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is constitutional, but some Republican lawmakers are now arguing that the court ignored some of the main arguments over the constitutionality. The court’s decision was 7-2.
  • Eighteen states were involved in the case against the Affordable Care Act, including Texas. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said, “[T]he individual mandate – was unconstitutional when it was enacted and it is still unconstitutional. Yet, seven justices decided to avoid the question of the constitutionality by limiting its decision to a ruling on standing.”

1 hour ago

ALGOP chair John Wahl: AEA resurgence ‘a concern’; Reminds GOP candidates ‘not a good idea’ accept their campaign contributions

For the first time in nearly a decade, the Alabama Education Association (AEA) seemingly flexed its muscle at the end of the 2021 legislative session by successfully pushing through a two-year delay to the Literacy Act, which mandates children be able to read at a third grade level before proceeding to the fourth grade.

Gov. Kay Ivey vetoed the delay, but it left political watchers wondering if this was just the beginning of the AEA’s return to the forefront of Alabama politics.

During an appearance on FM Talk 106.5’s “The Jeff Poor Show” on Thursday, Alabama Republican Party chairman John Wahl said it was indeed a concern for the party.

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“[I]t’s funny you bring that up because at one point in the past, there was actually a resolution passed by the state party, I believe, that was saying Republican candidates should not take money from the AEA because of their influence and the concern they would have over direct policy,” he stated. “So, of course, that’s a concern. That type of influence from anybody pushing to regulate themselves is never — you don’t want a group regulating themselves. That’s not good for policy.”

While there was a resolution in place that pertained to AEA campaign contributions to Republican candidates, Wahl said it was not an outright ban but a “strong recommendation” not to accept their money.

“I need to go back and look at the resolution in-depth,” Wahl said. “But I believe it was a resolution, so it’s not a direct ban. There’s no teeth to it. But it was a very strong recommendation to candidates — that it is not a good idea to take that money.”

“[T]here were jokes about how the AEA controlled the state and had a vast amount of control over policy and what would happen with the Governor’s office, the state legislature,” he explained. “So much of that has gotten better since Republicans have taken control. But you’re right — we’re seeing a resurgence, at least of their involvement. Hopefully not their influence.”

@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.

2 hours ago

Ainsworth scores Tuberville endorsement

U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) has thrown his support to Will Ainsworth as the first-term lieutenant governor ramps up his reelection bid. Ainsworth announced Tuberville’s backing in a release from his campaign on Thursday.

The former college football coach offered that his endorsement of Ainsworth was an easy play call for him.

“I’ve spent most of my life recruiting,” Tuberville explained. “When you run across leadership it stands out, and I’ve seen firsthand that’s especially true in the political arena. Alabama is a gritty, hardworking,
conservative state that puts God and family first.”

He continued, “I’m proud to endorse Will Ainsworth for Lt. Governor as the leader that reflects the work ethic and values of the great state of Alabama!”

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After announcing in front of 3,000 people during the first week in June that he would seek reelection, Ainsworth has now picked up the endorsement of the Alabama Forestry Association in addition to that of Tuberville.

Ainsworth welcomed the support from Alabama’s newest U.S. Senator.

“I am proud to have Senator Tuberville’s endorsement as I seek a second term as lieutenant governor to continue building a 21st century Alabama in which our people can earn a good living at a high-paying job and raise their families in safe, strong communities,” he remarked. “I’m focused on taking our Christian conservative values to Montgomery every day, ensuring we preserve and better the Alabama we all know and love for future generations to enjoy.”

Ainsworth’s first term has been marked by his heavy involvement in the state’s economic issues.

He has overseen the Alabama Small Business Commission, a panel tasked with recommending policies and legislation benefiting small businesses operating across the state.

During last year’s COVID-19 crisis, Ainsworth formed an emergency task force within the commission to focus on the reopening of Alabama’s economy. Most of the task force’s plan was implemented by the state during the reopening process.

Ainsworth has also served as chairman of the Aerospace States Association, a national group whose mission is to support and promote the interests of the aerospace industry in Alabama and across the nation.

Ainsworth has outlined that his focus moving forward would be to preserve Alabama values while improving opportunities for future generations.

“The main reason I’m running is for my kids, your kids, your grandkids’ future,” he stated. “It is a huge time commitment, but I want to say this: I want our kids, your kids, everybody in here to always be proud to call Alabama home. I don’t want our kids to have to move to Atlanta or Nashville or Austin or another state. I want them to be able to live right here in Alabama and have the same opportunities as any kids in the world. We’re going to do that.”

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

17 hours ago

Dale Jackson: Governor Kay Ivey may have some challengers after all

The conventional wisdom is that Governor Kay Ivey is an unbeatable juggernaut.

The idea was if Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth was to challenge Ivey, he would have a shot yet still probably lose while no one else would even have a shot.

But recently, the rumor mill is out here running and churning out a couple of possibilities for candidates that are considering challenging Kay Ivey.

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Under intense questioning on WVNN’s “The Dale Jackson Show,” former State Rep. Ed Henry (R-Hartselle) offered up clues on the identities of these names that are being suggested.

The clues?

Candidate 1:

  • A candidate in the 2022 U.S. Senate race
  • She won’t get 10 points against U.S. Representative Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville)
  • Could get a Trump endorsement

Candidate 2:

  • A candidate who ran for the office before and had a stumble
  • “This is Alabama. We speak English.”

The clues lead us to two very distinct candidates.

Candidate 1 is the former ambassador to Slovenia under Trump, Lynda Blanchard.

Candidate 2 is a son of former Gov. Fob James and third-place 2010 GOP primary-finisher Tim James.

Could either of these individuals mount a challenge against Kay Ivey?

Maybe, but what is the argument that the state needs new leadership?

Gas tax?

Lockdown?

Mask mandate?

Soon to be new prisons?

Do these issues motivate people?

Altogether, it may move the needle, but Governor Ivey is a well-known and well-liked politician overseeing a recovering economy on the heels of a global pandemic.

Those in the political world will say she isn’t being seen enough, but that is an inside baseball complaint.

Neither of these individuals have a groundswell of support from people clamoring to enter the fray, but if Alabamians are given another choice for governor, maybe it will turn into a race that ends up surprisingly competitive.

Listen:

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.