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

1 min ago

Milestone: AIDT celebrates 50 years of shaping Alabama’s workforce

MONTGOMERY, Alabama – AIDT, Alabama’s primary workforce development agency, today marked 50 years as a central player in the state’s economic growth through its mission of connecting and training Alabama workers with companies across the state.

The milestone was marked this morning with a ceremony at Riverwalk Stadium in Montgomery, attended by Governor Kay Ivey and representatives of companies assisted by AIDT.

“Fifty years is an incredible milestone,” said Ed Castile, director of AIDT and deputy secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “A group of people had a vison to modernize the workforce development model.

“Fifty years later and we must be doing something right,” he added.

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The event featured a fly-over by an Airbus A321 aircraft, made at the company’s factory in Mobile, and an Alabama debut for the Toyota Corolla Cross, an all-new sport utility that is being produced at the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing facility in Huntsville. AIDT has assisted both companies with workforce development support.

“Simply said, Mazda Toyota Manufacturing would not be able to recruit, assess, hire and train up to 4,000 team members without the partnership with AIDT,” Mark Brazeal, vice president of administration for Mazda Toyota, told Business Alabama.

“It is a partnership built on mutual respect and mutual trust,” he added. “It is a great partnership and we are so lucky to have AIDT in the state of Alabama.”

FAR-RANGING IMPACT

Since 1971, AIDT has trained approximately 1 million job-seekers for 5,200 companies across the state. In addition to the main office in Montgomery, AIDT operates seven training centers plus several additional satellite locations throughout Alabama. The organization maintains a fleet of mobile training units that can bring training classes to remote locations in the state.

 

AIDT, whose economic impact on Alabama is calculated at $7 billion annually, provides training in a wide variety of fields, from aviation to robotics.

“One of Alabama’s key advantages in economic development is our workforce training programs, which provides a foundation for the support system we have in place to help companies in many different industries find and develop the skilled workers they need to achieve success,” said Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“AIDT is at the core of our workforce development efforts, and its contribution to the state’s economic growth over the decades has been immense,” he added. “Fortunately for us, AIDT’s culture of innovation will carry that impact forward far into the future.”

MEETING TOMORROW’S NEEDS

Consistently ranked as one of the top workforce development programs in the nation by industry and workforce publications, AIDT continues to stay at the forefront of workforce development through a willingness to evolve.

“Part of the key to our success is that we are constantly looking for ways to improve upon our processes,” Castile said. “AIDT not only delivers what companies need to meet their demands today but continues to innovate and develop ways to deliver what companies will need in the future.”

AIDT merged with the Alabama Department of Commerce in 2012.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

2 hours ago

Lakepoint Community Archery Park opens June 24

Alabama’s newest community archery park will hold its grand opening at 10 a.m. on Thursday, June 24, 2021, at Lakepoint State Park, 104 Old Highway 165, in Eufaula, Alabama. The Lakepoint Community Archery Park is located near the park’s campground and day use area. The public and media are invited to attend the grand opening ceremony.

The archery park will be open year-round during normal park hours for recreational shooting, competitive tournaments and outdoor educational programming. The facility features an eight-target adult range from 15 to 50 yards and a four-target youth range of 5 to 20 yards.

Use of the archery park is free for those under 16 years of age or over 65. Lakepoint entry fees still apply. Alabamians ages 16 to 64 must have a hunting license, Wildlife Management Area (WMA) license, or Wildlife Heritage license to use the range. For non-residents, an annual WMA license or non-resident hunting license is required. Licenses are available from various local retailers or online at outdooralabama.com.

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Lakepoint joins several other community archery parks currently in operation throughout the state. These facilities are one component of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) effort to increase awareness and participation in the life skill of archery. To find a community archery park nearest you, visit www.outdooralabama.com/activities/archery-parks.

The new archery park was made possible by the following agencies and organizations: Alabama State Parks, the Archery Trade Association, and ADCNR’s Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries with funding through license sales and federally matched Pittman-Robertson Act funding.

Additional recreational opportunities available at Lakepoint State Park include fishing, boating, swimming, wildlife and bird watching, camping, dining, picnic areas and playgrounds. The Park also features a Resort Lodge and Convention Center. In addition to the lodge, Lakepoint offers 29 cabins and 10 lakeside cottages. Handicap-accessible and dog-friendly units are available.

For more information about the Lakepoint Community Archery Park, call the park office at (334) 687-8011. For more information about Lakepoint State Park, visit www.alapark.com/parks/lakepoint-state-park.

16 hours ago

Live HealthSmart Alabama celebrates phase one improvements in Kingston

Live HealthSmart Alabama, a University of Alabama at Birmingham initiative, celebrated phase one improvements in the Kingston community at Stockham Park. These improvements are the culmination of a yearlong implementation project to improve the community’s infrastructure, including new and improved sidewalks, Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant street ramps, trees and flowers in Stockham Park, painted murals, new bus shelters, improved lighting in hard-to-see areas, and more.

“Live HealthSmart Alabama aims to advance healthy eating, physical activity and prevention and wellness in underserved neighborhoods throughout Birmingham and the state,” said Dr. Mona Fouad, principal investigator of Live HealthSmart Alabama and director of the UAB Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center. “To help achieve these aims, we started by making community improvements. This was especially evident in the built environment. We’re excited to show everyone what has been accomplished.”

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To reenergize the community and encourage walkability, Live HealthSmart Alabama – in partnership with Brasfield & Gorrie and subcontracted through AG Gaston – knew sidewalks in Kingston needed to be either repaved or built from scratch. To contribute toward this initiative, Kirkpatrick Concrete donated all the concrete used to make these improvements.

Other partners that contributed to the accomplishments in Kingston include O’Neal SteelCoca-Cola United, the city of BirminghamAlabama PowerSteward MachineBirmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority MAXGoodwyn Mills CawoodBlank Space BhamNAFCOBirmingham Parks and Recreation, and Watkins Trucking Company.

“It has been a great and rewarding experience working with the city of Birmingham and Alabama corporations to accomplish the built environment improvements in Kingston,” said Fouad Fouad, Ph.D., director of the UAB Sustainable Smart Cities Research Center. “I believe these strong partnerships between academia and industry are built to last forever.”

Food deserts: A mobile solution

While each community’s needs are unique, a consistent issue Live HealthSmart Alabama has found in underserved areas is that these neighborhoods fall within areas that either have limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables or are food deserts.

According to the USDA, a food desert is a place where one-third of residents live more than one mile from the nearest grocery store. Using this definition and census tracts, the USDA estimates that roughly 19 million people (or 6.2 percent of the U.S. population) live in a food desert.

To bring healthy and affordable food to Birmingham residents, Live HealthSmart Alabama introduced its new Mobile Market at the Kingston ribbon-cutting – which will run in partnership with Promoting Empowerment and Enrichment Resources (P.E.E.R.) and East Lake Market. Each week, the Mobile Market will visit communities in Birmingham, starting with their demonstration areas (Kingston, East Lake, Bush Hills and Titusville). Shoppers can purchase proteins, fruits, vegetables, grains and a variety of other healthy food options using cash, card, EBT or Double-Up Bucks.

“Currently, Alabama has some of the worst health outcomes in the nation,” said Mona Fouad. “The goal of Live HealthSmart Alabama is to move our state out of the bottom 10 in national health rankings. To do this, community members have to have access to healthy food options and the tools to be successful. The Live HealthSmart Alabama Mobile Market helps to provide that.”

In addition to its weekly route, the Live HealthSmart Alabama Mobile Market will also host monthly evening events in June and July where community members can shop and watch chef Chris Hastings of Hot & Hot Fish Club conduct a demonstration using food pulled directly from the market.

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, UAB President Ray L. Watts, Myla Calhoun of Alabama Power and other UAB and community leaders also attended the event.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

21 hours ago

Birmingham Black Barons among Negro League teams getting more play in online stats

Barbershop banter about the greatest baseball players ever has more ammunition after Baseball-Reference.com, a Sports Reference website, dramatically expanded its coverage of the Negro Leagues and historical Black major league players.

Following the website’s launch on June 15, Major Negro Leagues from 1920-1948 – including the Birmingham Black Barons – are listed with the National League and American League as major leagues.

“Our view is that these players always were major league players, and it was an oversight on our part that we did not list them as major league players,” said Sean Forman, president of Sports Reference. “Such was the quality of play in the Negro Leagues. Just saying the term major league, we’re implying that they’re at the top league, in the top echelon of baseball being played. Certainly counting Willie Mays and Satchel Paige among your alumni for (the Birmingham Black Barons) lends it a certain level of quality.”

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Paige is No. 2 on the website’s list of all-time Birmingham Black Barons, behind Sam Streeter. Following Paige are Harry Salmon, Ray Parnell, Poindexter Williams, Artie Wilson, Piper Davis, Robert Poindexter, Ed Steele, Tommy Sampson, Sandy Thompson and Bill Powell.

A release on the website said Baseball Reference is “not bestowing a new status on these players or their accomplishments. The Negro Leagues have always been major leagues. We are changing our site’s presentation to properly recognize this fact.”

The website acknowledges the work of Gary Ashwill, Scott Simkus, Mike Lynch, Kevin Johnson and Larry Lester on the Seamheads Negro League Database, where the data was acquired. The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and its members were credited with being instrumental in researching and publishing the history of the Negro Leagues.

Lester, chairman of SABR’s Negro League Committee, said adding Negro Leaguers to the lists of statistics isn’t going to change the leaderboard of baseball greats because Negro Leaguers played fewer career games.

“But we can still quantify their greatness by showing that Satchel Paige struck out almost one batter every inning, which is very close to what Nolan Ryan and other ballplayers have done,” Lester said. “We can show that Josh Gibson hit a home run every 13 or 14 times at bat, which is right in line with Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds and Babe Ruth. Across the board, we can take statistics and show how great these Black players were.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

22 hours ago

Why Peach Park in Clanton is a must-stop on summer road trips

It’s that time of the year, again, when beach vacationers traveling on Interstate 65 stop for peaches in Clanton.

For nearly 40 years, the farm stand, restaurants, and gift shop at Peach Park have been prime destinations for travelers wanting to take a break with some peach ice cream, possibly buy a jar of peach butter to enjoy back home, and certainly pick up a basket of Chilton County’s much-loved fuzzy fruit.

Some of those freshly-picked, perfectly-ripe peaches will stay in the state. But a fair amount wind up in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana—states further north on I-65, which bisects Alabama.

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Alabama’s peach season, which basically runs from May through Labor Day, is just starting to hit its peak. Over the summer, Peach Park will sell more than 70 varieties that ripen at different times, guaranteeing a steady supply.

More than two-thirds of the peaches grown in Alabama come from Chilton County. The 74-year-old annual Peach Festival—which includes a pageant, music, fun run, art, and parades—is set for June 19-26 in Clanton.

Like Durbin Farms, its older competitor across I-65 at Exit 205, Peach Park started as a farm stand. Gene and Frances Gray opened it in 1984 to sell fruit from their own orchards and become an outlet for other area fruit and vegetable farmers.

Frances created the recipe for the much-loved peach ice cream, which premiered in 1988. She still helps make the frozen treat, some of the 10,000 gallons per year produced at Peach Park.

The family-owned business now is run by a second generation, the founders’ son and daughter-in-law, Mark and Robin Gray.

Peach Park’s seven-acre footprint boasts a barbecue restaurant (“Peach Pit Bar-B-Que”), meat-and-three, bakery, clothing boutique, playground, gardens, RV park, rental space for events, and other amenities.

Peach Park is generally open from mid-February until Christmas, operating seven days a week.

But during the summer it’s famous in tourist guides as a one-stop shop for all things peach. Ice cream flavors include peach caramel and peach cheesecake, along with straight-up peach (it graces a frozen yogurt there, too). You can order a scoop to top a piece of the peach cobbler made in the bakery.

The bakery also uses peaches in bread and cakes, and to fill its legendary fried pies—one of the state Tourism Department’s “100 Dishes to Eat and Alabama.” You can buy jars of peach preserves to take home, or order some congealed peach salad to eat there.

Don’t forget to get snaps by the giant peach replica out back, a smaller cousin to the peach-shaped water towers that mark prime producing areas in the Southeast, including Chilton County (that water tower is off Exit 112 on I-65).

Of course, we Alabamians don’t need a beach trip as an excuse to drop in to Peach Park. But with Sunday the busiest day; a weekday is the best time to relax in a rocking chair on the porch at Peach Park, working on an ice-cream cone or fried pie, and then pick up a basket of fruit for home.

(Courtesy of SoulGrown)