4 months ago

UAH Nursing faculty take student groups to administer COVID-19 vaccines

Nursing faculty and their students from The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), a part of The University of Alabama System, have joined the front lines in the fight against the global pandemic by working to administer COVID-19 vaccinations to recipients in six north Alabama counties.

“The UAH College of Nursing (CoN) has always been invested in the community. In fact, community engagement and outreach is a major component of the CoN strategic plan,” says Dr. Marsha Howell Adams, CoN dean and professor. “Providing nursing support to North Alabama counties and academic institutions during this pandemic through the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine has been one of the most fulfilling clinical experiences our nursing students have had or will ever have.”

“I am very proud of the work our students and instructors have done during this crisis period,” adds Dr. Amelia Lanz, associate dean of undergraduate programs.

With much course work being done online and normal hospital clinicals temporarily on hold due to the virus, CoN administrators saw this project as an innovative way to provide their students with vital hands-on experience, while at the same time performing a life-giving service for people in Jackson, Lawrence, Limestone, Madison, Marshall and Morgan counties.

“We were unable to go into the hospital, and so our dean was approached by the health department and asked if our students could participate in administering the COVID-19 vaccine,” says Dr. Miranda Smith, a clinical instructor in the UAH CoN. “We thought it would be a great service for our students to provide these communities, and so we started scheduling the students in our clinical groups to work with the health departments.”

The vaccination experience was included as part of the clinical work in a course known as NUR 308: Nursing Care of Adults. Lead instructors in the UAH CoN organized the schedules for the inoculations and were responsible for overseeing students in small groups deployed throughout the region. For her part, Smith supervised the field work, assisted by Dr. Rebecca Davis, a clinical assistant professor, as well as clinical instructors Charles Reynolds and Amy Darnell.

“I’m the manager of this course, and all three of these full-time faculty are on my team,” Smith explains. “We also have part-time clinical faculty as well as graduate teaching assistants participating in this initiative. Each of these faculty take a group of eight students to the county health departments, and they [the recipients] come to the health department to receive their vaccine.”

“Huntsville Hospital has had so many COVID patients, that all nursing programs were not able to go into the hospital until February 15,” Davis says, explaining why the UAH faculty had to think outside of the box to provide needed training for their students.

“We replaced a couple of weeks of clinicals with the COVID vaccinations so students could still get some patient interaction,” Smith adds. “Pretty much all of our students are really proficient at administering injections and other nursing skills. But this gave them a lot of interaction with people in the community, the health department and working with other health care professionals.”

The faculty report that when their nursing students learned they were going out in the community to administer vaccines, they saw the experience as a wonderful opportunity to help out and did so without hesitation.

“The majority of them, from the feedback I got, liked working during the pandemic and felt it was their way of giving back to the community,” Smith says. “They would say things like they were able to put a smile on a person’s face, that they were making a difference. Many of the people were elderly.”

“We worked in small groups,” Davis notes. “In my group we got to vaccinate most of the teachers in Limestone county! We liked the opportunity to help make them safe, and the students liked that these teachers were having to take instructions for a change rather than giving them. They were having a lot of fun with it.”

The students were involved in the prescreening, completing all the paperwork and performing the actual administration of the COVID vaccine. They also monitored each recipient for 15 minutes after they received their vaccination. In all, the student teams inoculated over 1,000 people seeking a dose.

“A couple of groups did more than 150 per day,” Smith says. “We were focusing on the above-70 population.”

“My lowest day was maybe 50,” Charles Reynolds chimes in. “How many got the vaccine all depended on the patient plan.”

At times the workers found the response to the vaccination program to be almost overwhelming. The four instructors say that cars were backed up for miles in Morgan county alone.

“Sometimes we had a batch of vaccine come in all at once, and we’d put the sign out that we were doing walk-ins, and then it would get crazy!” Davis says.

“In Morgan county we were set up outside under a tent, and we would administer vaccines to people in their cars,” Smith says. “But in Limestone county they had their own separate rooms, so that would dictate how many we could do a day. We’d go administer their injection in the car and monitor them. If they were older, we could do everything in the car, the pre-screening, the paperwork, administering the vaccine and then monitoring them.”

All in all, there was plenty of hands-on interaction to go around and provide the students with valuable experience. Speaking of which, one might wonder what those first moments were like for the students giving their first injections. Were they nervous?

“Not really nervous, but it was a different environment, so they had to learn the protocol,” Smith says. “None of our students had ever administered vaccines before. At first it was just learning the steps, what do you do to make sure all the paperwork is correct, etc. They were scared of hurting the patient, but once they got the confirmation that it was okay, that helped. They’d say, ‘Give me another one, give me another one!’ They really worked hard to track what time they got it, did I do this right, did I do the follow-up? And they took lots of pictures! They’re probably never going to experience anything like this ever again, so they were very excited.”

“They definitely had this sense of how this was going to go, but they didn’t let it stop them, thinking, I’m just going to make the best of it, do the best I can,” Reynolds adds.

“I was more scared of doing the paperwork,” Amy Darnell says. “But the director at the health department would say, ‘you’ll be fine, you won’t mess anything up.’”

Davis smiles and says, “Mine mostly were saying things like, ‘I can’t believe we are doing this! We are actually helping to fight the pandemic!’”

The fact that many of the students were serving in their own communities across north Alabama became a special point of pride for the nursing students.

“It helped that there were lots of students from those areas. They live in those counties!” Reynolds says. “So when we went there, and they were able to do this where they lived, it gave them a sense of community building, thinking, I know some of these people! They are from my neighborhood.”

The program has also had a special impact on just what it means to be a nurse and to train nurses in a time of challenges and uncertainty.

“A lot of them have become more gracious about what they are doing,” Smith says. “They actually understood how people have to work together during times of crisis. We have become so fluid in the CoN. We just do what we have to do. Many of my students said to me, this has all made me realize as a nurse we have to be prepared for anything, and that teamwork and flexibility is so important!”

And what has been the reaction of the people receiving the vaccine?

“The patients were grateful,” Smith says. “There were some who would cry. They loved having the students there. They would take pictures with them to save as mementos. They would say things like, ‘You didn’t hurt me.’ You could tell they were saying it to make us feel good. Every student said things like ‘that person left with a smile.’”

“They told us things like a lot of people in their community have died from COVID-19,” Davis notes. “There were some really grateful people.”

Considering all that has happened over the past year, one might ask how different has it been for these four as faculty compared to expectations they might have had in the past?

“Everybody just kind of pitches in,” Smith says. “We did a lot of in-class activities anyway, so when we went totally online, all lectures were prerecorded, and we’ve actually continued that in class. We do have high expectations for our nursing students. It’s just a different way of teaching for the students, but we’ve had great feedback from what we’ve been doing.”

“We’re always trying to adapt and be creative anyway,” Davis explains. “So it was different, but we’re always kind of practical in how can we provide all the learning experiences.”

Do the instructors have any plans for helping with future vaccinations?

“We’re also going to be helping Alabama A&M and UAH on a volunteer basis to administer the vaccine,” Smith says.

(Courtesy of UAH)

8 mins ago

UAB Hospital’s longest-tenured COVID-19 patient goes home

Ricky Hamm is no stranger to UAB Hospital. A medevac helicopter pilot, he has been flying ill and injured patients to UAB for 17 years. He was the first medevac pilot to touch down on the landing pad of UAB’s North Pavilion when it opened in 2004. On Jan. 10, 2021, he found himself at the North Pavilion again, but this time as a patient.

COVID-19 patient. It would be 187 days before he would go home.

Hamm is not sure how he contracted the virus. Five co-workers were COVID-19-positive at the same time in January, so he may have picked it up at work.

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“We live in a rural area, and I always wore a mask and kept my distance when going to town,” Hamm said. “A bunch of us went to get the first dose of the Moderna vaccine, but I must have already had the virus.”

Hamm, a veteran who first flew medevac in the Army, began to feel sick Jan. 5. Five days later, he was in UAB Hospital with severe breathing issues. He was not a good candidate for a ventilator, an artificial breathing machine often used with COVID-19 patients. His physicians had to turn to ECMO.

ECMO, or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, is a device that removes a patient’s blood, filters out the carbon dioxide and adds oxygen. The blood is then pumped back into the body. In effect, the machine takes over the roles of the heart and lungs.

“ECMO is a complicated, complex procedure,” said Dr. Keith Wille, professor in UAB’s Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine and medical director of the adult ECMO program. “It’s invasive and not much fun for the patient. In this case, it saved his life. But trust me – you do not want to go on ECMO.”

Hamm was on ECMO for 147 days. He has the dubious distinction of being UAB’s longest-tenured COVID-19 patient, at 187 days. He will still be on supplemental oxygen after discharge, and he will use an extra-strength CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine at night for a while to help his breathing. He has suffered profound hearing loss, which his wife, Shannon, a speech pathologist, hopes may resolve over time. His bout with COVID-19 was severe.

“He had a lot of support from family and friends,” said Shannon. “We were not sure how it was going to go at first. He was basically out of it for about four months. Once he woke up and joined the fight, things got a lot better. Then we knew he was going to make it.”

On July 16, Hamm’s family, friends in the emergency medical services community and co-workers celebrated his discharge from UAB, complete with a blue-light escort from Jefferson County and other area sheriff’s departments.

Hamm, speaking to members of the media outside the hospital, offered his support for vaccination.

“I believe in the vaccine,” he said. “I believe I already had the virus before I got the vaccine, before it could work to protect me. I wouldn’t want anyone to go through what I went through.”

Hamm’s wife said they were halfway through construction of a house when Hamm got sick. The contractors have now finished, and Hamm got his first look at the house as the caravan bringing him home from the hospital pulled up.

“We built it to live in the rest of our lives,” he said. “Built ramps and wide doorways. No stairs. It was for when we grew old. I never expected to need handicap access quite this soon.”

Hamm is 50 years old. They did not celebrate his birthday much in 2020 due to the pandemic. They will celebrate this time. He came home from the hospital – after more than seven months – the day before his 51st birthday.

This story originally appeared on the UAB News website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 hours ago

State Rep. Tracy Estes announces reelection campaign

State Rep. Tracy Estes (R-Winfield) has announced his reelection bid to the Alabama House of Representatives, serving District 17.

Estes, a first-term lawmaker, serves on the Education Policy, Public and Homeland Security, and Children and Senior Advocacy Committees.

“Serving my district in Montgomery has proven to be one of the greatest honors in my life,’’ said Estes. “More importantly, serving in this capacity has given me the opportunity to represent the people of Northwest Alabama while giving them a voice in state government. With a second term in office, I am committed to honoring the promise I made the residents of Lamar, Marion and Winston counties on the campaign trail in 2018 – to be hard working, transparent and accessible. Without hesitation, I believe I have honored my word.’’

In the earliest stages of the global coronavirus pandemic, Estes said in a release he was at the forefront in efforts to bring “much-needed federal financial assistance” to House District 17.

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The release cited his work with hospitals in Winfield, Hamilton and Haleyville to secure more than $15 million in financial aid. The first-term lawmaker noted the assistance his office provided to his constituents in obtaining jobless benefits.

Estes helped lead the legislature in the lower chamber to pass Aniah’s Law, which if passed through statewide ballot measure, would expand judicial authority to deny bail to those accused of committing violent crimes. The legislation was spearheaded by State Rep. Chip Brown (R-Hollinger’s Island).

The press release stated that Estes has managed to secure funding for eight highway projects for his district, totaling more than $4 million.

He has been an ardent supporter of public education and has sponsored numerous legislation relating to education since assuming office, earning him recognition from the Alabama Association of School Boards and the School Superintendents of Alabama.

Estes serves as a deacon at Winfield First Baptist Church and sings lead in a Southern gospel quartet.

In closing, Estes offered a direct plea for reelection to voters of House District 17.

“I believe the voters in this district still honor and respect hard work,” said Estes. “I can honestly say I have poured all of my energy into working hard on your behalf over the last few years while also being transparent and accessible to everyone in the district regardless of age, gender, community or economic background. I worked for everyone in this district and have considered it an honor to do so.”

Dylan Smith is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News

4 hours ago

Britt: Border crisis ‘a result of the weakness of the Biden administration’

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Katie Britt appeared Thursday on News Talk 93.1’s “Dan Morris Show,” where she was interviewed by guest host Apryl Marie Fogel.

During the interview, she was asked by Fogel whether some of the recent turmoil overseas and at the border was attributable to the transition in the executive branch.

“There is no doubt that this is a result of the weakness of the Biden administration,” Britt outlined. “You mentioned the border — it is a total disaster. If you look at the number of people coming over the border, both in May and June we hit 20-year highs. President Trump placed policies and enacted policies that showed strength and got the border under control. I mean, the first thing that we need to do is seal and secure the border. If you look at the safety and security of our nation, but also the humanitarian crisis that is occurring there. We are seeing so many drugs being trafficked over the border. They said they are catching over 3,000 pounds a day, but Apryl Marie, what China is sending over in fentanyl to Mexico, to then come over our border, they said could kill every American four times over.”

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“And every bit of this, it’s interesting, when Vice President Harris said, ‘Oh, I’m going go to the border to see what the issue is,’ which obviously took her, how many days did it take her? – How many months? It was absurd. But I thought, ‘You don’t need to go down there to see (the problem), just look in the mirror.’ It’s you, it’s your administration, the Biden administration’s policies. It’s the weakness that you’re showing,” Britt concluded. “We’ve got to put back Trump’s Remain in Mexico policy. We’ve also got to make sure that, as President Trump did, when people came over the border, they knew that they weren’t going to be placed on our welfare system. Those types of policies, that type of strength, that deters people from coming. Same thing in Cuba. Same thing in Israel. I mean, they see weakness in the Biden Administration, and they see that the Democrats are starting to undermine that relationship, and they are taking advantage of it. Make no mistake: this is why we have to have strength in D.C. and in the White House. We must have strength in the Senate, and we must have strength in the House.”

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

5 hours ago

A new-look Alabama Crimson Tide, the same old Nick Saban

Nick Saban knows you want to know what he thinks. About the prospect of COVID-19 disrupting another college football season. Name, image and likeness rights for college athletes. The revolving door on the transfer portal thanks to the one-time free transfer rule.

Winning a poll-era record seven national championships, six of the past 12, including the 2020 title, has earned the Alabama football coach a bully pulpit. It’s also earned him the right to admit he knows what he doesn’t know.

“I know there’s a lot of interest in a lot of those things,” Saban said Wednesday at SEC Media Days at the Hyatt Regency Wynfrey Hotel. “I almost feel that anything that I say will probably be wrong because there’s no precedent for the consequences that some of the things that we are creating, whether they’re good opportunities, even if they’re good opportunities, there’s no precedent for the consequences that some of these things are going to create, whether they’re good or bad.”

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Alabama Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban talks NIL, vacationing, sustaining success and a past SEC Media Days memory from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The more college football changes, the more Saban and Alabama adapt to those changes and keep winning. They went undefeated to capture the 2020 national championship despite COVID disruptions such as Saban himself missing the Iron Bowl because he tested positive for the virus, and two games being rescheduled.

Saban explained how Alabama has handled the subject of vaccinations for the disease with its players heading into this season. He broke it down into “a personal decision” for each player and “a competitive decision” on how that choice could affect the team.

How has that approach worked to date?

“I think that we’re pretty close to 90 percent maybe of our players who have gotten the vaccine,” Saban said, “and I’m hopeful that more players make that decision – but it is their decision.”

Speaking a day earlier at a Texas high school coaching convention, Saban weighed in on the newest phenomenon affecting college athletics, NIL rights. He dropped a nugget that Alabama’s heir apparent at quarterback, sophomore Bryce Young, has earned almost a million dollars in endorsements. Saban didn’t expound on Young’s earning power Wednesday but applauded the opportunity for players to make money.

He also questioned the impact that a disparity in NIL earnings could have on the roster “because it’s not going to be equal, and everything that we’ve done in college athletics in the past has always been equal. Everybody’s had an equal scholarship, equal opportunity.”

“Now that’s probably not going to be the case. Some positions, some players will have more opportunities than others. And how that’s going to impact your team, our team, the players on the team, I really can’t answer because we don’t have any precedent for it.

“I know that we’re doing the best we can to try to get our players to understand the circumstance they’re in, the opportunity they have, and how those opportunities are not going to be equal for everybody, and it will be important for our team’s success that people are not looking over their shoulder at what somebody else does or doesn’t do.”

What Alabama does in trying to compete for another championship without 10 NFL draft picks from last year’s team, six of whom were selected in the first round, including Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith, will reflect the program’s ability to adapt to the new era of college football “free agency.” Tennessee transfer linebacker Henry To’oTo’o, a potential “quarterback-type guy on defense” in Saban’s words, is one of the newcomers expected to make an immediate impact on a team that will start the season in a much different place than last season.

With eight new starters on offense and a new offensive coordinator and play-caller in former NFL head coach Bill O’Brien, the experience this time around is on defense. Just the same, Saban said, after setting school records last season with 48.5 points and 541.6 yards a game, “we’re not changing offenses.”

“We’ve got a good offense,” he said. “We’ve got a good system. We’ve got a good philosophy. Bill has certainly added to that in a positive way, and we’ll probably continue to make some changes. But from a terminology standpoint, from a player standpoint in our building, our offense was very, very productive, and we want to continue to run the same type of offense and feature the players that we have who are playmakers who can make plays, and I think Bill will do a good job of that.”

So as a new season awaits, Saban and Alabama find themselves in a familiar place in a new world, trying to defend a national championship with a new cast of featured players and assistant coaches. Saban called it “the penalty for success.”

“The challenge is you’ve got to rebuild with a lot of new players who will be younger, have new roles, less experience, and how do they respond to these new roles? That’s why rebuilding is a tremendous challenge,” Saban said. “That’s why it’s very difficult to repeat.”

Alabama Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban speaks at SEC Media Days 2021 from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Saban, who has won back-to-back national championships just once in 2011 and 2012, is heading into his 15th season at Alabama, his 20th in the SEC, including his five years at LSU. The SEC coach next in line in seniority is Kentucky’s Mark Stoops, who’s entering his ninth year. Eight of the league’s head coaches are in their first or second year.

Someone asked Saban the secret to his longevity.

“I think that’s simple,” he said. “You’ve got to win.”

Mission accomplished. Again and again and again.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 hours ago

In Alabama, conservation is for the birds

Whether it’s the Yellowhammer State or the Cotton State, whatever you call the state of Alabama, an abundance of birds call it home. “Yellowhammer” in fact refers to the common name for the northern flicker woodpecker — which just happens to be the state bird of Alabama.

Specifically, coastal Alabama is home to a treasure trove of avian species that nest on the beach and use the area for stopover on their migratory journeys around the world. Coastal Alabama is a particularly vulnerable area, as well as the other four Gulf state coasts. The Gulf’s coast is subject to battering from hurricanes and storm surge, land loss from a lack of sediment transfers, and increased development — making coastal restoration projects all that more important.

The incredible amount of bird habitat in the Yellowhammer State is good news for outdoors enthusiasts. Birding trails and hunting opportunities are prevalent, and per Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism, birding as a sector of tourism is huge. Roughly $17.3 billion is spent on wildlife-watching trips and related expenses, with an estimated 20 million Americans traveling for birding.

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“While our 32-mile stretch of sugar-white sand beaches is what draws people to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach for their vacations, the broader nature and outdoors are part of our core marketing focus, especially in the last year with the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Beth Gendler, Chief Operating Officer of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism. “The Tourism Office learned during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill just how vital it is that we protect our special environment for residents and visitors to enjoy and appreciate in the future. Birding and bird conservation efforts are a key component of this because our area is part of the winter and spring migration routes.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) Gulf Restoration Office is working to implement projects ensuring these opportunities continue to exist far into the future. Within these efforts, some Service biologists are focused on land restoration, while others are looking to the sky — literally — as they track birds’ migration patterns.

Dauphin Island’s West End

Amid settlement negotiations and cleanup efforts from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which occurred in April 2010, one spit of land remained in focus for some Service biologists. Roughly 840 acres of coastal habitat, which until recently was privately owned, is known as the West End of Dauphin Island. Located near the mouth of Mobile Bay, Dauphin Island is a 15-mile long barrier island. The U.S. Census Bureau has designated the area as 166-square-miles, which includes about 96% open water. It offers invaluable habitat for coastal bird populations.

A major milestone on the path to restoring the Gulf of Mexico was marked recently as the state of Alabama acquired the West End of Dauphin Island. The acquisition conserves habitat for coastal bird populations that are dependent on the area. The Dauphin Island West End Acquisition project was approved as part of the Alabama Restoration Plan III and Environmental Assessment in December 2019. The 840 acres is a diverse coastal habitat made up of dunes, marshes, and beaches. Sea turtle and several bird species use these habitats for nesting. Migratory birds use the area as a prime resting spot during migrations. The Service’s team will work in close coordination with the State of Alabama and Mobile County to restore this valuable property.

“Public ownership of the West End of Dauphin Island will allow for the protection and management of its habitats,” said Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “Through the collaborative work of the Alabama Trustee Implementation Group, and the local stakeholders, the acquisition of this land will have a tremendous benefit for coastal and water birds injured by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.”

Among the bird species present at the West End are the piping plover and red knot. These two shorebirds are a threatened species within their Alabama range, and are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Piping plovers frequent Alabama’s quiet shoreline throughout fall, winter and spring. Red knots are known for their more than 9,300-mile annual migration, one of the longest-distance migrants in the animal kingdom. Conserving this parcel of land will ensure that the sensitive coastal habitat is protected for years to come.

Tracking birds on the go

Conserving bird habitat is vital for species conservation, but so is knowing where Alabama’s coastal birds are going and staying. A project to track seasonal movements and habitat use of two species of colonial wading birds is providing valuable information for future planning to restore wading bird species in Alabama still recovering from the Deepwater Horizon spill. The project relies on the use of electronic transmitters attached to captured birds.

The Colonial Nesting Wading Bird Tracking and Habitat Use Assessment project has been underway since last July. Biologists will use the information to better understand important colonial wading bird foraging, resting and nesting areas in coastal Alabama which will allow for more efficient and effective restoration.

“This project gives us an important way to understand the many impacts that affect colonial nesting wading bird populations, including human disturbances such as the Deepwater Horizon spill. The data provided through this project will help us to more effectively restore bird species injured by the spill,” said Kate Healy, a Service biologist who works in the Gulf restoration office.