Reducing Obesity Topic of Rural Health Conference

Partnering with rural communities to reduce obesity is the topic of the 14th Annual Rural Health Conference hosted by the College and its Institute for Rural Health Research.

The conference, “The Weight of our Rural Communities: Partnering to Reduce Obesity,” will be held Wednesday, February 20, 2013, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Ferguson Center on The University of Alabama campus.

The conference will feature two keynote speakers: Michael Minor, EdD, national director of H.O.P.E. Health and Human Services Partnership of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., the nation’s largest African American religious denomination; and Ravi Patel, founder of the Nashville Mobile Market. Breakout sessions focusing on clinical, community and behavioral topics will also be offered.

Minor is an advisor and advocate for local, regional and national faith-based health and wellness initiatives. As a community organizer for 20 years, he has worked extensively on community empowerment and faith-community issues. In 2008, he chaired “Healthy Congregations – Northwest Mississippi,” which grew from a regional initiative to a national one in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Minor has worked with First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Initiative! In November 2012, Cooking Light magazine selected Minor as one of 20 national food heroes.

Patel founded the Nashville Mobile Market and currently serves as its executive director. The market is a non-profit social enterprise that strives to encourage healthier eating and decrease chronic conditions, such as obesity, diabetes and high-blood pressure, by providing access to healthy groceries for residents of Nashville’s food deserts. A food desert is a geographic district with limited access to foods needed to maintain a healthy diet. Through a mobile grocery store, the Nashville Mobile Market provides fresh produce, lean meats, dairy products and select non-perishable items. Patel is also co-executive director of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine’s free student-run clinic.

The conference, as part of its 2nd Annual Rural Health Heroes Awards, will also honor individuals who assist their communities in reducing or preventing obesity and promoting wellness.

An Active Reception will follow the conference and will provide an evening of food, discussion and active education. The reception will begin at 5 p.m. at the University’s Recreation Center.

The annual Rural Health Conference is attended by health-care providers, researchers, community leaders, government officials, policymakers and representatives of faith-based organizations who hear from prominent speakers in the field and share information and knowledge about rural health issues.

The registration fee for the 14th Annual Rural Health Conference is $100 per person and $25 for students and includes breakfast and lunch. Continuing Education Units will be offered. (After February 6, the registration fee is $125 per person and $30 for students.)

For more information and to register online, visit the conference website at or contact the Institute for Rural Health Research at (205) 348-0025.

The Institute for Rural Health Research was established in 2001 and conducts research to improve health in rural Alabama. The goal is to produce research that is useful to communities, health care providers and policymakers as they work to improve the availability, accessibility and quality of health care in rural areas. The Institute also serves as a resource for community organizations, researchers and individuals working to improve the health of rural communities in Alabama.

New AHEC Director Visits College

Art Clawson, associate director of a new statewide Area Health Education Center (AHEC) program in Alabama, met recently with faculty and staff of the College’s Rural Health Leaders Pipeline to learn about ongoing community-based health education and outreach initiatives in West Alabama.

From left: Irene Wallace, program assistant for the Rural Medical Scholars Program; Art Clawson, director of the Alabama Area Health Education Center program; John Wheat, director of the College’s Rural Health Leaders Pipeline; and Cynthia Moore, director of the Rural Health Scholars Program and the Rural Minority Health Scholars Program.

The AHEC program is funded by a federal grant awarded to the Birmingham campus of The University of Alabama School of Medicine. John Wheat, MD, and James Leeper, PhD, professors in the College’s Department of Community and Rural Medicine, assisted in writing the grant. The College also serves as the Tuscaloosa branch campus of the School of Medicine.

Wheat is founder and director of the Rural Health Leaders Pipeline, a sequence of programs designed to find and nurture students from rural areas who wish to eventually return to their hometowns or other rural and underserved communities to practice medicine. The pipeline includes the Rural Health Scholars, Rural Minority Health Scholars and Rural Medical Scholars programs.

Both Wheat and Leeper have worked closely with the Rural Alabama Health Alliance and the West Alabama Rural Medical Care Alliance to plan and conduct community-based health and outreach activities and training programs in West Alabama. Clawson says the new AHEC hopes to build upon activities and programs already in place in the state.

The focus of the AHEC program is to enhance access to high quality, culturally competent health care through community-based interdisciplinary training, continuing education and health career outreach activities. The overall goal of the program is to improve the distribution, diversity and supply of new primary health care professionals to rural and underserved health care delivery sites.

Poddar is New Fellow in Rural Psychiatry

Swati Poddar, MD, has joined the College of Community Health Sciences as a fellow in the Rural Public Psychiatry Fellowship. She will be working with the College’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, the Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center and the West Alabama Mental Health Center in Demopolis during the one-year program.

Poddar was born in India, where she earned her Bachelor’s of Medicine and Bachelor’s of Surgery degree. She completed her residency training in London before moving to the United States.

Poddar is fluent in several languages, including Hindi, Marwari, Marathi, Gujrati and English. She enjoys photography and cooking.

Richard Friend Joins College as Residency Director

Richard Friend, MD, has joined the College of Community Health Sciences as director of its Tuscaloosa Family Medicine Residency. He will also serve as vice chair of the College’s Department of Family Medicine Clinical Operations.

Friend earned an undergraduate degree in psychology at Tulane University in New Orleans. He graduated with honors from Louisiana State University School of Medicine in New Orleans and completed a Family Medicine residency at the LSU School of Medicine in Shreveport.

He was in private practice for 10 years before joining the LSU School of Medicine as an assistant professor of Family Medicine and assistant director of the LSU Rural Family Medicine Residency in Bogalusa. He has served as director of the residency for the past five years.

Friend has also served as a medical director for nursing homes, a home hospice and a home health company. He has held numerous leadership roles at Bogalusa Medical Center and is currently chief of staff at the hospital. He has been awarded millions of dollars in grant funding, given invited presentations and is the author of several published articles.

In addition to his administrative experience, Friend brings substantial clinical experience, including endoscopic, advanced orthopedics and obstetrics and gynecology procedures as well as extensive emergency room experience.

Boxmeyer Joins College of Community Health Sciences

Caroline Boxmeyer, PhD, has joined the College of Community Health Sciences as associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine. In addition, Boxmeyer will continue in the role of research scientist in The University of Alabama’s Center for Prevention of Youth Behavior Problems, which she has held for the past seven years.

Boxmeyer, a clinical psychologist, will provide psychological services to adults, children and families in the College’s Betty Shirley Clinic and will also provide training in mental health assessment and intervention to medical residents and graduate and medical students.

Boxmeyer received her undergraduate degree in psychology from Princeton University where she graduated magna cum laude and won the senior thesis prize in Behavioral Neuroscience. She then received a training award to complete a two-year predoctoral research position in the Child Psychiatry Branch of the National Institute of Mental Health. Boxmeyer completed her PhD in Clinical Psychology at the University of California in San Diego and a clinical psychology internship at The University of Alabama at Birmingham.

She held a postdoctoral fellow position in The University of Alabama’s Department of Psychology and supervised doctoral students in clinical psychology through The University’s Psychology Clinic and the College’s University Medical Center. Her work has been focused on developing and testing preventive interventions to promote positive social and emotional development in children and supportive parent-child relationships. “My early work taught me the important role of research in helping to identify best practices and in disseminating knowledge to others,” Boxmeyer says.

A specific focus of her work has been overseeing research on the Coping Power program for children with anger and aggression problems, and training school and mental health professionals to utilize cognitive behavioral intervention strategies with children and parents. “My primary goal is to help the individuals I work with to lead meaningful lives, to enjoy their lives, and to practice kindness and compassion toward themselves and others,” she says.

Boxmeyer says she is looking forward to “working in an academic medical setting that serves the local community, allows practitioners from a variety of disciplines to work closely together and trains the next generation of health care providers.”

Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare

A free community screening of the film, ESCAPE FIRE: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare, will be held Sunday, March 3, 2013, at 3 p.m. at the Bama Theatre in downtown Tuscaloosa.

The event is sponsored by The University of Alabama’s College of Community Health Sciences, Capstone College of Nursing, School of Social Work, Culverhouse College of Commerce and Business Administration and Office of Health Promotion and Wellness.

The screening will be followed by a panel discussion to focus on health care issues and concerns and possible ways to improve the healthcare system. Panelists will include: Bryan Kindred, CEO of DCH Health System; Deborah Tucker, CEO of Whatley Health Services; Charles Morgan, senior executive vice president and general counsel of Phifer Inc.; Linda House Moncrief, benefits and wellness director for the city of Tuscaloosa; and Allen Perkins, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Family Medicine at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine.

“This is an opportunity to have an important dialog,” says Richard Streiffer, MD, dean of the College of Community Health Sciences and a family medicine physician. “Our goal is to begin to change the conversation in the community.”

ESCAPE FIRE is a feature-length documentary that examines the nation’s healthcare system. The movie was an official selection of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. According to the ESCAPE FIRE website, the film looks at “the powerful forces maintaining the status quo, a medical industry designed for quick fixes rather than prevention, for profit-driven care rather than patient-driven care. But the current battle over cost and access does not ultimately address the root of the problem: we have a disease-care system, not a healthcare system.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, much of healthcare spending in the United States goes to treating preventable diseases, for example heart disease, diabetes and cancers caused by obesity.

American healthcare costs overall are rising rapidly and could reach $4.2 trillion annually within a decade, roughly 20 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The average per capita cost of health care in the United States is $8,000, compared to $3,000 in the rest of the developed world, according to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development.

Still, the Institute for Medicine has found that 30 percent of healthcare costs in the United States, approximately $750 billion annually, are wasted and do not improve health.

“This documentary tackles the American healthcare system, a subject that carriers with it decades of debate and misconception,” say film directors Matthew Heineman and Susan Froemke. They say much of the recent media attention has focused on the contentious passage of the Affordable Care Act and the debate about its impact “yet Americans are still unclear about what is broken and how best to move forward. ESCAPE FIRE seeks to explore possibilities to create a sustainable system for the future and to dispel misinformation in order to create a clear and comprehensive look at healthcare in America,” they added.

Heineman and Froemke say it is time to create “escape fires” in the nation’s healthcare system.

The University of Alabama sponsors of the ESCAPE FIRE film screening hope the event will be the start of a dialog about potential healthcare escape fires for Alabama.

 “We are all involved in training health professionals for the future,” Streiffer says. “We have the ability to change the conversation in a meaningful way.”

Researchers receive grant for community-based participatory research

Researchers from The University of Alabama were awarded a three-year, $800,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop and support collaborative research between academic researchers and residents of Alabama communities disproportionately impacted by poor health.

The grant project, “Developing Effective, Sustainable CBPR to Reduce Obesity in Rural Alabama,” is a partnership of the College of Community Health Sciences’ Institute for Rural Health Research, the College of Communication and Information Sciences’ Institute for Communication and Information Research and the Black Belt Community Foundation. The foundation is a non-profit organization that works to improve the health and quality of life of citizens living in the 12 Black Belt counties it serves.

The grant’s principal investigators are: John C. Higginbotham, PhD, associate dean for research for the College of Community Health Sciences and director of the Institute for Rural Health Research; Kim Bissell, PhD, associate dean for research for the College of Communication and Information Sciences and director of the Institute for Communication and Information Research; and Felecia Jones, MBA, executive director of the Black Belt Community Foundation.

The grant was funded by the Community Based Participatory Research Initiative of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, an institute of the NIH.

Community-based participatory research (CBPR) is research that is conducted as an equal partnership between traditionally trained research scientists and members of a community. CBPR is unique in that CBPR projects allow community members to participate fully in all aspects of the research process.

“Communities have lots of great ideas about how to deal with issues, but they do not always have the resources to put those ideas into action,” Higginbotham says. “With this project, we hope to create an infrastructure that will bring together the expertise of the community with academic partners and together develop ways to improve the health of communities, particularly in regard to obesity and related diseases.”

The University’s three-year planning grant will create a research training program to provide education and training to academic researchers interested in conducting CBPR research in the Black Belt and to build the CBPR capacity of Black Belt residents. A research incubator will be developed to guide future research projects aimed at addressing obesity within the project’s defined Black Belt communities. A dissemination network will be developed to facilitate internal communication and public awareness of this project and its goals. And a community advisory board will be established to provide oversight for all aspects of the project.

The initiative is designed to promote collaborative research between scientific researchers and members of their communities through the joint design and implementation of research projects targeting health disparities in racial and ethnic minorities or other underserved populations. The goal is to foster sustainable efforts at the community level that will speed the translation of research advances to underserved populations and reduce or eliminate health disparities.

Key personnel on the grant will work to educate and train state researchers and residents of Alabama’s rural and impoverished Black Belt region to conduct community-based participatory research intended to reduce health disparities. Under this initiative, scientific researchers and Black Belt community members will work together to design and implement research projects to address major health issues, particularly obesity.

According to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) more than 32 percent of the population in the state of Alabama is considered obese, greater than the national average of 27 percent. Those percentages are higher in some Black Belt counties, which range between 39 percent and 47 percent for adults and greater than 20 percent for school-age children, according to the CDC.

These percentages suggest that adults and children in the Black Belt, which is plagued with high unemployment and limited access to health care, are at a disproportionately higher risk for obesity-related health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

The CBPR Initiative is a long-term commitment by NIMHD with potential continuous funding for up to 11 years for CBPR projects, including The University of Alabama project. The initiative has three phases: a three-year planning phase that allows grantees to develop partnerships, conduct community needs assessments, identify the disease or condition to research and conduct pilot research studies; a five-year phase during which CBPR research grants will be awarded competitively; and a three-year phase during which dissemination research grants will be provided to grantees from phase two who have shown that their research can improve the health status of underserved populations.

Key research areas selected by the NIMHD CBPR Initiative include cancer, cardiovascular disease, child health improvement, HIV/AIDS, obesity prevention and diabetes.

Rural Health Conference – February 20th, 2013

The annual Rural Health Conferences are attended by health-care professionals, community leaders, researchers, government officials and policymakers who come together to hear from prominent speakers in the field and to share information and knowledge about the health disparities that impact rural Alabama.

College Psychiatrists Recognized by National Association

Two psychiatrists in the College’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine have been recognized by the American Psychiatric Association for their dedication to the profession of psychiatry.

Marisa Giggie, MD, MPAff

Marisa Giggie, MD, an assistant professor in the department who also practices at the College’s Betty Shirley Clinic, received the status of Fellow. J.E. Keeton, MD, an adjunct faculty member in the department, received the status of Distinguished Fellow.

Giggie and Keeton will be formally recognized at the APA’s 166th Annual Meeting in San Francisco in May.

“I am honored and humbled to be given the distinction of Fellow by the APA,” Giggie says. “Serving my patients has been one of the greatest privileges of my life. I look forward to many more years of service to the community.”

The designation of Fellow recognizes early career APA members who have demonstrated a commitment to their profession and to the ongoing work of the association.

The designation of Distinguished Fellow is awarded to psychiatrists who have made significant contributions to the psychiatric profession in such areas as clinical excellence, teaching, scientific and scholarly publications and volunteering in mental health and medical activities of social significance. Distinguished Fellow is the highest membership honor the APA bestows.

Both the designation of Fellow and Distinguished Fellow require review from a member’s state association, as well as approval by the APA’s Memberships Committee and Board of Trustees. The state association for Alabama is the Alabama Psychiatric Physicians Association.

“Dr. Keeton and Dr. Giggie have achieved distinction in special areas of psychiatry and possess depth of knowledge and breadth of skills that are recognized and highly respected,” says APPA President Jacqueline Maus Feldman, MD.

Giggie is fellowship trained and board certified in adult and adolescent psychiatry and in forensic psychiatry. She directs the College’s Behavioral Health Fellowship for Family Physicians and its Rural Public Psychiatry Fellowship. Giggie also works with county jails in Alabama to conduct psychiatric assessments and evaluations of juvenile offenders using telepsychiatry.

Keeton was recently recognized by the APPA for more than 50 years of service to the psychiatric profession. In addition to private practice and teaching medical students and psychiatry residents, he participated in a research program in the 1990s that studied a new, anti-psychotic medication in treating chronic, long-term schizophrenia patients who were not expected to reside outside of a hospital. The patients responded well to the medication, clozaphine, and were able to move to foster homes or home with their families.

Students Elected to Membership in Honor Medical Society

Five University of Alabama School of Medicine students who are receiving their clinical training at the College of Community Health Sciences were elected members of the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society.

The students, all in their fourth-year of medical school, are: Jonathan Black of Monroeville, Ala.; Nicholas Deep of Birmingham, Ala.; Jessica Grayson of Fayette, Ala.; Kevin Greer of Sylacauga, Ala.; and Chris Rigell of Andersonville, Tenn.

Alpha Omega Alpha is a professional medical organization that recognizes excellence in scholarship as well as outstanding commitment and dedication to caring for others. The top 25 percent of a medical school class is eligible for nomination to the honor society, and up to 16 percent may be elected based on leadership, character, community service and professionalism.

“We are so proud of these students. They really do represent the ‘best of the best’ in our medical school,” says Heather Taylor, MD, the College’s associate director of Medical Student Affairs. “Election into Alpha Omega Alpha is truly a prestigious honor. It not only means you have excelled academically but that a group of your peers is recognizing your contributions to the school and your potential to be a leader in the field of medicine.”

Greer, who is interested in Anesthesiology and who earned an undergraduate degree in Psychology from The University of Alabama, says he is honored to have been elected and “very fortunate to have had the opportunity to study medicine at The University of Alabama and participate in clinical rotations on the Tuscaloosa campus. I feel that these experiences have provided a great foundation for residency training and the practice of medicine.”

Rigell says he was both excited and humbled when he learned he had been elected. “My classmates are all very talented and diligent, which makes receiving this distinction truly an honor.” Rigell, who is interested in pursuing Internal Medicine, received his undergraduate degree in molecular and cellular biology from Vanderbilt University.

About 3,000 students, alumni and faculty are elected to Alpha Omega Alpha each year. The society has 120 chapters in medical schools throughout the United States and has elected more than 150,000 members since its founding in 1902.

In its role as a branch campus of The University of Alabama School of Medicine, the College provides clinical education to approximately 70third- and fourth-year medical students. The students complete the first two years of basic sciences courses at the School of Medicine’s main campus in Birmingham, and then complete clinical rotations on the Tuscaloosa campus in the departments of Family Medicine, Pediatrics, Internal Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Neurology, Psychiatry and Surgery.

Since its founding in 1972, more than 760 medical students have received their third and fourth years of training at the College. The College also operates one of the oldest and most productive Family Medicine residencies in the country.