Sunshine School Health Fair educates students, community about healthy habits

A crowd of about 200 students from Kindergarten to twelfth grade made its way into a school gym in rural Newbern, Ala. The students wandered with their friends to displays at about 15 or so tables set up along the gym walls. They planted spinach seeds in decomposable pots of soil at one table, had jump rope contests at another and marveled at the amount of sugar in a single Pop Tart at another. 

Sunshine Health Fair

A UA nursing student checks the blood pressure of a student at the Sunshine School Health Fair in Newbern, Ala. on Sept 27.

In between the activities, they had their glucose levels tested, their body mass indexes measured and their blood pressure checked.

This was all part of the first health fair hosted on Sept. 27 by the Sunshine School in Newbern, which is located in the Black Belt region of Alabama.  The event was open to students, parents and the surrounding community as part of a nearly $900,000 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, “UNITED: Using New Interventions Together to Eliminate Disparities,” or Project UNITED, is a partnership of The University of Alabama’s College of Community Health Sciences and the College of Communication and Information Sciences and the Black Belt Community Foundation. The grant was funded by the Community Based Participatory Research Initiative of the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities, an institute of the National Institutes of Health.

The three-year planning grant is focused on reducing obesity in rural Alabama through community-based participatory research. The Sunshine School was one of the sites chosen by the Project’s community advisory board for a pilot study, said John C. Higginbotham, PhD, associate dean for Research and Health Policy for the College of Community Health Sciences,  director of the College’s Institute of Rural Health Research and one of the grant’s principal investigators.

The other principal investigators are  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.

As part of the partnership, the school came up with a list of ways Project UNITED could help, including the organization of a health fair, which Principal Charla Jordan said was a success in educating both students and the community about health.

“As a kid, you hear about issues like high blood pressure and associate that with adults,” she said. “But here they are learning and realizing that these things are possible with young kids as well.”

College faculty, physicians from the area, medical students at the College of Community Health Sciences and students and faculty from the University’s Capstone College of Nursing were in attendance to help with the screenings. They said that from their observations, the health fair served its purpose.

Michele Montgomery, PhD, RN, assistant professor at  the Capstone College of Nursing, said she screened children who had elevated blood pressure and needed to be referred to a physician. For this reason alone, Montgomery said the health fair was a benefit to the children.

“You don’t know if they are getting a regular health checkup,” she said. “Like these kids (with elevated blood pressure)—they may not have noticed otherwise if not getting a physical. Health behaviors they develop now—like healthy eating and exercise—will help them later in life.”

Eunice Briggins, a mother of three who currently attend the school and two who have already graduated, said she came for her health screening to support the school, and she’s glad she did.

“I now know I need to cut down on my salt intake with my girls and me to lower my blood pressure,” she said, as she turned to her daughter beside her. “Did you know you’re only supposed to eat one Pop Tart out of the package?” she asked with a laugh.

Briggins said she’s glad the health fair was held because she says it’s a way to keep students and families healthy.

“That’s especially if they aren’t going out to get checked,” she said. “Some people don’t have transportation.” 

Project UNITED also plans to work with Druid City Garden Project, a Tuscaloosa-based organization that uses school gardens and educational programs to help communities establish healthy eating habits and reduce obesity, to plant a garden at the Sunshine School. The organization was present at the health fair with its spinach seed-planting activity.

Project UNITED will also organize workshops to enhance research knowledge and skills of community members and university faculty as it relates to community-based participatory research. 

Higginbotham said that community-based participatory research component was a key part of the health fair as well as the screenings and education, so data were collected from students with parental consent and child assent and anyone from the community who consented.

“One of the things [the Sunshine School] wanted to do was not only see where their kids stood with regard to a lot of health indicators, but they wanted to expand that beyond their students to parents and the community as a whole,” Higginbotham said. “The school wanted to have a role in improving the health of their whole community.”

College hosts weekend for donors and alumni


Donors, alumni, College faculty and their families gathered at a tailgate on the Quad Saturday, Oct. 26.

The College of Community Health Sciences thanked its donors and alumni for their support with a weekend of festivities in late October, including a cocktail party and a University of Alabama football tailgate. 

The weekend  kicked off  with the semi-annual meeting Friday, Oct. 25, of the College’s Board of Visitors, a group of 33 volunteers, including  alumni, donors and other friends of the College, whose purpose is to assist the College in the development of relationships and partnerships with communities within Alabama and organizations at the state and national levels; strategic planning to advise the College on long-range planning; assisting the College in securing financial resources; and leadership to provide opportunities for medical students and residents.

The Board met at NorthRiver Yacht Club before joining a group of more than 100 donors, alumni and College faculty and staff for a cocktail party at Whispering Cliffs, a residence of board member Susan Austin-Warner, ScD, and her husband, Jack Warner.

The home, built in 1979 by Jack Warner, houses much of the Warners’ collection of early American art and set the stage to merge art and medicine at the annual party.

The next day, on Saturday, Oct. 26, donors, alumni, College faculty and their families gathered at a tailgate on The University of Alabama Quad in preparation for the Alabama versus Tennessee football game.

Dean Rick Streiffer, MD, commented on the weekend saying, “It was great fun, great content, great people, great discussion and great football!” 

Boxmeyer primary investigator on grant to improve school readiness


Caroline Boxmeyer, PhD

Caroline Boxmeyer, PhD, an associate professor in the College of Community Health Sciences’ Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, is serving as one of three primary investigators on a $2.2 million grant to improve family well-being and child school readiness.

The grant is being funded by the Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families.

Ansley Gilpin, PhD, assistant professor in the University’s Department of Psychology, and Jason DeCaro, PhD, associate professor and director of graduate studies in the University’s Department of Anthropology, will also serve as primary investigators on the grant.

“The grant will seek to improve the school readiness of Head Start preschoolers in West Alabama and the overall well-being of their families,” says Boxmeyer.

Gilpin, DeCaro and Boxmeyer will train teachers at Head Start, a federal program that promotes the school readiness of children, from birth to age five, from low-income families by enhancing their cognitive, social and emotional development. The investigators will also help teachers implement the PATHS (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies) social and emotional learning curriculum in the classroom.

In addition, the investigators will offer a parent intervention, which is designed to help parents manage the stress of parenting and address their own mental health needs, coach parents on how to positively support their child’s social and emotional development at home, and provide parent job skills and financial management training.

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

Medical students and residents compete in UA Intramurals

For the first time ever, College of Community Health Sciences medical students and residents joined together to form an intramural flag football team. Intramurals Cropped

The team just completed its first season.  

Despite their 1-5 record, “They had lots of fun,” says Brook Hubner, administrative specialist for the Department of Medical Student Affairs. “Having the team definitely improved resident and student interaction and increased awareness of the medical school on campus.”

The medical students and residents plan to continue participating in intramural sports throughout the year.

Wedgeworth retires after 25 years with CCHS

Sherry Wedgeworth, director of the Lab and X-ray Department at University Medical Center, which is operated by the College of Community Health Sciences, retired last month after 25 years with the College.

Sherry Wedgeworth

Sherry Wedgeworth

When Wedgeworth first took over the Lab and X-ray Department, there were only five employees, two instruments and no computers. Twenty-five years later, the department now has 12 employees, eight analyzers and 12 computers.

“I like to think that we’ve gone from a small lab to a lab that is known throughout the Tuscaloosa and University communities as a first-rate, high-quality medical laboratory,” says Wedgeworth.

During her time with the College, Wedgeworth also contributed to resident and medical student training by establishing a lab rotation for residents, which certifies residents to serve as lab directors in private practice, and by providing training about medical lab essentials during the medical students’ Scholars Week.

Wedgeworth, a certified clinical laboratory consultant through the American Society of Medical Technologists, plans to continue to provide consulting services during her retirement, as well as spend quality time with her granddaughter.

CCHS faculty talks ‘evolution’ of football players to The Tuscaloosa News

John Higginbotham, PhD, MPH, director of the Institute of Rural Health Research at the College of Community Health Sciences, recently offered his expertise in a Tuscaloosa News article that examined the overall increase in size of the average offensive lineman that noted the 3-inch and 88-pound difference between Alabama’s starting offensive line now and 40 years ago. 

"Evolution of Offensive Lineman" graphic by Anthony Britina | The Tuscaloosa News

“Evolution of Offensive Lineman” graphic by Anthony Britina | The Tuscaloosa News

The article focused on research conducted by Nobel Prize winner Robert Fogel over the course of three decades that determined that the average height of men born in the United States rose four inches from 1890 to 1980. Fogel attributed some of the changes to advances in technology in nutrition and public health, an area in which Higginbotham offered comment.

“From 1990 through 2010, the United States as a whole just saw dramatic increases,” Higginbotham said in the article. “What we’ve seen since 1990 is that we’ve had a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States, the getting bigger stuff.”

To see the full article, click here.

CCHS to provide free health screenings to community

In recognition of National Primary Care week, The University of Alabama College of Community Health Sciences (CCHS) will provide free health screenings to the Tuscaloosa community on Saturday, November 2, at Midtown Village as part of the shopping center’s fall festival.

The free screenings will be available between noon and 5 pm.

Medical students, resident physicians and faculty physicians from the College will offer screening for blood pressure, body mass index and blood sugar at the festival.

“We intend to include those in medical training at all levels and look forward to screening many patients and letting people know about the great work being done within CCHS,” says Brittney Anderson, president of the College’s 2014 class of medical students.

The College trains medical students and resident physicians and provides direct patient care to the community, with a focus on primary care. The College operates the Tuscaloosa Family Medicine Residency, a three-year program that provides specialized training in Family Medicine. The residency is one of the oldest and largest such residencies in the country. University Medical Center, the largest multi-specialty practice in West Alabama, and the University’s Student Health Center are part of the College. CCHS also functions as a regional campus of the University of Alabama School of Medicine, which is headquartered in Birmingham.

National Primary Care Week (NPCW), a campaign of the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), is an annual event to highlight the importance of primary care and to bring health care professionals together to learn about generalist and interdisciplinary health care, particularly its impact on and importance to underserved populations. “NPCW’s goal is to engage physicians-in-training, students across the health care spectrum and the general population on the indispensable role of primary care in the health care system,” according to the AMSA.

UMC seeks pre-diabetic patients for prevention program

University Medical Center’s Family Medicine Clinic is seeking pre-diabetic patients for a diabetes prevention program expected to begin in the next few weeks.

University Medical Center (UMC) is a multi-specialty practice operated by The University of Alabama College of Community Health Sciences. The College also functions as a regional campus of the University of Alabama School of Medicine, which is headquartered in Birmingham.

The program is designed to help patients who are pre-diabetic to prevent or delay the onset of diabetes using steps found to be effective in the National Diabetes Education Program’s Diabetes Prevention Program.

Participants in the UMC program will attend four weekly group sessions followed by six monthly sessions. They will learn and participate in activities focused on planning healthy meals and controlling portion size, making healthy choices when eating out, planning physical activities, working with doctors and nurses to ensure good health and learning about diabetes and its symptoms.

Angela Hammond, MSN, CRNP, CDE, a nurse practitioner in UMC’s Faculty-Staff Clinic, will lead the diabetes prevention program.

The Faculty-Staff Clinic is a walk-in clinic that provides care exclusively for University of Alabama faculty, staff and their families.

To join the diabetes prevention program or for more information, call (205) 348-4696.

College continues to address growing need for primary care doctors, WVUA-TV reports

The implementation of the Affordable Care Act may in turn increase the demand for primary care doctors, and The University of Alabama’s College of Community Health Sciences continues to address that need.

WVUA-TV reported on the College’s main focus on primary care, and College Dean Richard Streiffer, MD, and Jared Ellis, MD, associate director of the Tuscaloosa Family Medicine Residency, both commented on the current and future needs of the Tuscaloosa community and what that means for the College. 

“In the majority of the world, the primary care work force is 40 to 50 percent of all physicians,” Streiffer said in the WVUA-TV report. “In the U.S. we are at 30 percent and actually shrinking, so we are going in the wrong direction.”

 Ellis said there’s already a high demand for primary care physicians locally.

“Even in Tuscaloosa right now, it’s quite difficult to get an appointment with a primary care doctor,” Ellis said in the report. “There’s a tremendous demand for them, and many of them are overworked and not taking new patients, so we know there’s already a need.”

And with that need increasing, the College will continue to make changes, Streiffer said, though many changes may not be determined until after the Affordable Care Act is in full effect. 

“As more people have access to a physician because they have coverage, it will increase the demand for primary care,” Streiffer said. “We are going to attempt to respond to that. We are looking to expand our programs and doing to more to try and assure that that’s the type of physician that comes out of our programs.”

Little choice among companies in Alabama marketplace

The following is an excerpt from an article by Phillip Rawls, Associated Press reporter, that ran in the Montgomery Advertiser as well as several news outlets nationwide, including The Charlotte Observer, The Tuscaloosa News, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Sacramento Bee, The Beaumont Enterprise, the Herald-Tribune and The Gadsden Times. College faculty Lea Yerby, PhD, assistant professor for the Department of Community and Rural Medicine, serves as a source in the article on the health insurance marketplace in Alabama.

For the full article, click here.

Alabamians who are able to get into the new health insurance marketplace website are finding they don’t have much choice among companies.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, the state’s largest health insurance provider, is the only company offering individual plans in every county. In most counties, its plans are the exchange’s only options. It is offering plans at every level — bronze, silver, gold and platinum — in every county, spokeswoman Koko Mackin said.

Humana is offering individual plans in Jefferson, Madison and Shelby counties. Humana spokesman Mitch Lubitz said, “It’s based on where we have a business presence and the provider network.”

United Healthcare spokesman Ben Goldstein said the company decided not to participate in the individual marketplace at this time. “We continue to evaluate the exchange and see 2014 as just the beginning,” he said.

On the small business side of the marketplace, Blue Cross and United Healthcare are offering plans in every county. Humana is not participating in the small business marketplace in any state at this time, Lubitz said.

Blue Cross has traditionally dominated the health insurance business in Alabama. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which developed Alabama’s marketplace, said Alabama has the least choices of any of the 36 states with federally facilitated marketplaces.

Dr. Lea Yerby, an assistant professor in the College of Community Health Sciences at the University of Alabama, said Alabama’s marketplace is a reflection of Blue Cross’ dominance, but that could be a positive because people in Alabama are familiar with the company and doctors’ offices are accustomed to working with Blue Cross.

Click here to read the rest of the article.