UMC dietitian elected to national academy position

Suzanne Henson, RD, MS, a registered dietitian at University Medical Center, was elected Alabama’s delegate to the National Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She will serve a three-year term.

The academy is the world’s largest organization of food and nutritional professionals. Its membership includes more than 100,000 credentialed practitioners, including registered dietitian nutritionists, dietetic technicians, and other dietetics professionals holding undergraduate and advanced degrees in nutrition and dietetics.

In addition to her role with UMC, which is operated by the College of Community Health Sciences, Henson is also an assistant professor in the College’s Department of Family, Internal, and Rural Medicine. She is responsible for the education, coordination and provision of nutritional information to resident physicians and medical students, and assists UMC patients in the promotion of their health.

The mission of the National Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is to improve the nation’s health and advance the profession of dietetics through research, education and advocacy. The academy was founded in 1917 in Cleveland, Ohio, by a group of women dedicated to helping the government conserve food and improve public health and nutrition during World War I.

Flu season more active than usual

The current flu season has been unusually active, with approximately 6.4 percent of doctor visits in 2018 alone for flu or for flu-like illnesses, said Wyndy Looney, director of Nursing at University Medical Center. She said so far this year, flu activity is higher than peak flu activity observed during many previous flu seasons.

Looney made the comments during her Feb. 5 presentation, “Influenza,” at the Mini Medical School Program, a collaboration of OLLI (The University of Alabama’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) and the College of Community Health Sciences, which operates UMC.

Influenza, or the flu, is a virus that affects the nose, throat, and lungs. It produces mild to severe symptoms and can sometimes lead to death. Flu season typically begins in October/November and can last until May, with a peak in January or February.

Looney shared flu identification, prevention and treatment information.

The flu presents itself similarly to a common cold, but the flu often produces a high fever, has a sudden onset and lasts longer than a cold. She said if you have the flu and your symptoms are mild, stay home to prevent spreading the illness. Contact a health care provider if symptoms are severe enough for treatment, but she said not to go to a hospital emergency department unless you have emergency symptoms, such as chest pain or shortness of breath.

Staying home for at least 24 hours after fever is gone will also help prevent the flu from spreading.

Preventive measures include staying away from sick people, covering coughs and sneezes, washing hands often – and getting a flu shot.

The flu vaccine helps the body develop immunities to specific strands of the flu. When a large percent of the population is vaccinated and has developed an immunity, indirect protection from the infectious disease is created, Looney said. This is called “Herd Immunity” and can protect those who might not be immune.

University Medical Center to host fourth annual Brussels Sprout Challenge at Heart Walk

University Medical Center, which is operated by UA’s College of Community Health Sciences, will host its fourth annual Brussels Sprout Challenge during the American Heart Association West Alabama Heart Walk on March 3.

Partnering again with Manna Grocery and Deli in Tuscaloosa, which roasts and donates the Brussels sprouts served at the walk, University Medical Center uses the challenge to promote healthy lifestyle choices – a healthy diet and exercise – while complementing the American Heart Association’s mission to build healthier lives free of heart disease and stroke.

More than 900 Brussels sprouts were distributed at last year’s challenge.

To complete the Brussels Sprout Challenge, participants have to eat one roasted Brussels sprout at each mile marker of the 3.1-mile walk. Those who complete the challenge by eating all three Brussels sprouts are awarded a T-shirt at the end of the walk.

University Medical Center also provides handouts about the health benefits of Brussels sprouts, which include heart health and cancer protection, as well as Brussels sprout recipes.

The West Alabama Heart Walk begins at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater and continues along the downtown river walk. Registration begins at 8 am and the walk begins at 9 am.

The mission of University Medical Center and the College of Community Health Sciences is to improve and promote the health of individuals and communities in Alabama and the region.

Lead author of new blood pressure guidelines to speak at CCHS endowed lecture

Dr. Paul Whelton, lead author of the new clinical guidelines for blood pressure management, will provide the David and Natica Bahar Memorial Lecture March 8 for the College of Community Health Sciences.

As chair of the American Heart Association/American College of Cardiology Hypertension Guidelines Committee, Whelton led the team that redefined high blood pressure for the first time in more than a decade. The new guidelines lower the threshold for diagnosis – resulting in almost half US adults now considered hypertensive.

Whelton says the goal of the new guidelines is to help patients more accurately understand their cardiovascular risk so they can address it sooner. High blood pressure accounts for the second largest number of preventable heart disease and stroke deaths in the US.

Whelton, a professor and epidemiologist, is the Show Chwan Health System Endowed Chair in Global Public Health at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans.

The new blood pressure guidelines were simultaneously published in Hypertension, the American Heart Association journal, and the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

The endowed lecture will be held in the Willard Auditorium at DCH Regional Medical Center in Tuscaloosa, from 7:30 am to 8:30 am.

Whelton’s research interests include cardiovascular and renal disease epidemiology, clinical trials, health policy and global health. He has led numerous major National Institutes of Health blood pressure intervention trials, and has chaired many working groups and committees for NIH, the American Heart Association, the Institute of Medicine, the Irish Government and the Show Chwan Health System in Taiwan. He received his bachelor of medicine and medical degrees from the University College Cork – National University of Ireland.

The David and Natica Bahar Memorial Lecture was established in 1987 by the late Dr. David Bahar in memory of his wife. The lecture seeks to promote the quality and practice of internal medicine at CCHS by annually supporting a distinguished lecturer in internal medicine.

Bahar was well known throughout Tuscaloosa County for his work in the fight against tuberculosis. He was a clinical professor in the College’s Department of Internal Medicine and served as past president of the Alabama TB Hospital Association and the Alabama Thoracic Society.

Orientation for Health Profession Academy held at CCHS

West Central Alabama AHEC hosted an orientation session at the College of Community Health Sciences Feb. 24 for its Health Profession Academy, a program that works to recruit rural students into health care education programs in the state and help them return to their home communities, or similar communities, to practice.

About two dozen students attended from the West Central Alabama AHEC (Area Health Education Center) service area, which includes 13 counties, many in the Alabama Black Belt, and that suffer from high poverty, poor health outcomes and a severe shortage of health care providers.

As part of the Health Profession Academy, students will be able to participate in interactive workshops, receive individual health careers counseling and preparation for the ACT, a standardized test used for college admissions in the US, and earn allied health certification in phlebotomy and patient care tech.

Alabama is a largely rural state with tremendous health care needs. There are limited numbers of health care providers in rural areas, and 62 of the state’s 67 counties are designated as primary care health professional shortage areas. Regina Knox, executive director of the West Central Alabama AHEC said few students from counties with poor health rankings go into health professions.

“That’s why we’re here. We want to increase those numbers. We want to help you succeed,” she said.

According to statistics from the West Central Alabama AHEC, in the three counties in its service area with the poorest health rankings – Wilcox, Greene and Perry – only one student each from Wilcox and Green counties are enrolled in medical school and no students from the three counties are enrolled in nurse practitioner and physician assistant programs.

In health outcomes, Wilcox County ranks 67th out of Alabama’s 67 counties, while Greene County ranks 66th and Perry County ranks 65th.

“We want to help students from rural and underserved communities meet the needs of their communities,” Knox said.

Resident physician receives scholarship to care for patients in Haiti

Dr. Natalie Kuijpers, a chief resident of The University of Alabama Family Medicine Residency, has received a scholarship to provide patient care in Haiti. The residency is operated by the College of Community Health Sciences.

Kuijpers is one of only two family medicine residents in the US to receive the scholarship, which is awarded by the American Academy of Family Physicians Foundation. The foundation’s Family Medicine Cares International Program provides patient care, family medicine education and school and orphanage support to Haiti.

“Dr. Kuijpers will be part of the program’s Patient Care Team and will be providing direct patient care for the people of Haiti,” says Dr. Jane Weida, associate director of the residency.

Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, was devastated in 2010 by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake. More than 100,000 perished in the first 60 seconds of the earthquake, and some 250,000 homes and 30,000 commercial buildings were destroyed or severely damaged. As many as 150,000 Haitians were still homeless as late as 2014.

The scholarship will cover all expenses for Kuijpers trip to Haiti. In addition, the scholarship will cover travel costs to the AAFP’s national conference in Kansas City in August 2018, where she will present highlights of her work in Haiti.

University Medical Center recognized as a Patient-Centered Medical Home

University Medical Center was nationally recognized in December as a Patient-Centered Medical Home for its patient-centered, quality and coordinated care.

“Your practice is among the elite group that has demonstrated its commitment to advancing quality in health care,” the National Committee for Quality Assurance wrote in announcing the PCM certification of UMC, which is operated by the College of Community Health Sciences.

NCQA recognition means medical practices have made a commitment to providing care that is patient-centered, accessible, continuous, comprehensive and focuses on quality. The PCMH model uses a care delivery team, led by a primary care physician, that delivers coordinated and integrated care and is proactive in providing preventive, wellness and chronic illness care – all with the patient at the center of the health care experience.

Research shows that the PCMH model builds better relationships between patients and their clinical care teams, improves quality of care, as well as the patient experience and staff satisfaction, and reduces health care costs. The PCMH has also been shown to help patients be more compliant and able to successfully manage chronic health conditions.

“This was a long time coming and a lot of work, and it matters because NCQA PCMH recognition improves patient care and reduces costs,” says Dr. Richard Streiffer, dean of CCHS. “In addition, the PCMH model is associated with happier staff and patients.”

UMC is the largest community practice in West Alabama, with locations in Tuscaloosa, Northport and Demopolis. UMC provides primary care-focused health services in family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, women’s health, psychiatry, geriatrics, neurology and sports medicine. The PCM certification was received by UMC’s Tuscaloosa location on the UA campus for its family medicine and pediatric clinics.

NCQA recognition ranges from Level 1 to Level 3, which is the highest. UMC family medicine clinics received Level 3 PCMH recognition and its pediatric clinic received Level 2 recognition. The levels require meeting such benchmarks as: enhancing access to care and continuity of care; identifying and managing patient populations; planning and managing care; providing self-care support and community resources; tracking and coordinating care; and measuring and improving performance.

These efforts translate to providing patients with reminders about chronic and preventive care needs, more regular health screenings, after-hours care, use of electronic health records to improve quality and efficiency of care and to monitor chronic diseases, and use of multiple communication channels, including web-based portals through which patients can request appointments and prescription refills.

“There are not many PCMHs in Alabama. We are one of only a small handful that I know of in the state,” Streiffer says.

Dr. Jane Weida, an associate professor in the College’s Department of Family, Internal, and Rural Medicine who led efforts to obtain PCMH recognition for UMC, believes the small number of recognized practices in Alabama stems from a lack of financial resources, especially for small and rural practices.

“It is very difficult for a small practice to achieve PCMH certification. We had a committee of about nine (people) that met every other week for two years,” Weida says. “It took thousands … of hours to do this. A small practice that is working full time on patient care simply doesn’t have the time to do it.”

Getting off Electronics and Outdoors

“Think of a special memory of being outside that impacted you growing up.”

That’s how Dr. Caroline Boxmeyer, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at the College of Community Health Sciences, began her lecture for the Mini Medical School Program on January 29. The program is a lecture series the College provides in collaboration with The University of Alabama’s Osher Lifelong Learning institute, or OLLI.

While her lecture was titled “Getting your Grandchild off Electronics and Outside,” the advice shared was not just for children.

Getting off electronics is often difficult for many reasons, including that technology is a useful tool that has become part of everyday life. But screens are addictive and work on the same addiction pathways as drugs, Boxmeyer said.

“Be mindful of children,” she noted. “Their brains are still developing their foundational stretchers and connections. We want to be mindful about how they are spending their time when that is happening.”

Taking a break from electronics has many benefits, Boxmeyer said. It can help reduce anxiety and stress, increase positive thinking, and improve overall health and wellness. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests children need to spend 15 to 60 minutes outside each day to experience a positive impact on the human body.

Ways to get outside include:

  • Outdoor camps/organizations
  • Family trips
  • Outdoor playtime
  • Sports
  • Hobbies (gardening, fishing, etc.)

Health Matters Honored for Excellence

The weekly television segment Health Matters, a collaboration of WVUA-23 and the College of Community Health Sciences, received an award of Special Merit from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, earning recognition as one of the best media relations programs in the Southeast last year.

Health Matters provides important and timely health information to WVUA viewers throughout West Alabama and parts of the Southeast. CCHS provides content for the weekly series via interviews with its dean, Dr. Richard Streiffer, a family medicine physician, and members of the CCHS faculty – physicians with specialties in family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, sports medicine, geriatrics, neurology, psychiatry and psychology.

The interviews are conducted by WVUA’s managing editor, Mike Royer, and are filmed at CCHS. The segments, about a minute and half in length, air twice a week – during the 5 pm newscast on Wednesdays and again during the 10 pm newscast on Sundays.

Health Matters was launched in spring 2017, and topics have included high cholesterol, the importance of prenatal care, diabetes, depression and anxiety, sinusitis, childhood vaccinations and adult immunizations, low-back pain, Alzheimer’s disease, stress relief and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The full interviews are approximately five to six minutes in length. Both the segment aired and the full interviews are posted to the WVUA website. Television viewers are directed to the website for more in-depth information about the health topic.

Health Matters is a key component of the College’s media and public relations efforts.

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Higginbotham steps into UA’s interim VP for Research position

Dr. John C. Higginbotham, who leads research efforts for the College of Community Health Sciences, was tapped by University of Alabama President Stuart Bell to serve as UA’s interim vice president for Research and Economic Development while the search for a new vice president is underway.

Higginbotham has served as UA’s associate vice president for Research and Economic Development for the past several years. He also serves as associate dean for Research and Health Policy for the College, and as chair of the College’s Department of Community Medicine and Population Health and director of its Institute for Rural Health Research (IRHR).

“We are fortunate Dr. Higginbotham is available to serve during this interim time,” says UA Provost and Executive Vice President Kevin Whitaker. “His extensive academic and research background, intimate knowledge of our existing research and economic develop operations, and strong relationships with faculty and researchers across campus and around the country will serve the University well as we begin the important national search for a new vice president.”

Says Higginbotham: “Serving in this leadership capacity is an honor. I appreciate the trust Dr. Bell and Dr. Whitaker have placed in me to continue the important work of this office during this critical time.”

Meanwhile, faculty in the College’s Department of Community Medicine and Population Health and IRHR will take on additional administrative responsibilities during Higginbotham’s interim time. Dr. Martha Crowther will serve as interim associate dean of Research and Health Policy for the College, and Dr. Lea Yerby will serve as vice chair of the department.

In addition, Dr. Louanne Friend will serve as acting deputy director of IRHR. Dr. Pamela Payne-Foster, deputy director of IRHR, was granted a special sabbatical this semester to work with Stillman College’s senior administration in efforts to strengthen the Tuscaloosa institution’s academic mission.