UAB Magazine Weekly - Features on Community Outreach
Hitting the Airwaves When Disaster Strikes
By Matt Windsor
Using the latest radio gear and a repeater antenna mounted atop UAB Hospital's Jefferson Tower, J. Vann Martin and other members of the UAB-based Healthcare Community Amateur Radio Club can keep the lines of communication flowing in the event of a disaster.
From the roof of Jefferson Tower, 17 stories and more than 280 feet high, you can see for miles in all directions. For decades, the building has been the signature piece of the UAB Hospital campus and a landmark visible all around Birmingham. It now houses medical offices rather than patients, but in the aftermath of the catastrophic storms that swept through Alabama in April, the old veteran made another significant contribution to Birmingham health care—as an antenna.
This radio drama begins with another natural disaster and an amateur radio enthusiast known as W4JVM. “After Hurricane Katrina, responders such as the police, fire and rescue, and EMA [emergency management agencies] were severely handicapped because they couldn’t communicate,” says J. Vann Martin, director of facilities and capital projects for the UAB Health System. “In a disaster situation, particularly a natural disaster, landlines and cell phones often stop working.”
Martin, better known in the world of amateur radio, or “ham” radio, by his call sign, W4JVM, is the president of the Healthcare Community Amateur Radio Club (HCARC). The newly formed club has established a command center in UAB Hospital that can coordinate care at all major hospitals in the Birmingham area using rooftop antennas on Jefferson Tower and other locations.
Help and Hope in the Tornadoes’ Wake
Although UAB’s Southside campus was spared, the deadly outbreak of tornadoes on April 27 touched lives across the UAB community. As that Wednesday evening progressed, victims poured into the emergency department at UAB Hospital. In all, 134 patients were treated, including 40 with major trauma injuries and 23 who were admitted to the intensive-care unit. Staff added 14 beds to manage the influx by creating an auxiliary ICU.
“The injuries were remarkable,” said Loring Rue, M.D., chief of trauma surgery at UAB Hospital. Debris tossed through the air by the devastating winds created wounds consistent with high-speed car crashes, Rue explained. But despite the severity of the injuries, there were no fatalities among patients transported to UAB. (Rue discusses UAB Hospital’s response to the tornado disaster in this live interview with CNN.)
Other UAB medical personnel were at work out in the field. Emergency medicine physician Sarah Nafziger, M.D., headed for Birmingham’s shattered Pratt City neighborhood as soon as the tornadoes passed through. Joining first responders from around the region, she worked all night to triage patients. Nafziger, who trains UAB medical students in emergency medicine and is the medical director for several EMS units in Birmingham, was amazed at the “widespread destruction” she saw. She told the Wall Street Journal that it reminded her of her experiences in New York City on September 11, 2001.
While Nafziger looked for victims on city streets, UAB faculty and staff were racing to track down students and colleagues to make sure they were safe. The UAB School of Medicine, which has campuses in Tuscaloosa and Huntsville in addition to Birmingham, was particularly vulnerable. There was no major property damage at any of those locations and no serious injuries among the school’s hundreds of students. But the Medical Student Services group, led by Laura Kezar, M.D., quickly identified several students who lost homes, vehicles, and other significant items. As School of Medicine dean Ray L. Watts, M.D., explains in a recent blog post, those students will receive emergency financial help from the existing Medical Student Assistance Fund of the University of Alabama Medical Alumni Association.
Artist Inspires Students to Become Poets
By Glenny Brock
Sharrif Simmons (right) developed "Poet's Corner" to encourage students to find their voices and express their ideas to their peers and their communities. Photo courtesy ArtPlay.
For the past five years, Birmingham-based spoken-word artist Sharrif Simmons has run a program called “Poet’s Corner” in which he has gone into a dozen local public and private schools and convinced hundreds of students to write thousands of rhymes—and yet he will tell you he doesn’t really teach poetry.
“I create the condition for poetry to exist and be performed,” Simmons says. “I believe I succeed by using encouragement as my primary tool.”
Simmons is a teaching artist for ArtPlay, a new education and outreach initiative of UAB’s Alys Robinson Stephens Performing Arts Center, and the complete title of his program is “The Poet’s Corner: Going from the Page to the Stage.” Designed for students in grades 5-12, “Poet’s Corner” is a six-week workshop that introduces participants to the rich history of oral tradition and the intersecting lines that connect it to contemporary forms of expression such as hip-hop, rap, and rhythm & blues. Simmons’s students listen and learn and then write their own rhymes and dare to speak out loud. In other words, they become poets.
“There are, of course, universal challenges and insecurities innate to a project like this,” Simmons says. “But I’ve found that students who are more extraverted inspire the introverts, allowing them to overcome any stage fright and fully participate.”
To prepare students for these creative endeavors, Simmons performs his own music and spoken-word poetry in the classroom, and has students read and listen to works by historic and contemporary poets. To date, he has taken “Poet’s Corner” to Barrett, Hemphill, Simmons, Lewis, and EPIC elementary schools; West End, Wenonah, Huffman, and Homewood high schools; and the Cornerstone Schools.
UAB Focuses on Food Security
By Glenny Brock
David Buys and Heather Lee are part of a campuswide effort to educate students and the Birmingham community on ways to improve "food security," or access to healthy foods.
Viewed from above, Birmingham’s urban landscape reveals plenty of office buildings, parking decks, retail centers, roads, and houses. What you won’t see, in certain parts of town, are grocery stores. Instead, you’ll spot convenience stores, often sandwiched in between two or three competing fast-food franchises. These are “food deserts,” the increasingly common term for urban districts whose residents lack access to fresh, healthy food.
Birmingham has dozens of food deserts, but solutions are beginning to take root. In addition to more than two dozen community gardens across the metro area (many of which are located at schools and churches in low-income neighborhoods), a network of farmers markets, food-recovery programs, community-development organizations, and local business groups are working on issues of food security, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines as “access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life.” According to a 2008 report from the agriculture department, 13.3 percent of households in Alabama don’t meet that definition.
Until now, UAB’s role in the local “food justice” movement has been almost entirely research-based. But according to David Buys, a Ph.D. candidate and graduate assistant in the UAB medical sociology program, that dynamic is changing with the launch of the UAB Hunger and Food Security Initiative (HAFSI). “It’s about bringing together community work and course work, activism and research,” Buys says.
DISCO Helps Kids Catch the Rhythm of Writing
By Kathy Seale
UAB writing instructor Elizabeth Hughey, left, along with a group of volunteers such as UAB alum Lauren Mills, right, is exploring ways to bring creative writing opportunities to Birmingham-area kids.
For the moment, the Woodlawn headquarters of the Desert Island Supply Co. (DISCO) is gutted and, well, deserted. But that will change, probably sooner rather than later. The speed at which things move for the curiously named creative-writing program—co-founded by UAB writing instructor Elizabeth Hughey and her writer husband, Chip Brantley—is impressive.
In January, the couple (along with a core group of about 20 volunteers) began exploring ways to bring more creative-writing opportunities to Birmingham-area kids. “Whether you’re 10 or 50, it’s a barrier if you can’t write,” says volunteer Laurel Mills, who holds a master’s degree in English from UAB. “The sooner we encourage people to get involved with creative writing, the better.”