LHC Publications

Welcome to the LHC Blog

Every other week we publish a blog post here. These posts are centered on personal and professional experiences with policy and advocacy. If you're interested in contributing, email us at lhc@uab.edu.

February 28, 2020, by Tessa Graham (Program Coordinator II, Office of Public Health Practice) and Sean McMahon (LHC Outreach Coordinator)


Two Ambitious Projects…

Policy Surveillance Project

While much public health policy is enacted at the state or federal level, US cities play a crucial role in implementing policies and programs that impact population health. Despite playing this role, there are few systems that track and seek to understand practices at this level. In 2017, the Urban Health Collaborative at the Drexel University Dornsife School of Public Health initiated a Policy Surveillance Project (UHC PSP) that focused on urban centers with active policy debate.

DrexelLive HealthSmart

Live HealthSmart Alabama

According to America’s Health Rankings, Alabama ranks 46th in obesity, 48th in diabetes, and 49th in high blood pressure, among other poor health ranking metrics. This was the impetus for the winner of UAB’s Grand Challenge: Live HealthSmart Alabama. This initiative, led by Dr. Mona Fouad (Director, Minority Health & Health Disparities Research Center), works “with businesses, schools, faith-based organizations, and non-profits in order to make changes to policies, systems, and build environment impacting the health of Alabamians.” Dr. Lisa McCormick (Associate Dean of Public Health Practice, UAB School of Public Health) is a collaborator on the Live HealthSmart team and assists them in their goals of transforming Alabama’s health and moving us out of the bottom ten in national health rankings. Live HealthSmart has chosen a team of collaborators from disciplines all across campus, allowing them to assess complex factors detrimental to the health of Alabamians.

…Coming Together

Dr. McCormick has chosen to adopt policy surveillance as a part of the Live HealthSmart goals, reaching out to Drexel University’s Urban Health Collaborative in order to become a partner in their Policy Surveillance Project. This partnership opportunity has expanded the reach of Live HealthSmart’s health improvement goals.

Adding and Adapting Categories & Collaborators

UHC PSP began with monitoring four cities - Philadelphia, New York City, Washington, DC, and Los Angeles. In 2019, this consortium expanded to include Birmingham, AL; Louisville, KY; and St. Louis, MO, with partner institutions UAB, University of Louisville, and Saint Louis University, respectively. These cities are smaller than the original four and represent different regions of the country. The Urban Health Collaborative provided initial policy surveillance methods and inclusion criteria. Originally, only policies and programs related to education, the environment, and housing were the focus.

While these three areas remain the focus of the broader project, each institution has the flexibility to adapt the PSP to suit their needs and interests. For instance, the St. Louis team developed a category for crime prevention. The UAB team has developed a number of modifications to the original process.


Adapting to Birmingham

Demographic and economic differences between the original four cities and Birmingham, as well as the incorporation of Live HeatlhSmart’s goals, necessitated adapting these methods and inclusion criteria to better fit a smaller population with fewer resources. To adapt to the needs of Live HealthSmart, the UAB team added three more categories: nutrition, physical activity, and prevention/wellness. These three categories are aligned to Live HealthSmart focus areas. In addition, the UAB team added violence prevention (adopting the “crime” category developed by the SLU team) and an economic development category in an attempt to keep track of Birmingham’s rapid revitalization.

RRPWith these five new categories (eight total), the UAB team decided to expand inclusion criteria. Drexel’s protocol only calls for monitoring citywide policies and programs that come from the municipal government; the UAB team has chosen to monitor policies and programs originating from the private and public sectors as well.

Weekly surveillance for the UAB team began in October 2019. Local news sources, city council minutes, city government websites, organizational newsletters and websites, social media feeds, and more are reviewed to identify program and policy initiatives. Identified programs and policies are compiled in a central database and aligned within the categories of interest. Programs and policies are monitored over time and compared across multiple cities.

The Policy Surveillance Process

To put it simply, policy surveillance is the process of examining information sources (al.com, the Mayor’s Office, Social media profiles of city councilors, and BhamNow, to name a few) for relevant policies and programs, and cataloging them into the appropriate categories for further analysis. Each week, Sean McMahon (LHC) and Tessa Graham (UAB Office of Public Health Practice) sit down and check our sources. We’ve also subscribed to several newsletters and breaking news alert systems, and we play the livestream from the week’s city council meeting. With these sources in front of us, we search for anything related to policy and program initiatives in the Birmingham area that could impact the health of Birmingham’s communities. If Sean and Tessa don’t agree on how to categorize a policy or program, the issue is brought to Dr. McCormick and Dr. Eric Ford, the other members of the UAB team. We then periodically check our sources for updates on the programs and policies we’ve already identified and update as needed.

Moving Forward

The Birmingham Policy Surveillance Initiative monitors and catalogs programs and policies within our city that are intended to improve the population’s health, influence social determinants of health, and promote health equity. Systematically recoding the data will allow for comparisons between Birmingham and other metropolitan areas studied in partnership with the Urban Health Collaborative so that gaps can be identified and addressed through Live HealthSmart Alabama. These methods can be used as part of a community assessment process in order to better understand the influence of public policy on the social determinants of health.

The expansion of the Policy Surveillance Project and engagement of new academic partners creates a mechanism for comparing what is happening in Birmingham to other U.S. cities.  This will allow us to identify policies that are effectively influencing health that are missing or lacking in Birmingham area.  In addition, this project allows us the ability to assess the impact of the monitored policies and programs on health by examining health indicators and outcomes in these urban areas. To learn more, visit the project website or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Last week was a big one for the Lister Hill Center (hence, the delayed blog post). We sent one member of the team to Washington, DC while the rest stayed in Birmingham for the long-awaited seminar/workshop from the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. On top of all this, we teamed up with Undergraduate Student Government Association and the Graduate School to host a voter registration drive! Use the tabs below to navigate between the different undertakings of LHC staff last week:

  • Sara Harper, Student Intern


    This week we hosted over 6 hours of voter registration drives! I took this project on in early January in preparation for the impending primary election, which Alabama will hold on March 3 (AKA Super Tuesday). We registered over 50 voters this week with the help of the UAB Graduate School and USGA. While tabling, I was satisfied to hear how many of my peers were already registered to vote and impressed by the amount of unsure people who took the time to do an online check. We also provided an election guide to Health Policy for Democratic presidential candidates as educational materials for voters. One barrier to registering to vote in Alabama that I was faced with is a new law passed in 2019 that mandates that a photo ID be submitted with your request for an absentee ballot. This new law means that what once was a 5 minute online ordering process to get your absentee ballot now requires a trip to the court house. When I mentioned that to a student, it was clear that absentee voting would be more difficult for them than they originally thought. With voting being one of our most basic rights as Americans, so many biases and misinformation keep those who are eligible to vote from doing so. We’ll be combatting all these barriers again in the fall to prepare for the general election!

    Voter Registration
  • Sean McMahon, Outreach Coordinator


    A few weeks ago, I was on Senator Doug Jones’s website for a class assignment. Part of this assignment entailed collecting the Senator’s contact information. The first thing I noticed on the “Contact” page was the phrase “Donuts with Doug.” I’m a big fan of alliteration, so I was immediately intrigued. It turns out that the Senator’s office is open every Tuesday (while Congress is in session) for Alabamians to meet the Senator and his staff. I knew I would be in town anyway, so I signed myself up.

    I made it to the Senator’s office early on Tuesday morning at met the former chair of UAB’s Health Administration program, Dr. Glandon. Other guests included an attorney for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a sheriff from Lowndes County, a group of advocates for the blind and vision-impaired, and several others I didn’t get a chance to talk to.

    The Senator was there as well, and while he was very busy trying to engage with all his visitors, I did get to chat with some of his staff. I found out that some of them receive our newsletter and read this blog (Hey, folks!), and they might even be interested in writing an article for our blog sometime! We discussed future LHC initiatives as well as the RURAL Study, which will be kicking off in the Black Belt of Alabama this fall.

  • Ariann Nassel, Director of Geospatial Data Visualization


    What does the TV show M*A*S*H, a comedy about the Korean War, have to do with communicating science? Most of us would answer that question with “What are you even talking about?” I watched MASH for its 11-year run while growing up and now work with visual science communication, using GIS mapping for public health science.

    Well, here’s the connection: M*A*S*H made the actor Alan Alda a household name. Alda’s unforgettable role in the sitcom as Army Doctor Hawkeye Pierce combined his great acting skills with his personal warmth, empathy, and curiosity. This led to many other impactful roles, including my favorite, host of the 14-year long PBS documentary series called Scientific American Frontiers, in which he explored the incredible world of science and technology. His infectious passion for everything and anything under the sun and his ability to facilitate unscripted personal conversations with Scientists made the complexity of science entertaining for home audiences.

    Because of this work, he realized that scientists and those working in cutting-edge technology often (usually) need guidance to communicate effectively with the general public. Let’s face it: while our society has made tremendous advancements in our understanding of the world around us, scientific findings don’t always translate well to those who don’t live and breathe that type of work. This inspired him to found the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, which brings us to this past Wednesday’s 3.5 hour workshop for UAB faculty, staff, and students.

    Without giving away any tricks of the Alda Method I’ll just say: I loved it! The workshop was energizing, empowering, and even fun. As an introvert, I was pushed out of my comfort zone by exercises that involved group participation, but each exercise led to greater understanding of communicating with peers and audiences. I left feeling optimistic and more than happy to have an addition to my communications toolkit. The workshop relied on the method of bringing out the communication skills we already have by thrusting participants into roleplaying situations or playing funky games that focus you in on your partner. These were all methods used to encourage us to focus less on being fluent in presentation but instead on how you can harness your awareness of good communication skills and know how to flex them in the future.

  • Sean McMahon, Outreach Coordinator


    The main reason I went to Washington was for the American Public Health Association’s annual Policy Action Institute. This was an all-day event held at the Marriott Marquis near Mount Vernon Square. We started the day at 8:00am with a networking breakfast then dove right in with an opening plenary with Mick Cornett, the former mayor of Oklahoma City who fostered the city’s growth and revitalization in recent decades. Then Abdul El-Sayed, author of Healing Politics, shared his take on health policy issues in the 2020 election, followed by a panel on the same topic. We discussed the social determinants of health, as well as the shifts that need to happen in the way that we address these determinants through funding and policy efforts. We moved next into addiction treatment policy, then to investigating the intersection of business with public health. This featured the unique perspective of Kansas City, where the Chamber of Commerce and the Health Department have formed a close working relationship. After an address from Senator Sherrod Brown, Dr. Reed Tuckson delivered an inspiring and energizing closing keynote.

    The over-arching theme that kept coming up: Creating policy change starts with individual relationships and coalition building. One speaker noted, “We can’t change issues that we don’t talk about,” calling for public health professionals to be bold and not shy away from political arguments. Another furthered this point by explaining, “Health is a scarce resource. Politics is how we allocate scarce resources. Health is political.” Public health is not an individual sport, but rather a team effort. Dr. Tuckson reinforced that public health is not centered in contempt. In the rampant tribalism of today’s political discourse, we must continue to find ways to come together and build relationships with one another. Dr. Tuckson encouraged everyone to meet people where they are. If we work together on one issue, we can pave the way to continue working together on more complicated issues together.

    Of course, several more topics came up from this event, but those deserve their own blog posts. For now, though, I’d like to thank APHA for hosting such a wonderful event. I really hope that I can attend next year’s meeting as well!

January 31, 2020 by Sara Harper, LHC Student Intern



Last Saturday, January 25th, I participated in an anti-war protest, organized by the Birmingham chapter of the Party for Socialism & Liberation, in response to political strife over the assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. As the rally ended a passerby approached to question the group’s intentions. He commented, “I just think there are better ways to get your message across, because this,” he motioned to the group surrounding him, “is going to burn out.” His comments weren’t unfounded; social movements can fizzle without a strong group organizing and keeping advocates accountable.Regardless of the outcomes, protests have been essential to the formation and vast changes America has undergone throughout history.

March on washington Aug 28 1963

After a restful holiday season, the Lister Hill Center is excited to announce its lineup of spring events!

Our semester spotlight is Science Communication. How we talk about science and research matters, and we wanted to explore some best practices related to that. We'll start off in February with Dr Mike Stobbe, author of Surgeon General's Warning: How Politics Crippled the Nation’s Doctor  and medical writer for the Associated Press, on the 5th and then on the 12th we will host experts from the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science for an interactive seminar, Making the Choice to Connect (Register here!).

In March we will have Holly Gainer from UAB Media Relations present on researchers' interactions with the press, covering the do's and don'ts of discussing your research with the media. This event is for UAB researchers only. Then, either in late March or mid April, we're co-hosting a film screening and lecture/panel in partnership with the Sparkman Center for Global Health and Service Learning & Undergraduate Research. More details to come, so keep an eye out for our newsletter each month for updates.

April is lining up to be a busy month for us, too. Even with National Public Health Week and finals, we found a way to host two seminars in April. On the 1st, we're co-hosting Dr Bisakha Sen from the Department of Health Care Organization & Policy; and on the 22nd we'll have Dr Lawrence Sincich from the School of Optometry speak about visual representations in scientific publications.

We're looking forward to an informative semester and we hope you'll join us!

Spring 2020 Timeline

December 2, 2019 by Sara Harper, LHC Student InternAL-Report-Card.png

Thursday, November 21, I attended the Alabama Public Service Commission’s public rate hearing on Alabama Power’s fee on solar producers. Alabama Power charges solar users who are plugged into the “grid” $5 per kW of energy they produce. The idea behind the fee is to cover the costs of solar-users who draw supplementary power from the grid during non-productive hours. However, the fees erase most savings that solar producers would be getting from switching to renewables and make recovering the cost of installation difficult. GASP, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, and Energy Alabama requested the hearing, testifying that the stand-by fee is unnecessary, discriminatory, and has impeded upon Alabama’s solar progress for years.