Posts Tagged alabama

New Study Inspires Researchers to Hit the Road

New Study Inspires Researchers to Hit the Road

A new $21.4 million RURAL study will examine rural, southern U.S. communities to find out why people there have more disease, shorter lives. Traveling in a mobile examination van, researchers will examine 4,000 study participants over the course of six years in 10 rural counties across Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

Vasan Ramachandran, who leads the Framingham Heart Study at Boston University, is about to embark on the ultimate road trip with 50 other scientists. But this is not for adventure and sightseeing. The research team is part of a new study led by Ramachandran, called the Risk Underlying Rural Areas Longitudinal (RURAL) study, which has the goal of discovering why people in rural areas of the southern United States tend to live shorter, less healthy lives compared to the rest of the country.

With $21.4 million in funding from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Ramachandran and his team plan to use their know-how from the Framingham Heart Study—the longest-running heart disease study in the country—to ask the question, “What causes the high burden of heart disease, lung disease and stroke in the rural South?”

To find out the answer, the researchers will travel by custom van, built as a “mobile examination unit,” to examine 4,000 study participants over the course of six years in 10 counties across Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Throughout the entire US, heart disease is the number-one killer of both men and women, but rates are even worse in southern states. People living in these areas also have higher rates of lung, blood, and sleep disorders compared to the national average.

“We hope that what we do [in RURAL] changes the lives of common human beings who live in these communities, who are robust individuals like you and me,” says Ramachandran, a BU School of Medicine professor of medicine and epidemiology and chief of preventive medicine and epidemiology. “The burden of [health] risk is high, in part because of geospatial characteristics that we don’t fully understand.”

The most crucial aspect of the study, Ramachandran explains, is going to be listening. Partnering with 16 institutions, including universities in all four states, the researchers will work with participating communities to organize active discussions, working groups, listening groups, and community advisory boards. Their plan is to take the “science to the people and study these health issues at their doorstep,” Ramachandran says.

The mobile exam unit will be constructed after carefully consulting with community partners and participants, long before the examination process begins. Ramachandran says this will ensure that the space will be comfortable, accessible, and customized to the needs of specific areas. The van, once fully operational, will spend time in each county over the next few years. Counties in Alabama will be the group’s first stop to conduct baseline examinations.

“We do hope to build relationships within these communities to understand them better beyond the 4,000 people [who will participate] in RURAL,” Ramachandran says.

Six years might seem like a long time, but this is only the first step toward a much longer process and larger goal. Once the RURAL van completes its trip through all 10 counties, the cohort will continue working with the communities through advisory boards and participant networks. After the data is collected and analyzed, the team intends to share the results with district health officials and provide health recommendations based on their findings.

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How Are HIPAA Breaches Impacting Alabama?

How Are HIPAA Breaches Impacting Alabama?

HIPAA enforcement reached an all-time high in 2018, with financial settlements ranging from $100,000 to $16,000,000.  The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) is responsible for providing oversight and ensuring HIPAA compliance. Last year alone, OCR resolved a total of 25,089 complaints of HIPAA violations and required at least 632 entities to adhere to Corrective Action Plans which document how those entities will attain and maintain compliance with all applicable components of the HIPAA regulations. While last year’s numbers set records and gained significant attention, those numbers are only expected to increase.

As compliance professionals and media outlets focus on the latest hacking incident or security breach, some may wonder how breaches of health care data are impacting the great state of Alabama. While Alabama has a population of fewer than 5 million people, it is no stranger to OCR investigations.  In fact, a look back at the last 15 years of OCR HIPAA enforcement data reflects that the same vulnerabilities that plague states with much larger populations align with issues that burden Alabama covered entities, as well.  Alabama, Florida, Minnesota, New Jersey and Ohio are identical with regard to OCR complaint resolution percentages. In these states, OCR concluded that 28% of the complaints received required corrective action on behalf of the HIPAA covered entity. Only 6 percent of complaints in these states were determined not to be violations and 66 percent of complaints were resolved after the intake and review process.

Several breaches impacting the PHI of 500+ individuals have been reported within the state of Alabama. The most recent was the 2018 breach of FastHealth Corporation, a HIPAA Business Associate which contracted with covered entities to perform website and operational services. An unauthorized third party accessed FastHealth’s web server and acquired information from their databases, impacting 1,345 Alabamians. This breach followed a previous breach by the same organization occurring in June 2017 that likewise involved their network server and affected 9,289 individuals.

While large breaches generally receive the most publicity and attention, smaller breaches can be equally as devastating. For instance, breaches involving mental health or communicable disease information can be harmful to the patient whose information was breached, even if it is just one individual. Pursuant to state statutes, breaching this type of information can open an entity up to civil liability, even if numerous individuals are not affected.

Alabama Breach Notification Statute – A Wake-Up Call  

When Alabama passed the Alabama Data Breach Notification Act of 2018, many health care providers were pleased to note that there was a specific exemption for entities that were required to adhere to HIPAA. However, a careful review of the exemption language is warranted. Pursuant to Section 11, an entity that is subject to HIPAA regulations and complies with those standards are exempt so long as they do the following:

  1. Maintain procedures pursuant to those laws, rules, regulations, procedures, or guidance.
  2. Provide notice to affected individuals pursuant to those laws, rules, regulations, procedures, or guidance.
  3. Timely provide a copy of the notice to the Attorney General when the number of individuals the entity notified exceeds 1,000.

Thus, to be exempt from the Alabama statute, HIPAA covered entities must do more than simply assert exemption status due to HIPAA regulations.  The entity must also demonstrate that it is in compliance with HIPAA.

New Day for Breach Notification Rule Adherence

According to Linda Sanches, Senior Advisor for HIT & Privacy at OCR, it is going to be tougher for entities to conceal breaches. It has come to the attention of OCR that there are HIPAA covered entities who do not report their breaches and have found success staying “under the radar of HIPAA enforcement.” However, Ms. Sanchez announced at the 2019 Health Care Compliance Conference that OCR was not only considering more severe action against entities that did not follow the regulations but that in the future OCR would be observing news reports, interviewing past and disgruntled employees and placing more resources towards seeking out entities that disregarded the regulations.

Alabama covered entities face the same federal regulatory authority as any other state, regardless of size, population or economy.  Thus, it is important for health care providers to understand the requirements and ensure that their entity and their workforce is aware of the regulations and how those regulation impact their organization. The most recent national trends on the location and type of breaches from 2018 can be reviewed in the charts below.

Article contributed by Samarria Dunson, J.D., CHC, CHPC, attorney/principal of The Dunson Group, LLC, a health care compliance consulting and law firm in Montgomery, Ala.  Attorney Dunson is also Of Counsel with the law firm of Balch & Bingham, LLP.  The Dunson Group, LLC, is an official partner with the Medical Association.

Posted in: HIPAA

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Nearly All ALAPAC-Supported Candidates Won Their Elections

Nearly All ALAPAC-Supported Candidates Won Their Elections

Tuesday’s election nationally saw the U.S. House flip from Republican to Democrat-controlled, but U.S. Senate Republicans actually increased their majority. In Alabama, Republicans remain in control of both house of the legislature and all statewide elected offices.

From an election results standpoint within Alabama, the Alabama Medical PAC (ALAPAC) participated in 111 out of 140 state legislative races. 99 percent of ALAPAC-supported legislative candidates won their election bids Tuesday. Regarding statewide offices, the success rate for ALAPAC-supported candidates was 100 percent. Later today, ALAPAC contributors will receive a much more detailed breakdown by email of Tuesday’s election results, an analysis of voting trends and forecasts for what Alabama physicians may expect the next several years.

The ALAPAC Board is incredibly appreciative of the resources Alabama physicians have contributed toward ALAPAC’s election efforts. As the official political committee of Alabama physicians and the Medical Association, ALAPAC exists to elect men and women whom physicians can work with on issues affecting patients and the practice of medicine. If you would like to contribute to ALAPAC, please click here.

Contributions to ALAPAC are not tax deductible as charitable contributions for Federal income tax purposes. Voluntary political contributions to Alabama Medical PAC (ALAPAC) are not limited to the suggested amount. The Medical Association will not favor or disadvantage anyone based upon the amount or failure to contribute. A portion of the contributions may be used in connection with Federal elections. Corporate funds will be used in either state elections or for education purposes. Federal contributions are subject to the limitations of FEC Regulations 110.1, .2, and .5.

Posted in: Advocacy

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Alabama Physicians Attend AMA Meeting in Chicago to Discuss State of Health Care

Alabama Physicians Attend AMA Meeting in Chicago to Discuss State of Health Care

Pictured from left in the back are Dr. Buddy Smith Jr., Dr. Jefferson Underwood and Dr. Jerry Harrison. In front from left are Dr. Steven Furr, Medical Student Delegate Hannah Ficarino from the University of South Alabama, Dr. Jorge Alsip and Dr. John Meigs.

During the AMA’s Annual Meeting held June 8-13, 2018, the House of Delegates debated a wide range of issues and adopted policies to expedite the free exchange of key patient data between EHR systems; to make e-prescribing of controlled substances and access to state PDMPs less cumbersome, and to reduce the MIPS reporting burden. The AMA also reaffirmed its strong opposition to the legalization of physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia.

Medical Association President Jefferson Underwood, M.D., joined the delegation in Chicago and represented Alabama physicians at the inauguration of the AMA’s new president, Barbara McAneny, M.D.

“The AMA House of Delegates is much like Congress in that the views of its members vary from region to region, and few members agree with every decision made by the organization. However, a state’s representation in the HOD is based on their number of AMA members, and Alabama along with the other Southeastern states are working vigorously to increase their AMA membership. I encourage our Medical Association members to also join the AMA, so we can have a greater impact on policy and help elect officers who share our views and values.” said Jorge Alsip, M.D., who chairs Alabama’s AMA Delegation.

Pictured are Association President Underwood and his wife, Sara.

Posted in: Advocacy

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Alabama Power Warns of Power Scam

Alabama Power Warns of Power Scam

*Editor’s note: After being contacted by several physicians, we contacted Alabama Power for additional information concerning the resurgence of an old scam.

The Medical Association is joining Alabama Power to warn customers about a new wave of an old scam.

In this instance, scammers call from toll-free numbers claiming that the customer’s account is past due and the customer’s service will be discontinued if the customer does not make a payment.

The number features a recording claiming to be Alabama Power; however it is not. Alabama Power does not conduct business in this manner.

If receiving a call, do not rely on caller ID, as thieves alter the number on those devices to appear local, or even display “Alabama Power” or “Customer Service.”

Customers who receive suspicious calls are encouraged to hang up, and report it to law enforcement. The next call should be to your utility company’s billing department to confirm your account status and alert them of the scam.

Over the past few years, scammers targeting both residential and commercial customers have become more sophisticated in their tactics, including:

  • Calling from a local number posing as an Alabama Power technician threatening to disconnect service if a payment was not made immediately with a “money pack” or prepaid card – an untraceable disposable debit card. The scammers ask customers to buy a prepaid card from a local retailer (such as Walmart, CVS or Walgreens).
  • Using a number with “Alabama Power” appearing on the caller ID asking for immediate payment by money pack or prepaid card. The customer is then directed to call a different number with an answering machine that says “This is Alabama Power” and leave the prepaid card information.
  • Going to customers’ homes impersonating Alabama Power employees offering to reduce energy bills by conducting an energy audit. The fake employee offers to immediately credit the account by accepting a cash payment on the spot.
  • Targeting customers in chat rooms posing as employees of companies or organizations that help pay bills for disadvantaged families.
  • Going door to door and posing as clergy telling customers they are assisting people with paying their energy bills and asking for a prepaid card.

Most scams seem obvious after the fact, but scammers are smart and know they do not need to make sense; they just need to scare the intended victim. Their goal is to make the victims believe they are in trouble and that the scammers are the only ones who can help. This type of emotional manipulation is easy when it comes to a vital service such as electricity that customers depend on.

“If someone calls and says your electricity is being turned off unless you make an immediate payment, we urge customers to hang up and call their local authorities,” said Security Manager Scott Stover. “These are crimes that should be reported to law enforcement.”

Stover said after notifying local authorities, a customer’s next call should be to the Alabama Power customer service line to confirm their account status and alert the company of the scam.

“Due to the variety of scams, it is important our customers know the ways in which we conduct business so they can spot a scam and report it to authorities and to us,” Bellamy said.

How to protect yourself

Alabama Power customers should remember:

  • Alabama Power employees will never come to your door and demand an immediate payment.
  • No employee will ever call and ask you for bank information or a credit card number.
  • Any Alabama Power employee who comes to your door for any reason will have company identification that he or she will gladly show. If you have any questions about whether the person works for Alabama Power, call 1-888-430-5787 and do not let the person inside your home until you receive proper verification.
  • Scammers sometimes claim they represent a public agency or government office offering grants that can pay your Alabama Power or other utility bill. Never provide anyone making this claim your credit card information, your Alabama Power Company bill information or account number, or any personal banking information. If someone makes this claim, call Alabama Power or your local police department to report it.

If you ever have any question about the status of your Alabama Power account, do not hesitate to call the company. You can reach Alabama Power Customer Service day or night, seven days a week, at 1-888-430-5787.

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Scale Back Alabama Kicks Off 11th Year

Scale Back Alabama Kicks Off 11th Year

A new year is the perfect time to shed those extra pounds, and the state’s largest weight loss and physical activity competition can help you do that.

Scale Back Alabama is an 8-week statewide program that encourages Alabamians to eat healthier, exercise, and have fun while doing it. Cash prize drawings are held for teams and individuals that lose at least 10 pounds, and participants receive weekly tips on ways they can improve their health.

This year’s contest began with a kickoff today in Montgomery and a challenge from the city of Montgomery. Michael Briddell, director of public information and external affairs for the city, called out fellow city administrators and mayors to join Montgomery in participating in the contest.

“In Montgomery, we are not only concerned about roads and buildings, but also about the health of our citizens,” said Briddell. “We have participated in this exciting program for many years; it’s a fun way to develop some healthy habits, and the results have been amazing. I urge all cities to encourage their staff and their citizens to participate.”

The contest that began with a challenge from American Idol winner Ruben Studdard in 2006 has continued to be a staple in many companies, hospitals, health departments and other organizations, with millions of pounds lost over the 11-year history.

Last year, 10,826 teams of two participated, a total of 21,652 people. More than 1,000 of those teams had each team member lose 10 pounds, and there was a total of 76,485 pounds lost.

The program is free, and two-member teams can register to participate at Participants must be 18 years of age, live or work in Alabama, and must weigh in during the week of January 11–18 at an official weigh-in site. Public weigh-in sites are listed on the Scale Back Alabama website.

Posted in: Health

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