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Opinion | A solution for Alabama’s biggest challenge

Only three states have a higher disease frequency and mortality rate than Alabama, and just two states have a lower life expectancy.


Home to the civil rights movement, the Crimson Tide, a robust agriculture industry, and much more, Alabama has left an indelible mark on the history and future trajectory of the United States. While we are deeply proud of our leadership and contributions to America here in the Yellowhammer State, our public health is lagging. 

Only three states have a higher disease frequency and mortality rate than Alabama, and just two states have a lower life expectancy. We also suffer from extremely high rates of heart disease and opioid abuse. Moreover, we have one of the worst healthcare systems in the nation, and we spend less on healthcare per resident than any other state in the country. Altogether, this makes Alabama particularly vulnerable to public health emergencies like COVID-19 and the opioid epidemic, which overwhelmed our healthcare providers and wreaked havoc on thousands of our families. 

While I am concerned about our state’s capacity to adequately respond to future public health emergencies, I am optimistic we can be prepared if we take advantage of the new resources at our disposal. 

Philips and the Department of Defense (DoD) have successfully harnessed the power of artificial intelligence to develop an algorithm that can detect COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses, days before symptoms arise. The Rapid Analysis of Threat Exposure (RATE) algorithm has already been commercialized into conveniently worn devices like off the shelf wearables, with more products being developed as we speak. 

Through RATE, countless individuals can finally be proactive as opposed to reactive against extremely dangerous and unpredictable viruses. Imagine being able to quarantine before you have had the opportunity to spread the virus to your loved ones.  

RATE’s benefits are so profound that the United States Military is already relying on it to detect and suppress the spread of infections across personnel. In addition, RATE has been instrumental in informing troop readiness for deployments, helping officers further understand the health and preparedness of personnel before making tactical deployment decisions. These factors have contributed to Congress’ recent announcement of an additional ten million dollars for Philips and DoD to continue expanding RATE’s capabilities. 

This is a welcome first step, but more is needed, and we have one of the best Representatives in Congress to build on this momentum. 

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For 20 years, we have been represented by Congressman Mike Rogers, a consistent force who has delivered for this community time after time. Congressman Rogers has been a great friend of Southern Preparatory Academy, the official military school for the state of Alabama, which I was proud to lead for so many years. As Chair of the Armed Services Committee and former Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security, you will not find a member of Congress more dedicated to public safety and bolstering our military than Congressman Rogers. I am confident he will use his platform in D.C. to ensure innovative programs like RATE and others that support the military and our public health receive the support they need to reach their full potential. 

Alabamians are resilient, a trait we have demonstrated over a deep history of leadership and perseverance. Improving our state’s public health is the next great challenge at our doorstep, and I know we can overcome it, achieve a healthier state, and provide another reason we are the greatest state in the nation. 

Jared Norrell is a retired Lt. Colonel from the United States Army and the former President of Southern Preparatory Military Academy in Camp Hill, Alabama.

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