Every month or so I try to answer a few questions that have been submitted to VC Notes. I read all of your questions and comments, and may occasionally respond directly to you individually, but for this purpose I try to touch on recurring themes or questions that apply broadly across the Medical Center.
Please note, I'll be out of the office next week so the column will be on hiatus but will resume July 24.
Q: UMMC faculty have not had raises in five years while our sister institutions and community colleges have given multiple raises. Is there a plan to address faculty salaries?
A: I received several questions along these lines in response to my column extolling the virtues of our faculty. This would be a complex issue under any circumstances. But it's made even more so because our faculty, depending on their role, are paid from different sources of funds, are evaluated on different metrics, and in many cases have the ability to produce revenue through clinical or research activity. So taking a one-size-fits-all approach to faculty compensation is impossible. Some portion of our faculty salaries is derived from the state and, as you suggest, we have not received additional state dollars for faculty raises in many years. Faculty at other IHL campuses did receive a modest increase in the last session of the legislature, but UMMC faculty were not included in that appropriation. Bottom line, we are presently engaged in a comprehensive analysis of how all of our faculty salaries compare to their defined markets. Where significant gaps exist - and we know there are some - I am committed to narrowing them in a consistent manner as funding is available.
Q: I walk every day from the stadium to Batson. I feel we need and deserve a crosswalk on the Batson end. The critical care tower, both EDs, surgery, Wiser and Batson employees all walk across on that end to get to work. Please make it safer to cross the street for us. I am not asking for a covered cross-walk. I get that UMMC does not own that property. But I do not understand why we can't have a light there to keep us safer. We have far enough to walk without going all the way across the parking lot to cross on the other end. Thank you very much!
A: I am aware that a large number of employees cross State Street to and from the stadium parking lots south of the crosswalk at the entrance to University Hospital. This is dangerous, of course, and I wish you would use the crosswalk, but I understand that for many people - there are an estimated 700 crossings per day - it's a bit out of the way when you're hustling to get to work or get home. We have been working with the city and the state on a possible solution. Transportation rules prohibit us from putting a second traffic light so close to the one at the hospital entrance, but we are looking at creating a second crosswalk that is protected by a "HAWK" signal. With this signal, pedestrians push a button and, after some cycle time, oncoming traffic gets a yellow and then a red light. We don't quite have all the details worked out to move forward with this project, but I'm hoping we can begin work this fiscal year.
Q: Is there any way that child care could be provided for UMMC employees? We are the largest hospital establishment in the state, yet other, much smaller medical establishments provide child care for their employees. Thanks!
A: Human Resources will soon begin conducting a feasibility study to assess whether UMMC has the ability to begin offering child care in some form or fashion to employees. From past employee surveys, we know this benefit would be highly valued by our staff. Unfortunately, we have not been in a financial position to move forward with child care to date. Our planned assessment will go beyond looking at building and operating a facility on or near campus, which is very expensive, but will consider alternative models such as partnering with existing child-care providers or with providers who specialize in emergent care for sick children who are not able to attend their normal day care location. All options will be on the table and I have asked for recommendations to consider in 2016.
Q: I really hate to see the Courthouse in Byram close at the end of the month (June). Can you elaborate on the details of that decision?
A: We acquired the six Courthouse fitness centers last December. From the outset, our intention has been to operate them as wellness centers that are integrated with our clinical programs. After several months of analysis, we determined that the Byram facility was not a good fit with our plans. It required a large up-front investment in repairs and new equipment, and it does not have a large enough membership to support our wellness concept. So we decided to sell the Byram facility to someone who will, we hope, make the needed investments and continue to operate it as a fitness center for the local community. Initially we set a June 30 closing date for the Byram location, but after discussions with community leaders, we have extended that to September 30 while a buyer is sought. We have now shared information with a number of interested parties and will continue to move ahead with this process as rapidly as possible. In the meantime, we continue to move forward with our plans for the other Courthouse locations and will be sharing those with you during the coming year.
Again, thank you for your engagement with VC Notes. We are a large and complicated organization, with many interests and needs, but we are all working for the same thing, and that's A Healthier Mississippi.