Today I'll answer some of your recent questions. As I've noted before, I read all of your comments and questions and pass most of them along to senior administrators who consider them for further action. (I hope some of you are seeing those further actions!) Of the many questions I receive, I try to respond to the ones that I feel will have the broadest appeal to readers.
So, on to your questions.
Q: I recently read in your newsletter that the water here is tested monthly for contaminants. The water that we give to patients out of our ice machines, to my understanding, is filtered but I have never actually seen the filter changed. The water usually looks cloudy and many patients complain about its taste. Is the water tested in each area and is the information for the water that is tested monthly available for the public to see?
A: To begin let me remind everyone that the UMMC main campus has its own water supply provided by wells. Our water is tested monthly for bacterial contaminants and on a regular schedule for the presence of lead and copper. UMMC facilities near the main campus receive Jackson water. Recent concerns about the presence of trace amounts of lead in samples from a number of Jackson homes prompted us to go ahead and test our well water for the presence of lead from 20 locations on campus. All of these tests came back with levels that were well below the actionable limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, within the next two weeks we will test the water in additional locations off campus and report those findings as soon as they become available. These reports are available for review in the Department of Physical Facilities on Peachtree Street. The staff in Physical Facilities report that they replace filters in ice machines on a regular basis; if your ice maker is not on the schedule, you can give them a call at 984-1420 and they will add it. In my experience, most well water has a noticeable taste that some people may find disagreeable, but it is perfectly safe to drink.
Q: This rainy morning I was riding Blue Bus #954 when the radio dispatcher came over a minimum of three times instructing the drivers to stop at every point, even when they are full. Surely this was a mistake. Someone responded to make sure the message was heard correctly over the radio and the same message to stop at every station, even if you are full, was repeated. Problem: Bus full of employees trying to get work in a timely manner, no seats available, and the driver cannot use common sense to avoid unnecessary delays and proceed with the route. I understand there is a protocol but common sense must not be overlooked. Thank you. Signed, an Appreciative and Thankful for Access to a Free Bus Rider
A: I like your signoff there, and it turns out you are on target with your assessment of this situation. Our parking and transportation folks advise me that whoever relayed the message was mistaken about our protocol in the case you describe. Under most conditions when seats are available on the bus, drivers are instructed to come to a full stop at each bus stop, even if there is no one waiting at the stop. This is because nearby pedestrians may be hurrying to get to the stop and we want to allow them the opportunity to board. When the bus is full, drivers are instructed to “break route” and head directly to the stadium or the campus, as the case may be. An electronic display on the outside of the bus should indicate when the bus is full and therefore breaking route.
Q: All of the questions addressed here are good, but staff that work the floor for 12 hours want answers to the real issues that we deal with daily. What are the plans for staffing nurses and techs? My co-workers and I are tired of working understaffed. My manager works hard to get our floor staffed and then we get pulled from it every day. This in itself has caused nurses to quit. We work with high-acuity patients and it makes it very dangerous for us to have to work understaffed as much as we do. Patient satisfaction comes into play also. We have only two techs on a 32-bed unit, and depending on the nurses' workload, the patients can't get changed or seen in a timely manner, which makes for unhappy patients. I love UMMC but I feel that if we could look at the patient/nurse ratio we could make this place awesome. If Administration would follow nurses on some of these floors for a solid week or two for 12 hours at a time, I do believe they would get a feel for what we do every day.
A: What you and your co-workers do in our hospitals every day is nothing short of amazing, and the way you present your question confirms for me how much you care for our patients and for UMMC. I assure you that the senior leaders of the hospital and I know what you are experiencing and that your concerns are real. Much of this experience is driven by the fact that we are extremely busy and, as you say, our patients are often very sick. In February alone we had 318 more inpatients than we had last February, which we also considered to be busy. We operated much of February at 25 beds more than our normal capacity. To compound this issue, as we have detailed in other campus media, we are dealing with a shortage of bedside nurses. Although we are aggressively recruiting additional nursing staff, it will take several months to get ahead of this staffing situation. In the meantime, we will continue to bring in assistance in the form of float pool and relief nurses in response to high volumes. Although I have focused primarily on nurses in this answer, the fact is everybody is busy - nurses, doctors, therapists, the lab, the pharmacy, food and nutrition, and housekeeping. I appreciate that you are all rising to this challenge, and please know that we are doing everything possible to bring some relief to the situation.
Q: Why does the U pay out only six weeks' worth of unused PTO when an employee leaves? It's an earned benefit, and employees should not feel as if they have to throw away money if they wish to leave to pursue another opportunity. For example, I've been turned down for even single days off on more than one occasion, and had to cancel holiday plans, simply because our team is kept too small for our role and we are always at a critical staffing level because of employee turnover. This seems like theft, especially when one considers the hundreds of unpaid overtime hours (not an exaggeration) that some people in our department have put in over the last five years. When people are “forced” not to take the days off, they shouldn't be penalized again when they get fed up and leave.
A: I'm sorry you are frustrated, and I hope you won't leave UMMC. As I noted in the answer above, we are doing our best to get a handle on this unprecedented demand for our services we are experiencing. In answer to your specific question, the way we manage accrued personal leave when an employee resigns is governed not by UMMC but by the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning, the IHL. Here is the exact wording of the IHL policy in question: “Upon termination of employment, each employee shall be paid for unused personal leave not to exceed 30 days. Unused personal leave in excess of 30 days shall be counted as creditable service for purposes of the retirement system."
Q: I would like to address how difficult it is to get out of the stadium parking lot in the middle of the day. I would love to be able to use my one hour lunch break to take care of an errand or to eat out from time to time. Unfortunately, it is a huge hassle just to get to my car and get out of the parking lot. The major issue is that almost all the gates are locked. Is it really necessary to lock us in like this? Just getting to my car and getting out and then back in to the lot takes up the majority of my lunch hour. It would be much easier if we had more open gates - especially if you are parked in overflow. Thanks for your consideration.
A: There's no doubt that a lot of people who park at the stadium share your view and I'm sorry for the inconvenience you and others experience. The fact is that while we are inconveniencing our employees and students by closing the gates during certain parts of the day, we are also inconveniencing the “bad guys” who are looking for targets that offer a route to make a quick getaway. Just a small inconvenience can be big deterrent to criminal activity. Our results seem to back this up. While we have upwards of 20,000 people and more than 10,000 vehicles on campus every day, we have had zero auto burglaries or thefts in the stadium area during the last 18 months. Leaving the stadium gates open throughout the day, while it might save you a little time and trouble, would weaken our ability to prevent intruders from stealing your property or causing you harm.
Again, thank you for keeping me abreast of what you are thinking and feeling. Even though we may not be able to solve all of the issues you bring to my attention, I want you to know that I'm listening and that I'll be transparent in sharing information with you. It's your work that's making a difference to our patients and all the people we serve every day, on our path to A Healthier Mississippi.