Since it's the last Friday of the month, today I will answer a few of the questions you've submitted recently.
Before I begin, I want to take this opportunity to pass along my heartfelt thanks to all those who were involved in handling the crisis created a couple of weeks ago after one of two air conditioning units for our critical care hospital went kaput. The high temperatures in some of the intensive care areas necessitated patient relocation or steps to lessen the effects of the heat and humidity. There were a number of heroes within our health system ranks - staff in Physical Facilities, Emergency Services, Campus Police and Hospital Administration who went above and beyond during the response. It was a true TEAM effort. To each of you, thank you. A good test of the effectiveness of an organization is how well it can operate in the worst of conditions. In this case, I think we proved ourselves to be up to the challenge.
Now, on to your questions. As a reminder, I receive many questions and comments and read all of them. Although I can only respond to a handful of them each month, I pass the rest of them along to senior administrators for review and further action if warranted. I truly appreciate all the feedback you give me through VC Notes.
Q: Many of the I CARE reports which our department has received seem frivolous. Often it makes employees resent the departments or individuals that create petty I CARE reports. Is there any feedback to the individuals filing the report?
A: For readers who may not know, we ask members of our patient care teams to file “I CARE” reports to describe occurrences that result in, or could result in, harm to a patient. Contrary to what you might expect, a robust reporting system that generates many such reports is a hallmark of a high-reliability organization. The staff in our Quality and Patient Safety office tell me they are working on revamping our processes around I CARE reporting and follow-up. They agree that some issues cited in I CARE reports may be perceived as insignificant, but have also found that occurrences one group considers trivial are actually warning signs of larger problems that need to be addressed. At this point in our quality journey, our desire is to err on the side of reporting any and all issues that might be relevant and to avoid criticizing people for citing things that some might consider unimportant. Otherwise, we have defeated our purpose in encouraging honest, open feedback that is vital to quality improvement.
Q: I wish you would comment on the recent campus memo regarding UMMC Employee Discount Guidelines, because there was no explanation as to why this was being implemented. I was very disappointed to read about the discount changes that will be implemented July 1 for employees utilizing health-care services at UMMC. The 20 percent discount has always been a major deciding factor in choosing a physician at UMMC versus seeking someone elsewhere. This change will significantly impact me and my family. I have always wanted to use UMMC for all my health-care needs, but now it only makes sense to shop around.
A: I've received several comments to VC Notes expressing similar concerns, and I completely understand why our employees may feel disappointed. Typically, there are many factors that drive a decision of this type - financial, regulatory and insurance considerations, among others - and each of these contributed to this decision. I would just ask that you keep in mind that a 20 percent discount off the out-of-pocket costs of care, once the deductible is met, and a 20 percent discount off pharmacy co-pays are still substantial benefits to our employees and their covered family members. One clarification to the campus memo sent earlier: The 20 percent discount will continue to be in place for dental services if the patient is paying out-of-pocket for the service, instead of under a dental insurance plan. I feel strongly that the quality of care and service provided at the Medical Center, coupled with the discounts that remain in place for our employees, compare favorably to other options in the community, and I hope you will continue to seek your care here for you and your family.
Q: Dr. Woodward, it seems our benefits of working here are slowly dwindling away. No discounts any longer for dental or eye care done here at UMMC. Changes to insurance coverage. The biggest blow, however, is the change to tuition reimbursement. I applied for grad school and was accepted to start this fall. Now, effective immediately, things have changed. We have to agree to six months of work here for each semester paid, and this cannot start to be worked off until AFTER you finish the program. The kicker is that should you have to leave before you work it all off, you only have one year to pay the tuition back (with 5 percent interest added). It would have been nice to have at least some advance notice of this change. I plan on working here until I retire. However, life does happen and the future is never set in stone regarding family, etc.
A: As I responded above, I'm sorry that some of our employees are disappointed and, to reiterate, the dental care discount remains in place for services provided outside a dental insurance plan. Although the timing was unfortunate for you, I see the changes to the tuition benefit program - now called the Workforce Development Scholarship - as a reform that was needed to bring more balance to the program. The intent of the program is to make educational opportunities available to our employees so they can enhance their knowledge and skills, enhancements that, in turn, make UMMC a stronger organization. In the past, there were many instances in which employees took advantage of these opportunities - at considerable expense to UMMC - and then promptly left for a job elsewhere. The adjustments we have adopted restore needed balance and are typical of those being made to tuition benefit programs at other institutions around the country.
Q: Is Chick-Fil-A going away with this new food service? I also heard that badge swipe was leaving? True or false?
A: False on both counts. I received a flood of questions and comments when we announced the transition to an outside food service vendor. As we've communicated in other venues, both badge swipe and Chick-fil-A will still be in place under the new regime. In addition, the cafeterias at UMMC will continue to offer discounts to employees and students who produce valid Medical Center IDs. Residents will continue to be provided meal tickets that will cover a set limit per ticket. And we expect to see more healthy food options.
Q: You've got a lot of good initiatives going for employee health. What I want to know is why there is no discount/free membership to the fitness centers now owned by UMMC? Wouldn't it be best if your employees could get a free or discounted membership to the UMMC fitness centers? Furthermore, why haven't you worked with Blue Cross and Blue Shield and the state government to come up with a plan where Blue Cross and Blue Shield pays for an employee's gym membership? Surely it is in the best interest of the university, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the state, and the employee if a program existed where state employees, including UMMC employees, could get a partial/total payment from the insurance company toward a gym/fitness center membership.
A: The five fitness centers now owned by UMMC, in the process of being rebranded as University Wellness Centers, do indeed offer discounted memberships to UMMC employees and students. For an individual, the cost is $25 per month for access to one location or $35 for access to all locations. A spouse and children residing at the same residence can be added to either plan for an additional $20 per month (regardless of the number of children). Plus, there's no enrollment fee and no contract. That's a pretty good deal! You can learn more about what University Wellness has to offer at http://www.ummcwellness.com. Your other question about the state, the state health plan insurer and UMMC working together to subsidize the cost of fitness center memberships for state employees is a very good and forward-thinking idea, but we have found that making such changes, no matter how sensible, takes a long time. We have had preliminary discussions with state administrators and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mississippi about sharing information in a way that better supports employee health and wellness and we're hopeful those continuing discussions will lead to good things for our employees in the future.
Building a healthier employee workforce is one of my top goals for UMMC and for you. We've made good early progress but we have so much more to do on our journey toward A Healthier Mississippi.