Before I move to your questions, I want to briefly address the errant emergency notification that was disseminated through our AlertU system this morning. We test this system weekly, and today as the result of an errant keystroke, messages were sent to the campus community. The original errant message was terminated midway through the dissemination process so not everyone got the message or got this message in its entirety referencing an active shooter on campus. We are grateful this was a false alarm and that we will learn some valuable lessons through this experience. One of those lessons is that more people need to sign up for AlertU. Through the UMMC Directory on the Intranet, access your profile information and enter your cell phone number in the AlertU box. Your number will not be shared or used for any other purpose. Thank you.
Now I'll answer some of your questions. Just as a reminder, I read all of your questions and comments and appreciate all of them. While I'm not able to answer them all in this column - I probably receive about 50 per month - I pass the rest along to senior administrators for their review and possible action.
I also have received about a dozen comments related to the opening of Garage C and the increase in parking rates. These ran the gamut from complaints about the rate increase to appeals for changes in our classification system for parking privileges. I am forwarding all of these to parking administration for their consideration. With Garage C yet to open and other changes on the horizon, our parking situation is very much a work in progress, so I'd like things to settle a bit before I delve more deeply into this subject. I am aware of your concerns, though.
Now, on to your questions.
Q: I have volunteered to work the Sanderson Farms Golf Championship, which helps raise money for the Children's Hospital. While I'm thankful that I did not have to pay to volunteer, I find it odd that I have to use personal leave to be able to do so. My question is, if employees are encouraged to volunteer to help our organization as a whole, why not let them use their medical leave, since most employees hardly ever use medical leave, or offer them a few days off with pay? I understand that some people would try to take advantage of this, but a form could be made and signed by someone at the event to prove that the employee actually worked the event.
A: I very much appreciate that you are volunteering at the Sanderson Farms Golf Championship. In fact, for those of you who haven't made plans for the weekend, I encourage you to take advantage of this beautiful weather and go watch these amazing professional golfers. As you indicate, we are indebted to the tournament host, Century Club Charities, and to Joe and Kathy Sanderson for their generosity to the Friends of Children's Hospital. As explained to me by our HR staff, the basic rule about volunteer activity is that if you are directed by your supervisor to take part in the activity as part of your job, then you do not have to take personal leave. If you are truly volunteering at your own discretion, then you must take paid personal leave or unpaid leave. Whether the charitable activity helps a program at UMMC or some other worthy cause doesn't matter; the rule still applies. Also, medical leave has to be used for a medically related purpose, and even though you may have a large amount saved, you never know when you'll need it. Again, I thank you for volunteering.
Q: I have on several occasions noticed a traffic jam at the CT/MRI entrance to the Critical Care Hospital. This seems to be "The Place" for employees to be dropped off/picked up. In several instances, I have seen someone trying to drive through and drop off patients, but they could not get through due to family/friends waiting to pick up someone after a shift (3:20 to 3:40 p.m. is a nightmare). I know this is a convenient spot for employee drop off/pick up, but isn't it about going above and beyond for our patients? I know in other facilities, certain areas were banned from employee use for this reason. Maybe just a presence from security during the peak shift changes could help manage this situation.
A: I'm glad you brought this up. This is one location - there are others - where employee pickup and dropoff has increased due to our parking challenges. As it happens, we are in the process of conducting a campus traffic and pedestrian study with a national firm, and we will ask this group to evaluate and make recommendations regarding this issue. While we may not be able to post additional security at this location during shift changes, we will continue patrols and intervene as needed. I hope that our employees and whoever is picking them up or dropping them off will exercise courtesy and not block the road or access to the hospital.
Q: At the most recent campus wide faculty meeting, a large budget deficit was attributed to "pension adjustments.” Would you explain the pension adjustments in more detail?
A: UMMC and other state institutions like it have always been obligated to provide pension benefits to our employees in the future when those employees retire, through the Mississippi Public Employee Retirement System, or PERS. Beginning June 30, 2015, however, newly implemented accounting standards required that this obligation, or liability, be reflected in our basic financial statements. So, for example, at the end of the last fiscal year on June 30, 2016, our financial statements reflected not only that UMMC paid $73 million in that year toward all of our retirements, but it recorded an additional $46 million in pension liability for future payments based on an actuarial model of lifespans determined at that time. The $46 million figure was not an actual cash payout but a reflection of the payment that would be necessary to meet the full pension liability as of June 30, 2016. While “booking” this number in our financial statements does not affect our operating performance, it may give the impression that UMMC is not as financially sound as in previous years when this accounting standard was not in place. We are indeed financially sound and our promise to our retirees, backed by the state of Mississippi, is as strong as ever.
Q: I have previously written to you about a crosswalk for the Batson/Critical Care Tower/ ERs/Wiser side of the hospital. It is a long walk all the way across the stadium parking lot to get to the main crosswalk and the trip is already quite long straight across. All of the staff would truly appreciate this being done. It is not safe. Thank you.
A: Thank you for your patience. As I outlined in an earlier VC Notes, we have plans to put an additional crosswalk on State Street near Garage B and on Woodrow Wilson at Peachtree. We have identified the funding for these projects and have completed engineering drawings. Unfortunately, we have recently learned that we need to grant property easements to Entergy, which entails a legal transaction, and a number of light poles will need to be relocated. These unanticipated steps in the process are taking additional time. At this point we expect construction to begin in the early spring.
Q: For the last 12 years I have worked the night shift here at UMMC. Each year, except the initial start date, I have had to take the mandatory TB test on my time. Student and Employee Heath hours are from 7 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. For those of us who work from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. this is very inconvenient. We have to stay late off the clock or come in early off the clock. It would be great if there was some way this test could be not only administered but read in the ER.
A: I'm truly sorry that completing this test is not as convenient for our night staff. First, let me point out that Student-Employee Health is open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Tuberculosis skin tests are given and read until 4:45 p.m. every weekday except Thursday, because they need to be read two-to-three days after administration. The staff tell me that TB skin testing has now been decentralized across the institution and is performed on a rolling schedule in each inpatient unit. Ambulatory clinic managers also may request to do testing for their employees. All that is required is a certified TB nurse who can complete the test. The ER is often too busy to handle this activity.
Some of you may wonder why we emphasize TB tests so much. The CDC recommends baseline and annual TB screening for health care workers at any facility where there is high risk of exposure to patients with TB. Such patients are treated at UMMC on a regular basis. In fact, in the past 11 months, 310 employees and students were exposed to 12 patients with unrecognized tuberculosis, both in the inpatient and outpatient setting. By screening our students, employees and volunteers annually, we are able to identify early TB infection and to offer curative treatment so that the infection does not progress to TB disease.
Before I sign off, I want to put in a plug for UMMC's Employee Giving Campaign, which runs from Monday through Friday of next week. I can say from experience that nothing persuades external donors to give to an organization quite like the discovery that it receives philanthropic support from its own employees. As all of you know, there are a multitude of causes at UMMC and every one of them is worthy of our support. Learn more about the special activities scheduled for next week or donate online at Giving Starts Here.
Thank you for all of your questions and comments. I appreciate knowing your concerns so we can think about ways to address them, on our journey toward A Healthier Mississippi.