The holiday season is officially in full swing, so I'll go ahead and wish you a happy, healthy holiday before everybody's schedule gets too crazy.
Due to Thanksgiving, I missed answering some of your questions last week so I'll tackle a few of them today. I'll return to my normal end-of-the-month Q&A Dec. 30.
Just as a reminder, I read all of your comments and questions and appreciate every single one. And even though I can't answer every question in this space, I do send the best of the rest to senior leaders for review and possible action.
Now, on to your questions.
Q: I am a U.S. Army veteran and I work at UMMC hospital. It saddened me that UMMC did nothing to recognize Veterans Day and the veterans who are employed here. When I first started working at UMMC, we received Veterans Day as a holiday. Then it was taken away for financial reasons. But at least we received a letter recognizing the veterans and saying thank you for our past, present or future service. Now we have nothing! If it weren't for the veterans in this country we wouldn't have our freedom. Shame on UMMC!
A: First of all, thank you for your service to our country. I'm sorry you didn't feel this service was recognized on Veterans Day, which was Nov. 11. We respect and appreciate all of our veterans. Veterans Day did not go completely unnoticed at UMMC. The Brandon High School JROTC put on a patriotic show at Batson Children's Hospital and we publicized the ceremony in a photo gallery on Facebook. We also expressed our appreciation to all veterans on our UMMC Twitter account as well as my Twitter account. It's unfortunate that as UMMC has grown and the pace of work has quickened, we've lost some of the personal touch that you reference above. But that does not diminish the gratitude we all feel for you and others who have stood ready to defend our freedom. In the future we will do a better job of conveying that appreciation.
Q: I would like to know why the employee parking overflow lot gates are closed and locked at certain times throughout the day. If you have an emergency and need to leave work before 3 o'clock in the afternoon, it is very difficult to get to your vehicle due to the locked gates. It feels as if we are locked out from our own vehicles! What is the purpose of closing and locking the gates in the overflow areas when other parking lots on campus or other parts of the stadium are not locked?
A: Certain gates in the stadium parking areas are closed during parts of the day as a deterrent to intruders intent on stealing your vehicle or its contents. Such break-ins are crimes of convenience. The easier it is for thieves to access your property and make a hasty getaway, the more likely they are to act. The other lots you mention have badge access or are highly visible throughout the day, so they offer less-inviting targets. I regret that this practice results in inconvenience to our employees, but please keep in mind that same inconvenience is what's helping to keep your property secure.
Q: It is very disappointing and frustrating that my department (and I am sure others) lack any financial support to gain or maintain memberships to our national or even state-level groups associated with our professions. Unfortunately, to be a member of these groups that provide access to listservs, up-to-date clinical research, evidence-based recommendations, etc., would mean that we essentially have to take a pay cut due to the costs of maintaining these memberships. Many hospitals and organizations provide a budget and fully support employee memberships in these valuable groups because they help us stay up to date in the ever-changing clinical world. It is so discouraging how often I find myself scrounging through Google to find current papers or research on certain topics to further my education or ensure that the recommendations I provide are current and appropriate. This ultimately hurts UMMC as a whole and forces employees to choose between sacrificing several hundred dollars per year or struggling to stay up-to-date in practice. I hope this provides some insight and maybe this is something that could be considered in the near future.
A: That's a good and fair question. My understanding is that UMMC lacks an institutional policy regarding support for professional memberships of faculty and staff. This has always been left to departments to decide, which unfortunately results in significant variation. While I can't promise an immediate fix to this issue, we are in the midst of revamping our budgeting processes, and we will take a look to see if there is an opportunity to develop a more uniform approach to professional memberships.
Q: What is UMMC planning to do in response to the changes in the Fair Labor Standards Act which are to be implemented by Dec. 1, 2016?
A: As you may know, the Fair Labor Standards Act, or FLSA, was updated earlier this year to establish a new minimum salary for employees who are deemed to be exempt from regulations that govern overtime for hourly workers. In preparing for this update, our Human Resources Department conducted a thorough review to determine which employees would be impacted and to ensure that employees were properly classified as exempt or non-exempt based on their current job duties. As a result of this review, effective Nov. 20, 2016, a number of job titles were reclassified as non-exempt (and therefore entitled to overtime pay) and we determined that 282 exempt employees would receive pay increases to bring them to the new minimum. The total cost to UMMC to fund these increases is just under $1 million per year. Since this update to FLSA was announced, a federal judge in Texas last week ordered a preliminary injunction, which delays the implementation of the new minimum salary level. Although we had the option of deferring action on this, our leadership team has decided to move forward and implement the increases for the exempt employees and most of the planned reclassifications, with a few exceptions pertaining to trainees and a handful of job titles where other factors come into play. The pay increases will be reflected in the Dec. 9 paychecks of the affected employees, each of whom has been contacted by his or her supervisor.
Q: I believe you may have previously answered this question but I do not recall the answer. Is there a chance of telehealth benefits being added to the UMMC employee package? I know UMMC is working to improve the availability for patients in rural areas, but what about patients right here at UMMC? My husband's employer offers telehealth and it is a great benefit. After he suffered from symptoms of sinusitis for a few days, he called and was treated over the phone by a telehealth physician. This not only limited his exposure from a clinic waiting room and wasting 2-3 hours of his workday, but also eliminated the downright aggravation of both and saved us money! I am jealous and want this benefit for myself. Any chance?
A: Your timing could not be better. We agree this type of service would be a welcome addition to our current menu of health benefits. As you may know, the UMMC Center for Telehealth has been offering telehealth for urgent care needs to several corporations across the state for the past few years. The corporate telehealth program has proven to be an effective way to bring health care to those who need it, where they need it. Through this program, chronic conditions have been identified, patients have been able to secure primary care providers more efficiently, and time from work due to illness has been reduced. Recently, the Center for Telehealth has received tentative approval through the state Department of Finance and Administration to begin offering these services to all beneficiaries of the state health plan in early 2017. We are in the process of working out the details to facilitate a smooth rollout of this service. We will share more about this exciting development in the very near future.
Our nationally recognized telehealth program is just one of the ways UMMC is reaching all parts of the state, creating A Healthier Mississippi.