It’s the last Friday of the month, so today I’ll answer your questions. As a reminder, I read all of your questions and comments. I’m only able to respond to a few of them here, but I pass the rest on to senior administrators for consideration. I value all of the feedback I get from your responses to VC Notes.
Now, on to your questions.
Q: I just want to know why the flu vaccination is mandatory? I know of a lot of companies who are offering it but it is not mandatory. I don't think it’s fair to say an employee will get terminated if he or she doesn't receive it.
A: For the last three years we have required all employees and students who can be vaccinated to receive the flu vaccine. The main reason is to protect our patients – especially those with compromised immune systems – from contracting the flu from infected personnel. For years our Employee Student Health staff used a variety of strategies to boost our voluntary vaccination rates, but the highest rate we were able to achieve was 63 percent. Since we began mandating vaccination, our rates are at 98 percent. This level of compliance not only serves our patients, it lessens the burden of illness on our personnel and their families. Exemptions are considered for validated medical and religious beliefs. Unfortunately, it has proven impossible to carry out this mandate and achieve our desired vaccination rate without holding people accountable through the disciplinary process.
Q: For quite some time now, an employee or employees have been leaving religious pamphlets around the waiting areas of the Pavilion, promoting their brand of Christianity. While the vast majority of people in the area are Christian, not everybody is, and the fact that these things are on nearly every table in the Pavilion could give patients the perception that we are a religious hospital. Perhaps a gentle reminder is due to the employee or employees doing this that we are a state institution and as such we are bound by separation of church and state and therefore should not be distributing religious materials. They are free to go door to door all day long to "spread the good news" in their spare time, but the workplace is not the appropriate place to proselytize, particularly when that workplace is a state institution.
A: Consider this a gentle reminder that UMMC policy is that no solicitation is allowed on our property, whether for a hotel, a car dealer or even a particular religious view. Sometimes visitors come into our facilities and leave these sorts of promotional materials. They should be discarded. Certainly our own employees should not be distributing them. We are welcoming and respectful of all people regardless of their religious views, but I agree with you that the workplace is not the appropriate setting to promote these views to others.
Q: I am currently a night shift worker at Batson Children’s Hospital and have been for 10 years. Since hearing of the recent changes to parking that will be taking place in November for those who are Lot 14 parkers, my concern is for the safety of employees who will be hiking across campus during all times of the night to work. This isn't safe or very convenient for employees. Why can't those who have lot access to 14 be granted access to Parking Garage B or even Parking Garage C, for that matter? Several people have checked out Garage C to see just how many spots are available during the night time hours and there are plenty of open spots for the number of employees who park in Lot 14 at night. Why hasn't this been considered? This seems to be a much safer option considering it grants access directly to the inside of UMMC and is safer than walking across campus during the night.
A: Although final approvals are still pending on the financing and construction plan for the Children’s expansion, we will begin doing preliminary site work in mid-November to stay on our timeline. Parkers in Lots 14, 16 and 17, which are adjacent to and immediately east of Batson, will be impacted. Daytime parkers will be reassigned to other surface lots and Garage C. Garages A and B are for our patient and visitor parking, which will become even more vital during this construction project. Night shift parking will remain on campus and will be moved to lots north of Central University Drive, but as close in as possible to our hospital facilities. Because of the overlap in day shift and night shift parking, we are unable to put more night shift parkers in Garage C, which will be at capacity when these changes are implemented. However, to enhance security, we will increase patrols by our Police Department in these parking areas and make every effort to keep our employees and students safe and secure.
Q: As we have lost physicians in some departments, including pediatrics, I am concerned that our overall level of experience has suffered. New graduate M.D.s have great energy, but they do not provide the experience and wisdom an academic medical center needs. What is your plan to recruit and retain experienced and highly specialized physicians and medical providers?
A: Each “hiring season” brings us young faculty at the instructor and assistant professor levels, often graduates of our own training programs, and we are happy to have the additional manpower and womanpower. At the same time, we consistently bring in new faculty hires at the associate professor and professor levels, and this season has been no exception. While we have lost experienced faculty in a few departments, in part as the result of unhappiness about funding cutbacks but also for the many other reasons faculty decide to move on, each clinical department has a detailed plan to recruit faculty for those areas where we may not be at full strength, as well as in areas we want to grow for strategic reasons.
Q: I understand the security measures necessary for devices and the Internet, but the new updates to UMMC Internets have made it virtually impossible to use. My phone won't stay connected to the Wi-Fi for more than three consecutive minutes. There must be a better way to have a secure system and to make it usable for employees.
A: During the last few years, the way we manage wireless access to our networks has created some security vulnerabilities. As we have attempted to reduce our exposure to hackers and malware, our Division of Information Systems staff have tested a number of strategies to lessen our risk, while maintaining a satisfactory user experience. Unfortunately, we operate in a dynamic environment. While we are deploying solutions we hope will meet our needs, manufacturers are constantly producing new devices that may not “play nice” with our systems. According to our DIS team, the issues users were experiencing on the UMMC Public Wi-Fi should now be resolved, and there will no longer be the need to agree to an “acceptable use” policy every 24 hours. Going forward, all personally owned devices will need to use the Public Wi-Fi, except that students will continue to use their log-in-protected UMMC Student Wi-Fi. We can’t stop the momentum for a more cyber-secure UMMC, but we promise to minimize the impact on users and change course when measures we implement just aren’t working.
I appreciate our DIS team and all they are doing to provide a productive and secure IT environment for our increasingly digital Medical Center. They’re an indispensable part of our progress toward A Healthier Mississippi.