VC Notes Archive Office of the Vice Chancellor
Friday, October 6, 2017

I Hear You, I’m With You

Good morning!

Today I originally planned to focus on the results of our Employee Engagement Survey. I am so proud we recorded an 81 percent participation rate – well above the national average and higher than last year’s rate. I’m also happy that the collective voice of our workforce, your voice, can be heard loud and clear in the survey: the pride the vast majority of you feel working at UMMC, for example, but also the ways in which some of you feel the organization could do a better job in supporting you.

Many groups have started breaking down the survey and setting out to work on improvements. I’ll talk more about all that next week.

Instead, I feel it’s important to discuss an article that appeared in yesterday’s newspaper. The story focused on the number of pediatric faculty who have left the institution.  Despite my providing the broader picture to the reporter, the story presented the information from a limited perspective. So let me provide a little context on our pediatric faculty turnover.

vc_peds_ummc.jpgPediatrics has been in a major growth phase during the last four years, with nearly a 50 percent increase in total faculty. That growth has slowed recently, in part because we have reached full capacity (and then some) of our facilities. During the course of five years, the department has lost some faculty each year, but each year the number of new faculty hired has been greater than the number who left, resulting in a net gain. Over these last five years the loss of pediatric faculty due to normal turnover has averaged 11 per year, which I would think is around the national norm for departments of comparable size. From July 1, 2016 to the present, we have lost 22 pediatric faculty; but we added 27 faculty during the same period, a net gain of 5.

Still, there have been 10 departures since the start of the new fiscal year in July, which is concerning to me. Any time we lose experienced colleagues we value who are delivering vital care to our neediest patients, it is concerning.

Faculty leave for many reasons, and often a combination of reasons. They leave because they retire. They leave because they have wonderful job opportunities elsewhere. They leave because of family or other personal reasons. Faculty also leave because they are dissatisfied. 

I know our pediatrics faculty have experienced significant frustration of late from two main sources – the recent financial challenges we faced and the frustrations of working in outdated and undersized facilities.

As for the unexpected revenue decreases we experienced last spring, I charged each department head with developing his or her own plan to reach our overall target of saving $24 million in just three months. I asked them to identify either additional revenue or reductions in expenses to meet the targets, but to avoid negatively impacting the patient experience or academic integrity. Finally, I asked department heads to look at non-labor expenses first (contracts, commodities, travel, etc.), but if labor cuts had to be part of their solution, to consider productivity and performance. A handful of leaders, including in pediatrics, chose to implement temporary faculty salary cuts as a means to make these budget adjustments. I expressed concern about even temporary salary reductions because of the potential long-term negative effect on morale.

But, in the end, I signed off on the plan for pediatrics, so I bear ultimate responsibility. Part of my responsibility is that I sometimes have to make hard decisions that leave nobody happy. That is the reality of the job.

Much work has been done and much is still underway to protect us from unexpected financial challenges such as those we experienced last year. Similarly, much work has been done and much is still underway toward progress for our Children’s expansion. I am inspired by our committed development staff and our Children’s campaign committee – we are more than halfway toward our $100 million goal and ahead of our internal timeline.

We can’t get bogged down in “yesterday’s news.”  My focus, at the moment, is not on the faculty who have left, but on the ones who remain. Every day I hear reports of their achievements, most of which never make it into the newspaper. Every day they are working hard to be sure, in fact, our patients are being cared for in an excellent manner.

Like Dr. Brad Ingram, who is on the verge of starting a clinical trial to treat refractory epilepsy in a select group of patients with a novel, marijuana-derived drug developed by the National Center for Natural Products Research at Ole Miss.

And like Dr. Brian Kogon, who joined our congenital heart surgery program in February and has performed four pediatric heart transplants in the last six months, a record for us. This program is vitally important to UMMC and the families we serve all across Mississippi. We will continue to invest in this program to be sure no Mississippi child has to leave our state for pediatric heart surgery.

And like Dr. Susan Buttross and Dr. David Elkin, who are leading a broad-based effort to greatly expand screening for developmental delays in Mississippi preschoolers. Supported by a $10 million federal grant, their work will change the future for many of these children.

And like Dr. Renate Savich, who’s working with an interdisciplinary team to reduce the state’s perennially high rates of prematurity, infant mortality, and pregnancy-related mortality.

And like Dr. Phyllis Bishop and Dr. Lisa Didion, who have helped put Children’s in the vanguard of our push for clinical quality and status as a high-reliability organization.

And like the team of faculty and staff who, with their obstetrics-gynecology counterparts, just won the “Baby-Friendly” designation for all the things we do to encourage breastfeeding in young mothers.

And like the many other pediatricians – Dr. Will Sorey, Dr. Benji Dillard, Dr. Jeff Crout spring to mind; there are many others -- who work day in and day out without much fanfare to care for our patients, serve as role models and mentors to our students and residents, and constantly think about how to get our state out of last place in health status.

These colleagues are changing lives and, in many cases, saving them, if not literally, then figuratively. They have my respect and admiration.

Finally, I’ll mention how much confidence I have in the department’s interim chair, Dr. Mary Taylor. She is a strong, passionate, inspirational and committed leader who is already a difference-maker for the department and a great partner to Children’s CEO Dr. Guy Giesecke.

So my message today is this: I hear you. I’m with you. We are in this together, fighting for a better UMMC and A Healthier Mississippi.

Follow me on Twitter @LAWoodwardMD