VC Notes - A weekly word from Dr. LouAnn Woodward
  VC Notes Archive Office of the Vice Chancellor
Friday, March 26, 2021

Five Questions

Good morning!

It’s the last Friday of the month, so today I’ll answer some of the questions submitted to the VC Notes inbox. But first, I’d like to speak about a pair of topics that should always be at the front of our minds: kindness and respect. 

It’s so important that we make a purposeful effort each day to respect and be kind to everyone we come in contact with – regardless whether they look like we do, go to the same church we do, vote like we do, believe in the same things we do, root for the same team we do, and on and on. Our differences shouldn’t divide us, but show proof that we are best when we are together, providing input and opinions from different vantage points. Not everyone sees the world through our eyes, and that can be a good thing.

We must do all we can to eradicate the hate and violence shown at times toward certain groups for one reason or another. We should respect everyone, despite our differences, and especially go out of our way to show kindness to those who may have historically been singled out by some for ill intent. Let’s live by the Golden Rule – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – and we will find ourselves living in a much more harmonious and pleasant world. And please remember, we have a zero-tolerance workplace violence policy (called the Disruptive Behavior Policy in the Document Center) that covers threatening actions and words. It’s vital that each of us feels safe when we come to work. That is the environment we should demand as an organization and as colleagues.

Now, on to your submissions.

Just as a reminder, I read all of your questions and comments and enjoy hearing from you. I’m not able to respond to them all in this space, but I pass the rest along to senior administrators for their review and possible action. Please keep your questions and comments coming!

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Q:  I have first-hand witnessed cars driving around stopped buses and coming very close to hitting pedestrians. Can we have stop signs such as school buses have installed on the UMMC buses?

A:  Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I have good news to share!

VC_Mar_26_Shuttle_stopWhen I presented your question to Facilities Services, the department that manages the relationship with our shuttle services vendor, they put in a call to the vendor about this issue. Groome Transportation representatives responded positively and said they will soon install an illuminated stop sign on the back of every shuttle we use. The Groome representatives indicated in their experience, this safety measure is more effective than the swing-out sign. Drivers behind the bus will clearly be able to see that the bus is stopped for the loading or unloading of passengers. In addition, members of the UMMC Police Department will keep watch for violators who drive around a stopped shuttle in service.

Also, the new covered shuttle stop located just south of the front entrance to University Hospital is now in service. Not only will this protect passengers during inclement weather, but the street curb was cut out to allow the shuttles to pull out of traffic to load and unload. That can be a busy section of campus and the goal for this new shuttle stop is to help keep you dry and traffic flowing. 

Q:  I just wanted to say how incredibly thankful I am that Hospital Administration has looked out for its staff and patients during the ice storm and during the predicted severe weather event on 3/17/21. I've heard from nurses who have been here for 20+ years that letting staff go home early or delay coming in due to weather would not have happened in the past. This behavior makes me feel as if leadership is actually listening to us and cares about our safety. Thank you!

A:  I, too, have been here long enough to see how much “times have changed” from the standpoint of an increasing number of policies, initiatives and actions geared toward employee safety and overall job satisfaction. You spend a significant portion of your week at your job and you should feel valued when you arrive for work. Whenever and wherever possible, we will always put your safety and our patient’s health at the top of the list when making decisions.

Other recent efforts implemented to improve life as a UMMC employee include:

  • A Remote Working Policy that offers flexibility to roles that are able to complete assigned work from home
  • Forty hours of administrative leave to help defray ability-to-work disruptions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Improved support and accommodations for lactating mothers
  • Availability of additional mental health-support programs to help employees cope with the effects of the pandemic
  • Institution of the Disruptive Behavior Policy referenced earlier to foster a safer working environment
  • Formation of an Office of Well-being as a driving force for “quality of life” improvements for employees, including physical, emotional, social and financial health and wellness

I really appreciate you sending in this comment. A high level of commitment and dedication to work at an academic medical center is necessary – and this is certainly true for those who have taken an oath to put the well-being of others before themselves. It’s important to be clear that every single employee – and student and volunteer – is valued by this organization and its leaders. I appreciate you!

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Q:  What efforts are being taken to retain staff or recruit new staff members? After everything that bedside staff has worked through over the last year, we are now being told staffing doesn’t allow for personal leave requests to be granted, which only worsens the burnout and moral injury of the bedside staff, which leads to additional resignations. What is this organization doing or planning to do to be competitive in this current staffing shortage and how does the organization plan to retain experienced staff?

A:  Maintaining the level of clinical employees, especially those in nursing and nursing-services positions, needed to fully staff a large academic medical center has historically been a constant challenge. And we’re not alone in this: Hospitals everywhere are fighting to attract and retain top employees.

To provide a timely example, we currently have well over 100 vacant RN positions across the organization.

We are always actively taking steps to fill vacancies and keep current staff from leaving. Temporary relief workers, incentives for current staff to fill open holes, managers taking on more bedside-care roles, ongoing market analyses, and rewards and recognitions are all initiatives clinical leadership use to help – but none of them are “magic bullets.” This is something that requires a whole host of solutions.

Last week’s announcement of the Medical Center’s new staffing partner, Healthier Mississippi People, is a huge step toward easing our staffing challenges. The relationship with HMP is our newest tool to help identify high-quality and interested applicants for open positions in our patient-care areas and to make a compensation and benefit package available that will be enticing enough for some employees we’ve not been able to attract in the past. It will help improve our retention rates, especially in roles with historically high turnover. I look forward to seeing the positive impact HMP will have on our staffing levels. Nursing and nursing services employees who want a different compensation and benefits package from what UMMC now offers will have that option. More information on our engagement with HMP can be found in the announcement memo, but if you need additional details, check with your manager or watch a replay of the virtual Town Hall Meeting I hosted yesterday, which can be found here.

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Q: Due to the inclement weather during the week of Feb. 15-19, a lot of non-direct-patient care employees were asked to stay home. Why are we having to use our own personal time when the inclement weather was out of our control? What if all you had was 40 hours of personal time and you have a child or mother that may get sick next week and you have to take off, but with no personal time, how can we do that? Will we be compensated back the time we had to use due to the weather keeping us from coming to work? Will there be a better plan in place in case we have another inclement day or days that will cause us to miss work? It’s just not fair that we are having to use our own personal time for something we were not able to control.

A:  That week was like few I can remember for the level and length of disruptions we experienced. We’ve had moments when things – especially travel – were dicey, but rarely has that ever lasted for nearly a full week. The post-Hurricane Katrina days certainly fit into that category.

We went into the weekend before the ice storm knowing there was the potential for major operational disruptions and we started planning accordingly. Come Sunday, we knew that conditions were going to be unsafe for normal travel and decided it would be best to limit the number of employees who would be on the roads. The decision was made that, wherever it was operationally possible, individuals should not come to campus. But, of course, patient care tops the list of services we must always provide, so employees involved in or needed for continued clinical operations had to maintain their usual schedules or ones their respective managers had developed especially for that week. For the most part, employees in positions asked not to come in to the office had already established a remote work arrangement and continued to fulfill their duties at home. Those employees who were unable to complete their work at home had to either put in for personal leave or request to be uncompensated for those days. Because we are a health care provider, where a significant portion of our business must be maintained at all times, it’s essential we have uniform implementation of policies.

As UMMC employees, we receive a generous amount of paid time off benefits that are well above the industry standard – as much as three weeks or more of leave above what most employers provide. This time – including medical leave and an annual floating holiday – is provided for employees to use as needed, but also whenever factors beyond their control affect their ability to do their work. On top of this leave, UMMC employees receive 72 hours of pay annually for holidays. 

While it was certainly unusual – really, unprecedented – that some employees were unable to do their work remotely or in their offices for nearly a full week, it is important that each of us understands this type of emergency can occur and manage our leave time accordingly to cover this type of event.

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Q: Many thanks for highlighting UMMC's animal care professionals in the VC Notes for Friday, March 19, 2021. We made certain all members of the Center for Comparative Research saw the recognition. Great affirmation of their contribution to the research mission. They are all standing a little taller today!

A:  Although it is not often talked about publicly, our animal research program is certainly a vital component of our discovery mission area. This group of highly-trained professionals, led by Dr. Andrew Grady, assists many principal investigators across the Medical Center on projects that rely on animal subjects. Any praise heaped on this fully accredited program is warranted and probably not done nearly enough. The animals (typically numbering about 14,000!) are the stars of the show, but their human colleagues regularly go above and beyond to make this service available to UMMC researchers and ensure the labs and facilities where the animals reside are always in tip-top shape. 

Take, for example, two recent emergency events on campus, the ice storm and a power outage on the north side of campus. In each of these cases, Dr. Grady and his staff – along with the assistance of UMMC Facilities Services – went to great lengths to make sure the animals in their care were properly managed and in a safe environment. Making emergency arrangements for or relocating the number and types of animals important to our programs can be a massive undertaking. We’re lucky we have this group of skilled, experienced, caring professionals to handle this important resource.

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Before I sign off today, I want to mention that upcoming Tuesday, March 30, is National Doctors’ Day, when we recognize physicians who care for the needs of others daily with compassion and dedication. Last year on this day, we had just entered what would become - and still is - an epic health care battle that may have waned a bit, but is certainly not over. Our physicians typically lead teams of various professionals intent on doing one thing – healing Mississippians. To my physician colleagues whose white coats display the UMMC or Children’s of Mississippi logo, thank you! You truly embody what it means to be #UMMCStrong and you are a crucial part of our goal to foster A Healthier Mississippi.

Signed, Lou Ann Woodward, M.D.

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