April 8, 2020, Briefing - Answers to Commonly Asked Questions

Questions submitted for this briefing include these topics:

At-risk Employees and Emergency Paid Leave

As we learn more about COVD-19, we know that certain groups are at higher risk for this severe, life-threatening disease. We want to do everything possible to ensure the health and safety of our workforce. To that end, employees who are in those high-risk groups must refrain from further patient contact and be reassigned to other critical roles. In addition, UT Southwestern Human Resources worked with all managers to determine which employees were eligible to receive emergency leave based on policy EMP-258. By state law and UT Southwestern policy, paid emergency leave must be limited. Senior leaders and operations directors are reviewing all employees on emergency leave related to COVID-19 in order to develop plans moving forward. If employees have additional questions regarding work duties or leave options, we encourage them to speak with their immediate supervisor.

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Those wishing to contribute can make a financial contribution to our COVID-19 Provider Assistance Fund, which will help provide for meals, child care, and other needs as they arise. Donations of meals and PPE are being coordinated through our Office of Development and Alumni Relations. They can be reached by email at Email or by phone at 214-648-8988.

An online donation form is available for community members wishing to make a financial contribution to support our frontline care providers, patient care, and COVID-19 research efforts.

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Financial Impact to UT Southwestern

As with all organizations during this time, we are unsure what lasting effects the shutdown will have on our institution – economic and otherwise. UT Southwestern is committed to balancing support for our valued employees with our fiduciary and compliance requirements as an institution of higher education and an agency of the state of Texas. Currently, leaders from across the institution are working to identify how this unprecedented situation will affect us and what systems will need to be put in place to address our challenges.

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As with all organizations during this time, we are unsure what lasting effects the economic shutdown will have on our institution. UT Southwestern is committed to balancing support for our valued employees with our fiduciary and compliance requirements as an institution of higher education and an agency of the state of Texas. Currently, leaders from across the institution, including Human Resources, Employee Relations, and Operations, are working to identify how this economic situation will affect us and what systems will need to be put in place to address our challenges. Employees are encouraged to speak with their immediate supervisors regarding any concerns about job duties, schedule needs, and leave options.

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Masking Policies and Sterilization

Universal Masking and Reutilization

For the safety of all staff and patients, effective Monday, April 6, the EOC and institutional leadership are requiring all hospital and ambulatory employees to wear masks, including those who are not in direct patient care roles. At the end of the day, masks should be placed in a collection site available at the entrances of the hospitals and clinic buildings for reprocessing. While we currently have adequate PPE – including masks – to support our expanded masking protocols, we want to be prepared for any supply chain vulnerabilities that could impact our ability to acquire PPE in the future. All masks will be sterilized in accordance with guidelines from the CDC.

Sterilization of Masks

While several different approaches have been explored, a proven technique involves sterilizing masks with hydrogen peroxide which has been verified to kill 99.9999% (6 logs) of pathogens. While many of you have been concerned that you will be wearing someone else’s mask, please rest assured that we will be collecting your mask, sterilizing it, and then returning it to you. Masks will not be gathered in bulk and redistributed to the wrong person. Your mask will be placed in a bag with your name, department, and/or unit on it, sterilized, and then returned to you for subsequent use. Again, no one will receive someone else’s mask. We ask that you not bring masks from home, as we have no way of validating the efficacy or cleanliness of masks brought in from the outside.

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Sending Supplies & Medical Equipment to Other Regions

Our infectious disease experts, including Dr. Trish Perl, are constantly evaluating predictive models regarding the spread of infection and anticipated surge in North Texas. As these models are changing daily – both on a local and federal level – it is difficult to pinpoint a projected timeframe for a peak. Every day provides new information that can adjust these models. With this ever-changing landscape, we are focusing our efforts on preserving our supplies, medical equipment, and PPE for an eventual surge in cases.

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Staff Returning to Work After COVID-19 Infection

For the privacy of all staff members, all decisions based on an employee’s return to work are based on the individual’s specific case and recommendations from his or her treating physicians in accordance with Occupational Health protocols

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Staffing and Surge Plans

Health System Affairs and the Emergency Operations Center are addressing staffing plans and clinical operations based on potential models. As the situation progresses, please continue to monitor the COVID-19 website and your email. If you have direct questions regarding your work hours or duties, we recommend you speak with your supervisor.

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Testing and Numbers

Positive Staff Numbers

Although we understand the need for information during this time, we ask everyone to respect the privacy of individuals who come to our campus for care – including our staff members. As mentioned during last week’s briefing, current numbers of COVID-19 cases at Clements University Hospital (CUH) will now be included in each day’s EOC message. Case data for the state of Texas will also be shared every Wednesday. We will not be releasing employee-specific data. If you are looking for information about COVID-related infections, data is being shared through the Dallas County Health and Human Services website.

Testing Capacity

In response to the needs of our UT Southwestern patient and provider community, we have expanded our capabilities for COVID-19 testing. We have opened a COVID-19 Drive-Up Specimen Collection Site at Visitor Parking Lot No. 18 at the Paul M. Bass Administrative and Clinical Center. It’s open 7 days a week, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Patients who have scheduled appointments for testing are being seen at CUH. If you feel you have been exposed, please visit the Occupational Health webpage for more information.

Testing Procedure

Currently, UT Southwestern is using testing that has been approved by the FDA for COVID-19. To date, the FDA has issued 20 emergency use authorizations for diagnostic tests, and any test approved has been determined to provide accurate and reliable results. As new tests are approved, including the new rapid test, we will continuously re-evaluate testing methods and needs. 

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Universal Temperature Screening

Effective April 6, EOC and institutional leadership have implemented temperature screenings of all patients, employees, and visitors at CUH, Zale Lipshy Pavilion, and all ambulatory centers. We know that fever is one of the symptoms of infection, and temperature checks are yet another way for us to identify possible COVID-19 patients or staff early and minimize the spread of illness. The EOC has worked with our infection prevention experts to choose thermometers with the greatest accuracy, and protocols have been put in place for when employees or visitors have an elevated temperature.

We know that new processes and procedures have a learning curve, and we ask that all UTSW members be patient as we implement these critical changes. Institutional leadership will continue to re-evaluate and follow best industry practices and CDC recommendations. If you have any additional concerns, we ask that you speak to your immediate supervisor, who can escalate them the proper level.

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Virus Strains

As this novel virus is new to our populations, researchers are investigating and analyzing its properties and will release testing data when available. Please continue to monitor the COVID-19 website to follow the latest news.

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Visitor Policy

Currently, we are restricting the number of visitors per patient to one. Additionally, in order to protect the health of our children, those under age 12 are not allowed to visit. All visitors entering CUH, Zale Lipshy Pavilion, or our ambulatory center will have a forehead thermometer scan. Patients with an elevated reading will not be allowed in the building and will be referred to their primary care physician for further evaluation.

In addition, other screening criteria include asking patients and visitors if they have experienced any respiratory symptoms – fever, shortness of breath, or a cough – or traveled outside of Texas within the last 14 days. Patients who are being screened for COVID-19 or who have already tested positive are not allowed any visitors.

We are recommending that all patients take advantage of our virtual technology, including Skype, to stay connected to loved ones, but our visitor policy and visitor screening processes are under constant review.

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Listen to the Full Briefing