May 27, 2020, Briefing - Answers to Commonly Asked Questions
Questions submitted for this briefing include these topics:
- At-Risk Return to Campus
- Budget Reductions
- Nursing Rotations
- Patient Self-Quarantine Telemedicine Expansion and Availability
- Retirement Plan Changes
- Telemedicine Expansion and Availability
- Telemedicine Technology Increasing on Campus
- Tuition Reimbursement
- Vacation Accumulation
- Vaccine Availability
No employee should return to working on campus without approval of their supervisor, and employees who can perform their job responsibilities remotely should continue to do so. High-risk health care employees (those over age 65, in their third trimester of pregnancy, or with underlying health conditions) can voluntarily return to patient care by submitting a written request to their supervisor, or they may be temporarily reassigned (when possible) to duties that do not require direct patient contact. High-risk health care employees who are exposed to patients for no more than 10 minutes, and can remain at least six feet away, are safe to remain in the workforce. If your essential job functions do not require direct patient contact, you are not considered a “high-risk health care employee” and may be required to return to work on campus if you cannot work remotely.
As we have seen on a daily basis, the COVID-19 crisis has significantly impacted the overall economy. Texas will see a significant reduction in revenue due to low oil prices and reduced sales tax receipts. State leaders Governor Abbott, Lt. Governor Patrick, and Speaker Bonnen have requested a 5% reduction from all state agencies, but have exempted health-related institutions in recognition of work during the COVID response. While UT Southwestern was on track to meet our annual goals through the first half of the fiscal year, the projected loss of revenue from temporarily halting elective procedures, coupled with our commitment to avoid furloughs and any layoffs of our valued workforce, will drive a substantial loss for the current fiscal year. To mitigate these concerns, FY21 budget planning is incorporating cost-saving opportunities in all areas, including forgoing the annual merit plan, reductions through M&O and travel, and the delay of hiring for nonessential new and vacant positions. A healthy margin has been, and continues to be, essential to providing necessary resources for the infrastructure to support our educational, research, and health care missions.
UT Southwestern will take a limited number of students starting in August, for the fall semester. We are working with our nursing school partners to determine the number of students we can welcome through the end of the calendar year. Please continue to monitor your email for additional information and updates.
Patients self-report travel through pre-visit screening (via MyChart or phone call) and at check-in within the clinic. Any reports of travel are reviewed by clinic staff and escalated to the patient’s provider for review. Depending on the level of risk determined by the provider, patients may be required to self-quarantine for 14 days, particularly if they have had exposure to a person testing positive for COVID-19.
UT Southwestern Medical Center has not been notified of any changes being contemplated to the retirement plans at this time.
UT Southwestern is providing telemedicine consultation for transplant patients through our satellite clinics and for stroke care through our telestroke program. During this Public Health Emergency (PHE), state-line requirements were waived, which has allowed us to provide care outside the state of Texas. We are advocating for the relaxed state-line rules to stay in place after the PHE has passed. As we look to expand our virtual care strategy for the organization, we will assess opportunities to develop and/or expand our consult services virtually to the broader community.
As a part of the UT Southwestern planning process for new and/or renovated facilities, we have incorporated telehealth-specific rooms that are optimized for technology, including sound, lighting, and equipment.
UT Southwestern will continue to complete and pay any requests that have been previously approved before the COVID-19 event upon notification that the employee has met all the tuition reimbursement requirements. Any modifications to the tuition reimbursement programs will be communicated if there are changes in the future.
The vacation cap limits are based on Texas Government Statute 661.152 Entitlement to Annual Vacation Leave. To date, we have not heard that this statute has been changed to allow for additional carryover or the donation of vacation time because of the COVID-19 pandemic. We do recommend that managers and employees review their leave balances and their plan for using vacation time or their plan for roll over to sick leave.
As there is no approved vaccine, this is a difficult question to answer. All decisions regarding vaccinations of UT Southwestern employees, including availability, requirements, and cost, will be made based on recommendations and guidance from our Infectious Diseases and Occupational Health leadership and in accordance with Texas Health and Safety Code Chapter 224.