Chancellor Encourages UAMS to ‘Mask Up;’ Leadership Provide Updates at Town Hall

By Amy Widner

More than 900 employees participated virtually and others were masked and socially distanced in the Fred W. Smith Auditorium for the event.

Chancellor Cam Patterson, M.D., MBA, unveiled a campaign for staff to help promote masks and social distancing on campus and off. Employees are encouraged to share photos online of themselves wearing masks with the hashtag #MaskUpUAMS. Participants will be automatically entered in drawings for UAMS swag.

“Anytime two people or more are together in public, we should be wearing masks,” Patterson said. “The reason why I wear a mask is to protect you and the reason why you wear a mask is to protect everyone around you. If we could get to 90-95% compliance with masking and social distancing in the state of Arkansas, we could reduce the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic by over 50%.”

Finances

Amanda George, vice chancellor for finance and administration and chief financial officer, shared information about finances that showed UAMS is rebounding but still has a ways to go.

Amanda George at mic

Amanda George, vice chancellor for finance and administration and chief financial officer, gives an update on UAMS’ finances.Bryan Clifton

In May, the latest figures available, UAMS Health lost $6 million, compared to losses of $18.7 million in April (which would have been $34.7 million in losses without CARES Act funding) and $16.7 million in March. Year-to-date losses through May are $18.7 million.

Clinical volume has improved but is still down compared to averages at the beginning of the year.

Patterson thanked those who have taken mandatory and voluntary furloughs and voluntarily reduced their pay. He said leadership will continue to do everything in their power to avoid staffing cuts.

“I think everyone who works at UAMS knows that many health care organizations around the state and nationally have had to go through furloughs and cuts,” Patterson said. “With everyone pitching in, we’ve been able to preserve the vast majority of positions here at UAMS, and our goal remains to continue to do that. Now, we can’t promise that we will never get to that point, but our intention is to keep Team UAMS intact.”

Back-to-School

Dr. Gardner at the mic

Stephanie Gardner, Pharm.D., Ed.D., provost, chief academic officer and chief strategy officer, talked about the plan for resuming in-person education in the fall.Bryan Clifton

Stephanie Gardner, Pharm.D., Ed.D., senior vice chancellor for academic affairs, talked about the plan for resuming in-person education in the fall. Some students have been on campus over the summer, but the largest group will return in mid-August. A committee with representation from Infection Control, Academic Affairs, the colleges and Academic Support Services has been meeting to establish the needed policies and processes.

UAMS has more than 70 academic programs, each with their individual needs, so many decisions are being made by the leadership of individual programs, Gardner said. The College of Public Health, for example, is going all-online in the fall, but the dental hygiene program needs to do the bulk of instruction in person.

Some campuswide procedures will apply to all:

  • Students will go through the campus entry screening processes
  • Teaching spaces are being assessed and clearly labeled for appropriate capacity and desk/seat spacing
  • On-campus activities will be prioritized for those where face-to-face formats are necessary, otherwise alternative instruction methods are encouraged
  • Processes will be in place for positive cases, quarantines, communication, contact tracing, and access to groceries and video lectures where possible for quarantined students.

Students and faculty will receive a semester’s supply of PPE at orientation. For those times when in-person classes are necessary, the committee has set up some guidelines, including:

  • Desks or seats at six feet apart
  • No eating in classrooms
  • Masks on during class
  • Daily professional deep cleaning in addition to spot cleaning by students of desks after individual use

“Undoubtedly, the fall semester of 2020 will be unlike any other in our 140-year history of the institution,” Gardner said. “In the spring, we showed that we could quickly adapt, and so I’m certain that once again, we will be able to provide high-quality instruction with the least amount of disruption possible and still ensure our students have a good outcome.”

Click here for more information on COVID-19 guidelines for students.

COVID-19 Case Projections

Dr. Williams speaking

Mark Williams, Ph.D., dean of the College of Public Health, talks about the college’s models for COVID-19 cases in the short and long term.Bryan Clifton

Mark Williams, Ph.D., dean of the College of Public Health, gave updates on the COVID-19 infection models developed by COPH faculty.

The 14-day forecast puts Arkansas at 40,000 active cases by July 28. Two different long-range models put Arkansas at more than 100,000 active cases around Nov. 24-26. At the mean – or average – estimated peak, there would be 2,591 people hospitalized, 777 in ICU and 543 on ventilators.

Williams emphasized that there is less certainty about the long-range models, and that all the models are based on the assumption that behavior remains the same.

Room shot

More than 900 people watched the town hall online.Bryan Clifton

“What the forecast demonstrates is that if all things remain the same, we will lose control of the virus. This is not because of hospitalizations,” Williams said, referring to the fact that some have noted that even at this projected peak, Arkansas would still have enough hospital beds statewide, “but because we will not be able to do the contact tracing needed to contain the virus if we truly hit 100,000 active cases in the state of Arkansas.”

Q&A

Leadership left more than half an hour to field employee questions, both in person and virtually, and covered several topics:

  • New screening process – A new screening process that involves giving employees and students a take-home thermometer that communicates with their smart device is in the works and is expected to roll out in mid-August.
  • More DHS hazard pay? – All funds have been distributed. Additional pay would be a state and national decision and nothing is currently in the works.
  • Work from Home – This is decided on a department-by-department basis, but Human Resources will be issuing more guidance soon. The chancellor anticipates work-from-home will continue to be an option in the long-term.
  • What would cause UAMS to stop doing elective surgeries? – The main issues would be capacity related to the number of COVID-19 patients in the hospital and available staff.
  • Quarantine – Leadership continue to monitor quarantine recommendations from the Arkansas Department of Health and for UAMS’ needs and these rules are subject to change. There are currently no quarantine guidelines for out-of-state travel. Leadership are considering guidelines for how asymptomatic individuals might be able to come back to work early before the standard 14 days is up, as has been done in some other countries, but there has been no final decision. UAMS has nearly 300 employees on home quarantine, and at some point, it becomes unsustainable to have so many staff out.
  • Reagents – UAMS is only at about 30% of its testing capacity because of the worldwide shortage of reagents. This continues to be an issue and will be for some time, but UAMS continues to look for solutions.
  • Drive-thru triage – Volume through the drive-thru triage has increased quite a bit in recent weeks, causing traffic disruptions on campus. Leadership anticipate it moving to another location, hopefully with indoor spaces to better protect staff from the elements. Pre-procedure testing is moving to the former Red Cross Building/Monroe Building (401 South Monroe St.) in the next week or two. Also, mobile testing across the state will resume soon after the Blue & You Foundation provided funding for an additional van.
  • What to do about non-compliance with masking or social distancing policies on campus – If a simple reminder doesn’t work or isn’t possible, contact your Human Resources representative or Employee Relations, who will work with their supervisor.
  • Face shields – They may be worn in addition to masks but are not a substitute for a mask.
  • Resident physicians caring for COVID-19 patients – Residents are participating in care for COVID-19 patients where appropriate, but students are avoiding direct contact with COVID-19 patients.
  • Flu shots – The normal flu shot policy will be in place for fall 2020.

A video of the Town Hall, including the question-and-answer session, is available on the UAMS intranet. This was the second COVID-19 town hall, and Patterson said he expects to continue the forum as a means of encouraging open dialog between staff and management as the pandemic continues. Other questions will be answered during his monthly videos or can be answered by emailing UAMSStrong@uams.edu.