UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, MD, at an April 29 virtual all-campus forum, shared his optimism for UNMC and the many ongoing achievements, and at the same time, acknowledged the "heaviness" many of us may be feeling after more than a year with the SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 pandemic.
While news is trending positively, in terms of local transmission rate, the chancellor urged each of us to be mindful of one another and to maintain our vigilance.
"The medical center is a large family of people who care for each other," Dr. Gold said. "We must recognize when others in our family are in pain, and try very, very hard to be proactive and support each other in times of need."
Dr. Gold was joined on the Zoom call by Dele Davies, MD, senior vice chancellor for academic affairs; Ted Cieslak, MD, interim executive director for health security; and Aileen Warren, associate vice chancellor for human resources.
Dr. Cieslak noted that vaccination rates, on UNMC's campuses, "are some of the most enviable in the world."
He continued, "We should be north of 90 percent. No other university has done that well."
But, while UNMC has effectively achieved herd immunity, our world, our nation, and our local community, have not.
"We are not anywhere near declaring victory," Dr. Gold said.
But, things will continue to gradually open up on campus in a "scientifically based and data-driven" fashion. That includes in-person commencement and convocations, which will be conducted with what Dr. Cieslak calls a "Swiss cheese approach to safety," including continued nonpharmaceutical interventions.
Dr. Davies reported that enrollment for fall likely will be up as usual, including a significant increase in students studying public health and other health professions. While much still depends on greater community metrics, Dr. Davies expects a full campus reopening to a "new normal."
"Not the same," he said. Some of the positive things learned during the pandemic will be adopted for good, including hybrid classes where appropriate.
Speaking of hybrid returns to campus, Dr. Gold said that when it comes to continuing to work remotely, or some combination of remote and office work, "We have taken a position of maximum flexibility."
Warren urged managers and employees to have a "rich conversation" in order to meet the needs of both departments and individuals. HR is working with leadership, as well as individual employees, on how to have these conversations.
Dr. Gold thanked and congratulated each member of the UNMC community for the medical center's continued growth and success, even in the face of a pandemic. He also congratulated all of our graduating students who will earn their degrees in the following week.
"We are the sum of all of our work together," the chancellor said.
The forum also touched on:
- The University of Nebraska, including UNMC, has adopted a policy on recognizing the use of chosen names and gender identity;
- Work continues on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts, including an AAPI panel discussion May 5;
- The governor has signed into law NU budget requests, including an estimated $800 million in deferred maintenance;
- UNMC is working with vaccine manufacturers, which are developing vaccine booster shots, Dr. Gold said;
- The number of students utilizing campus counseling services is up, Dr. Gold said: "The emotional tolls of this pandemic and other existential factors that are so painful have had a direct impact on our students, and our faculty and staff."
- Dr. Gold urged the community to incorporate the arts and humanities into their wellness regimen. The chancellor noted that he was particularly moved by the work of artist Samuel Bak;
- Dr. Gold steps down in his role of chancellor of the University of Nebraska at Omaha June 30, a transition he calls "bittersweet." On May 1, the NU Board of Regents voted to name Joanne Li, PhD, the new UNO chancellor. In addition to his UNMC chancellor duties, Dr. Gold will serve as executive vice president and provost of the NU system beginning in July.