April 17, 2023

Leaping into spring with a focus on wellness

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Spring is always an exciting time because it represents renewed opportunity and growth. As the post-pandemic transition continues, we have an opportunity to address issues the health care community has confronted since before COVID-19, but that were accelerated and exacerbated by the pandemic.

Wellness among our faculty, staff, and trainees continues to be one of the top issues we are working to address. As highlighted in the latest UAB Medicine Office of Wellness Pulse Survey results, the percentage of employees experiencing high distress has decreased a great deal since 2020, but more than half of employees still report feeling high distress and it remains an area of concern and focus.

The Pulse Survey also helped reveal actionable strategies for organizational improvements that can improve workplace satisfaction, including improvements to the Electronic Medical Record. The Office of Wellness recently shared a discussion with the Health System Information Services (HSIS) team around areas of concern revealed by the Pulse Survey and solutions that are being proposed or are already underway. These include easing redundant and excessive nursing documentation processes, managing the volume of patient portal messages, and addressing the number of systems employees must interact with to accomplish their work.

The Pulse Survey data also revealed that some employees may be experiencing signs and symptoms of trauma. In response, the Office of Wellness shared expertise from Megan Hays, Ph.D., about what comes after trauma. Her tips for promoting recovery can be helpful for anyone who may be experiencing lingering effects from trauma, including a self-screening tool to help determine if one’s symptoms are related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

I look forward to the results of UAB’s campus engagement survey, which will be summarized at an April 19 town hall. I’m hopeful they will show that the wellness measures and interventions we have implemented thus far are having positive effects in alleviating stress and burnout and improving work satisfaction.

Overcrowding at our hospital has been a significant challenge for some time, and since the pandemic has reached emergency levels in certain areas, especially in our emergency department, which has seen a 20 percent increase in patients over the last five years, with at least 25 percent of those patients requiring hospital admission. Earlier this month, news broke that Governor Kay Ivey has recommended a $50 million allocation for expansion of UAB Hospital’s emergency department. The recommendation came in response to urging by UAB President Ray Watts at a special meeting of the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees that was called specifically to address overcrowding at UAB Hospital.

Temporary measures to ease emergency department overcrowding were approved at the board meeting, including signing a 30-month lease on two mobile treatment units and allocating funds to renovate parts of the hospital lobby to create additional exam rooms and patient waiting areas. These temporary and, if approved, long-term expansion efforts will greatly impact our patient care capacities and make it easier for our providers to deliver the high quality of care that our patients deserve.

This month, I undertook a listening tour of our regional campuses in Tuscaloosa, Montgomery, and Huntsville. It was a chance to speak with regional deans, medical students, faculty, and staff, as well as affiliated hospital leadership, about what is working well and what we can help improve. These productive meetings raised a number of issues along with practical solutions that I believe can be implemented fairly quickly. Our regional campuses are an integral part of our mission and I look forward to more opportunities to strengthen these partnerships.

Finally, I am pleased to share that, after a national search, J. Victor Garcia-Martinez, Ph.D., has been named the chair of the UAB Department of Microbiology, effective August 1, 2023.

Dr. Garcia-Martinez currently serves as a professor of Medicine, Microbiology, and Immunology in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill School of Medicine. He is also an Oliver Smithies Investigator and director of the UNC International Center for the Advancement of Translational Science.

Dr. Garcia-Martinez’s outstanding track record in scientific excellence, education, academic leadership, extramural funding, and collaborative biomedical research will be central to growing and strengthening our Department of Microbiology, and I look forward to welcoming him to our school.