Happy, socially-distant holidays

Important Stuff Joe Knows - What's going on at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler

Nobody wants to play the part of Scrooge this time of year, and COVID-19 is likely the last thing you want to think about as the holidays approach. But as healthcare providers and educators, we have to set the example by encouraging and, when possible, requiring responsible behavior. In addition to wearing masks, engaging in social distancing and frequent hand-washing, that means not sponsoring or approving large gatherings, parties or celebration dinners at our facilities during the holiday season. Therefore, conference and meeting rooms at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler (UTHSCT) are not to be reserved or used for holiday celebrations. We’re asking everyone to be accountable and enforce the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and room occupancy ratios assigned by Occupational Health. There’s important new information about the current surge in cases in our region in the “COVID-19 Updates” section below. Please take the time to read it. Stay safe!

COVID-19 Updates

Current information and safety protocols 

For the past two weeks, there has been a significant surge of COVID-19 cases in East Texas in general and, specifically, among healthcare providers. It appears that most caregivers infected with COVID-19 were exposed in the community or at work in common areas such as break rooms, dining areas, etc. We also are beginning to see cases of influenza in our region. The following safety protocols and reminders will help reduce the spread of both COVID-19 and influenza.

    • Airborne viruses spread easily. Please remain vigilant both at and away from work.
    • Exposing yourself to these viruses while in public not only puts your health at risk, but it’s also a threat to your loved ones and coworkers.
    • It’s safest to assume everyone you encounter – in the community and at work – is an asymptomatic carrier of COVID-19, the flu or both.
    • When you are at work, it is imperative to follow masking and social distancing policies, especially in shared spaces such as break rooms.
    • If symptoms appear stay home, inform your supervisor and wait to hear from Occupational Health.
    • Do not come to work if you are not feeling well. We cannot afford to risk spreading illness of any kind in our workplace.
    • Sick employees should communicate with their supervisor and Human Resources regarding our sick leave policy.

COVID-related employee health issues

We are still in an active pandemic, and now more than ever, proper use of personal protective equipment is imperative. This means that masks are to be worn at all times when interacting with patients or other employees. Additionally, eye protection should be worn with all patient encounters that are within six feet. Breakrooms and the cafeteria are no exception. This is a strong reminder that social distancing of more than six feet must be maintained when unmasked and eating in these settings. Please consider alternatives such as eating in a closed office work space or eating on your own outside.

    • Employees returning to work after time off for travel, illness or known/suspected exposure to COVID-19 must complete the Return-to-Work (RTW) Screening Questionnaire (https://www.uthct.edu/rtwsqand receive approval from the Occupational Health Department before coming back on campus.
    • Employees who have been directed to return to campus after exclusively working remotely are also required to complete the questionnaire and receive approval from the Occupational Health department before coming back on campus.
    • Your Return-to-Work Screening Questionnaire must be completed no later than 3 p.m. the day before your intended return to work. If return to work is on Sunday or Monday, it must be completed by no later than 3pm the Friday before. Occupational Health will make determinations on Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you develop symptoms over the weekend, please stay home and contact Occupational Health on Monday.
    • Occupational Health must be notified immediately if an employee has been tested for COVID-19 and once results have been received, so that Occupational Health can give the employee guidance about safely returning to work. You must stay home from work if you are sick and/or have been tested and awaiting results. Filling out the RTW survey is the preferred method of contact with Occupational Health about these issues. Should you need to clarify anything further, please email Occ Health at occhealth@nulluthct.edu.
    • Supervisors may not authorize employees who have taken time off or those who have been working remotely to return to campus without approval from Occupational Health. We are closely tracking information related to COVID-19 and need to be promptly made aware of any concerns.

Travel and COVID-19

Please remember that – despite the phased reopening by the State of Texas – we are still in a critical phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. Physical distancing continues to be recommended to decrease spread of this illness. Following these safe practices from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is strongly advised: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/travel-in-the-us.html.

    • Business travel on behalf of UTHSCT continues to be suspended except under extraordinary circumstances.
    • Additionally, personal travel outside our region (defined as more than 125-150 miles) continues to be discouraged. Travel by common carrier (public airlines, buses, trains, etc.) is especially problematic. If you must travel for personal reasons, use of a personal vehicle is preferred due to the inability to practice social distancing on common carriers.
    • Occupational Health cannot make return-to-work decisions before you travel. If you choose to travel, you may be subject to quarantine upon your return.


Cook named medical director of unified clinical research department

Alan Cook, MD, has assumed the role of medical director of clinical research at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler. In this role, Dr. Cook will develop and oversee a unified clinical research department for UT Health Science Center and UT Health East Texas. A huge advancement combining all division resources will enable us to build a robust clinical research department committed to growth and innovation. Please congratulate Dr. Cook on being named to this extremely important position.

CAPSA-ET webinar TODAY at noon

The Community-Academic Partnership for Substance Abuse (CAPSA-ET) will present a lunch and learn webinar TODAY, November 24, at noon. Toyia Landreneaux, LVN, program director from Crossroads Treatment Center, will present a talk on “MAT Therapy.” To attend the event click this link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89117294920?pwd=QnVqbHQ0R3pyVEJibDRJRXV3amREQT09.

Thanksgiving meal voucher pickup, TODAY from noon until 4 p.m.

Each employee will receive a “thank you” meal voucher from the Blue Star Café to cover the cost of one meal of your choice, at your convenience when you return to campus in lieu of our normal Thanksgiving meal. Department leaders have one, final opportunity to pick up the meal vouchers for their teams TODAY, November 24, from noon until 4 p.m., in the Ornelas Amphitheater lobby.

Re-Think Work: Delivering Value, Re-building Your Toolbox (Faculty and Professional Development Series event), December 10 

The latest Faculty and Professional Development session entitled “Re-Think Work: Delivering Value, Re-building Your Toolbox in Times of Complexity.” This session will be presented by Drs. Thomas Maryon, Michele Bosworth, Robert Kaiser of The University of Texas at Dallas and Frank Webster of Blue Cross Blue Shield on Thursday, December 10, from noon to 1 p.m. Objectives include enhancing your understanding of “how we think,” learning how to utilize adaptive thinking and influence and boosting your awareness of the use of agile management in healthcare. To join the webinar, visit: https://teams.microsoft.com/l/meetup-join/19%3ameeting_ZDkxYzBkOGMtMjQyNi00MGU1LTgyNjctNTZkOWFkNWNkNTk5%40thread.v2/0?context=%7b%22Tid%22%3a%225f5c2410-cd60-4dbe-b97e-3c9c38140272%22%2c%22Oid%22%3a%22611e95f9-9940-4419-b997-940cc5d114f9%22%7d.

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month

Thank you to those who attended our Walk Out Lung Cancer, Great American Smokeout and Grand Rounds events last week. We hope you took away some facts and strategies to bring awareness to yourself and others about lung cancer. Remember, if you or someone you know needs:

    • Help to quit smoking, contact Tonny Williams at 903-877-1477.
    • Maternal tobacco cessation services, contact Sarah Tison Malone at 903-877-1430.
    • Lung cancer screening, contact Misty Lewis at 903-877-7369.


Identity protection services available

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas (BCBSTX) offers identity protection services to UT Select and UT Connect medical plan members. Identity protection services are provided at no cost to the medical plan members. Benefits available through this plan include credit monitoring, fraud resolution, identity theft insurance for adults and a selection of services for minor children. For additional information, including how to enroll, visit: https://www.utsystem.edu/offices/employee-benefits/resources/identity-protection-services.

Virtual appointments with UT retirement vendors

UT retirement vendors are not currently allowed to come on campus for face-to-face meetings with employees. But they are available for virtual appointments. Check availability and schedule appointments using the links for each vendor company below.

Submit news and events

Announcements about news and events for the weekly newsletter must be submitted by 5:00 p.m. on the Friday before the item is to appear in the following Tuesday’s newsletter. Submit announcements here: https://www.myuthealthnews.org/submit-announcementEarly submissions are always welcome!

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Important Stuff Joe Knows is a weekly newsletter published by Joseph Woelkers, EVP & COO of The UT Health Science Center at Tyler, stuffjoeknows@nulluthct.eduEmails to this address will not receive a personal response.