A season of change

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

“Change is the only constant in life.” When the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said this, he could easily have been thinking of 2020. Calling these past months “a season of change” would be putting it mildly. From moving all of our academic classes online, to having much of our staff working from home, to getting our temperatures checked before entering a building, this year has brought upheaval we never expected. If we’re honest, much of it has been less than pleasant. 2021 will be filled with change, as well. But we’re looking forward to these transformations – including The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler (UTHSCT) becoming part of The University of Texas at Tyler – with great anticipation. While December is a month of celebration, this year it’s also a month of preparation as Dr. Calhoun readies himself to assume the office of president of UT Tyler, as we welcome new leadership to the helm of UT Health Science Center, and as we continue the process of bringing a medical school to East Texas. I hope you’ll join me in celebrating all that we’ve accomplished, in the face of so many challenges in 2020, as we look forward with excitement to all that 2021 has in store for us.

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 and 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.

    • 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.


American Red Cross certifications transition

UT Health East Texas has transitioned Basic Life Support, Advanced Life Support and Pediatric Advanced Life Support (BLS/ALS/PALS) certifications from the American Heart Association (AHA) to the American Red Cross. Caregivers will be assigned the online portion in the UT Health East Texas Division Training Portal if their AHA card is expiring or if they need to be enrolled in a new course. Following completion of the online course, caregivers will need to register for an available skills check-off session. Complete instructions will be emailed to employees and their managers at the time of assignment including login information and registration steps. Click the links for a program overview and frequently asked questions about the program. With this new change, a separate registration form will not need to be submitted to the Medical Education department. Please contact Human Resources with any questions.

Decorate holiday wreaths for local community service organizations – TODAY

The Service Excellence Team (SET) is encouraging departments to participate in decorating holiday wreaths for local community service organizations to display during the holiday season. Wreaths can be picked up in the gift shop TODAY. Wreaths may reflect the identity of your department, although that’s not required. The decorated wreaths are due back to the gift shop by December 9 at 4 p.m. The wreaths will be displayed in the piano lobby on December 10. Then, on December 11, the decorated wreaths will be sanitized and taken to community service organizations such as Veterans Assisted Living, East Texas Crisis Center, East Texas Food Bank and Bethesda Clinic for display during the holiday season. SET reserves the right to refuse decorated wreaths due to inappropriate meaning, wording, decorations, etc.

Virtual Walk with a Doc Virtual – December 7

Join Crystal Frazier, PsyD, MPA, as she discusses “Understanding Depression” in the upcoming virtual edition of Walk with a Doc from UTHSCT. As the video series continues, you’re encouraged to visit the Camp Fannin Walking Trail, while maintaining social distancing guidelines. This Walk with a Doc video presentation will be posted on our Walk with a Doc web page and on all of our social media channels December 7 at 11 a.m.

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. Click this link to join the webinar.


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. Click the link for additional information, including how to enroll.

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 hereEarly 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.