May 1, 2018
Recently, Chancellor Sam Hawgood gave us the great news that, “…Congress passed, and the President signed into law, an annual funding bill that included a $3 billion increase in NIH research funding, as well as significant increases to the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and other important federal research programs.” He also explained that UCSF played a significant role in this decision, and I hope you will take a moment to appreciate our good fortune in things having turned out a lot better than what the administration in D.C. was pushing for a year ago (major cuts in the NIH budget, a 10% cap on indirect costs – which would have been devastating to research universities throughout the country, and more).
In an effort to keep the momentum going, two weeks ago on April 14, tens of thousands took part in the second March for Science, demonstrating their commitment to scientific research and its importance for the common good. Kudos to those of you who participated! Closer to home, please consider attending the next School of Medicine Dean’s Forum on May 8 to learn about how the school is working towards enhancing its research climate.
Further in supporting science, this month’s Expresso includes an update on actions being taken on behalf of research here on Parnassus. It also features some tips about ways to take care of yourself, in honor of Global Employee Health and Fitness Month. Finally, there’s an overview about what’s in store for retiree health coverage benefits.
Without further ado, the stories are:
- Making Strides: Big steps towards a new Parnassus
- Don’t Run on Empty: Wellbeing is the fuel that keeps us going
- Retiree Health Benefits: Change is on the horizon in 2019
And, clinical research teams, be reminded that Track More with OnCore goes live on Monday, May 7! As explained in the February Expresso, it will support subject enrollment and visit tracking and provide peace of mind by ensuring compliance for your study’s billing practices. Help getting on board is just an email away at [email protected].
Do you have ideas for an upcoming Expresso? Send them my way. We have many things going on at UCSF that are worthy of attention! Please write to me at [email protected].
Making Strides: Big steps towards a new Parnassus
One year ago, I wrote about the need for infrastructural improvements in “The New and Awesome Parnassus: What’s going on?” A lot has changed since then, and I am very enthusiastic and hopeful about the effort now under way to envision a brilliant future for our Parnassus campus. UCSF’s home on the hill, where our tradition of excellence began, is long overdue for a major upgrade, and the process is now picking up steam.
Paul Jenny, senior vice chancellor for finance and administration, and I are co-leading the Parnassus Master Plan Steering Committee, and some of the details were outlined in a UCSF news story last month. (Several of my own articles on the subject are linked from this piece I published in February.) In order to inform the steering committee, four work groups have been created: Central Research Labs (CRL), Research, Education, and Digital Hub. In this issue, I’ll spotlight two groups whose work is well underway – CRL and Research.
The CRL was the first of the groups to be convened. It’s led by David Erle, and the group’s projects are on the fast track to launch in two years as “a show of good faith to the Parnassus research community,” he says. It’s a little challenging to make such changes before the master plan is complete, as it involves envisioning how research might change. But it’s also an acknowledgement that the work can’t wait.
There are five potential components of the CRL: Flow Cytometry, Disease-to-Biology, Biological Imaging Development Center (BIDC), Data Sciences/Data Library (Bioinformatics), and Genomics. According to David, “The idea is to bring people together to collaborate to get research done in ways that were previously difficult or impossible to do. We’ll set up facilities for those who want to do research at Parnassus to do it with fewer barriers.”
For instance, the BIDC is currently divided between several spaces, making it harder to manage for everyone. David’s group is looking at consolidating BIDC and other core facilities, such as the flow cytometry core, as well as finding a home for things that don’t exist yet, such as a data science and computational biology hub.
“There are bits and pieces in people’s individual labs, in research groups, and in certain core facilities,” David says. Some of the resources are people, more than machines. “This is a very fast-moving field. People didn’t think about it twenty years ago. This is a great place to take advantage of rapid advances in experimental tools and computing.”
He adds that, “Parnassus is a mature campus, and things tended to go where there was space. A lot of us are hopeful that the needs and priorities of the scientific programs will drive the space programming at Parnassus in the next few years, instead of the other way around.” The grand idea is to create synergy by placing people and facilities close to each other so they can work together and produce the outstanding research, discovery, and patient care that help make UCSF the remarkable place it is.
The second group to be appointed, the Research Space Working Group, is co-led by Tamara Alliston and John Fahy. It comprises twelve members, representing many different disciplines, departments, and programs, who are important stakeholders in the future of Parnassus. As Tamara explains, “We will be working together over the coming six months to think about the big themes that really need to be represented and supported in this next chapter.” She is particularly pleased that the group has representation from basic as well as clinical research, both of which will continue to play an important role at Parnassus going forward.
Tamara adds, “This is an inflection point, from my perspective. We’re moving from feeling like the Parnassus campus was left behind while Mission Bay rose with its colorful new buildings, to knowing we have a real opportunity to take more positive steps. Now that there’s been a commitment of financial resources, there’s a sense of building energy and momentum to make the very best of this opportunity, and re-envision something that’s exciting for researchers across the spectrum.”
For now, John says, “They’re gathering information on just how significant the research enterprise is at Parnassus. “The scope is probably larger than we know. It’s grown a lot over the last thirty years, but it’s been a little under the radar.”
Thanks in large part to an incredible $500 million commitment from the Helen Diller Foundation, Parnassus is no longer under the radar. John and Tamara are encouraging people to dream big and out loud by voicing ambitious visions for what Parnassus can be going forward.
“It’s our desire to make Parnassus a first-choice campus that is so vibrant that it will attract any of our scientists to do their work here,” Tamara says. “We think it can be.”
Don’t Run on Empty: Wellbeing is the fuel that keeps us going
Air travel always includes the instruction, “In the event of an emergency, please put on your oxygen mask before assisting others.” In the often hectic pace of our work, we often forget to take care of ourselves or put it low on our list of priorities. But remember those words, “…before assisting others.”
In one way or another, our jobs at UCSF involve supporting and caring for others, whether it’s patients, students and trainees, or fellow administrators, and many of us return home to continue those efforts for loved ones. But that doesn’t mean sacrificing our own wellbeing to a point where we are running on fumes. It’s imperative that we focus on being our best in order to give our best efforts to benefit others. That means staying healthy and fit both physically and emotionally.
“Wellbeing is so much more than what people think,” says Leeane Jensen, executive director of Wellbeing Services & Operations, part of UCSF’s Campus Life Services. “For many years, it was working out, eating right, maybe getting enough sleep. Now we know there’s more to it. In the workplace, your relationships with your peers and manager are critical. Feeling overstressed and overworked can have a direct impact on those relationships, but maintaining a healthy balance in what we do at work, at home, and in the other aspects of our life helps us to be engaged colleagues.” In fact, if you didn’t catch my May 2017 tip, The Three Marriages, have a look.
The good news is that UCSF has many resources available to you. There are a variety of programs, including traditional offerings such as our on-site fitness centers with discounts for staff, as well as back-up child care options and adult dependent care resources.
Leeane explains that wellbeing ties into much of the work her department is doing, some of which I’ve written about before – like the Great People, Great Place initiative; the new recognition tools (requires MyAccess login), to give people praise for a job well done; and our PRIDE Values. She highly recommends taking advantage of community engagement events – these can provide a setting to network or just get to know one another better. “You don’t want it to be the focus of your work, but it’s an important component,” she says. “If you don’t feel engaged and connected, it’s difficult to perform at your best.” Here are a few upcoming events worth checking out:
- UCSF Fitness Centers Open House
- UC Walks Day For more information, visit the UCSF website. Contact [email protected] with questions.
- UCSF Staff Resource Day
Beyond physical fitness and professional development, another important UCSF resource in this overarching concept of wellbeing is the Faculty & Staff Assistance Program (FSAP), which provides confidential psychological counseling and consultation services at no cost.
“Part of our mandate is to support wellbeing,” says Andrew Parker, manager of FSAP. “We see as many people for personal issues as we do for work-related issues, and have programs available to meet the unique and often contrasting needs of the UCSF faculty and staff.” For example, the odd schedules that clinicians often keep can make it hard for them to book appointments with outside providers. FSAP has the capacity and flexibility to work around their schedules.
FSAP plays a key part in the Caring for the Caregivers program for doctors, nurses, and others who can feel the stress of a caregiving role. The program includes the Schwartz Rounds at Parnassus, which is expanding to Mission Bay this year. Launched in Boston by lawyer and former cancer patient Ken Schwartz, who was concerned about his caregivers, it has gone national, creating a space for caregivers to come together and talk about the stresses of their job. “It gets a conversation started,” Andrew says. “Although not a problem-solving session or a root cause analysis, its aim is more at helping people process the emotional impact of being health care providers. We average about 100 people at every one of these, and we’ve been getting great feedback. So far it’s really taking off.”
UCSF also has implemented practices and policies to help create an environment of wellness, including the UCSF Healthy Beverage Initiative and our Smoke-Free Workplace policy as well as cessation programs. (Please be mindful of the wellbeing of our neighboring communities too and refrain from smoking in the neighborhoods where you work.)
Personal wellbeing is vital to the great work we do at UCSF. Use any or all of our on-campus resources and take good care of yourself – we need you at your best!
Retiree Health Benefits: Change is on the horizon in 2019
As you all likely know (and something that’s become much clearer to me since becoming EVCP), UC juggles a host of needs and commitments that exist within a shifting landscape of financial constraints. One such need/commitment is arguably one of the best perks we have – the retirement health benefit – and there are discussions underway that may affect what we end up with when we retire.
Here’s a basic overview of how the benefit is covered. Retirees, like active employees, pay some portion toward their premiums; this is dependent on years of service at the time of retirement. A few years ago, the university formulated an agreement stating that it would provide on average a minimum of 70% of the premiums (with employees responsible on average for up to 30% of the premiums as well as the copays and coinsurance) for the health benefits the university made available to retirees. What was not made explicit in that agreement was who would be eligible for those benefits and in what form those benefits would be made available to eligible retirees.
However, with the aging population and complexities of the US health care system, it’s not clear how sustainable this perk is in actuality. While UC asserts it is neither contracted nor obligated to provide this benefit, many employees have the understanding that UC would cover the majority cost of medical coverage in retirement. As you can see, this is a point of contention, and retirees from Lawrence Livermore National Lab have brought this to court.
UC President Janet Napolitano has therefore convened a work group to take a close look at the issue, particularly how UC can keep funding it as the costs of health care continue to rise. The UC Office of the President (UCOP) posted an article in March defining the group’s mandate – “exploring potential strategies and developing options for UC leaders to consider to ensure the long-term financial viability of the retiree health benefits program.”
So, I checked in with three members of the UCSF community who are very current with the situation. Two are on the group’s roster: Teresa Costantinidis, vice chancellor and chief financial officer, and Andrew Bindman, professor in the Department of Medicine and a core faculty member in the Institute for Health Policy Studies. (He will be speaking about this issue at the Academic Senate meeting May 3.) The third is UCSF Health Care Facilitator Sue Forstat.
Here’s what Teresa, Sue, and Andy have to report…
The UCOP work group aims to “make sure this benefit will continue in some form for recruitment and retention purposes and as a University of California employment benefit,” Teresa explains. “Very thoughtful people have been called upon to look at this cost to the university and make reasonable recommendations to the UC leadership.... We want to ensure its long-term viability.” Recommendations are due to President Napolitano in June, with any changes to go into effect in January 2019.
For those who qualify, the system currently covers eligible retirees and their eligible dependents, providing and paying a portion of commercial health insurance coverage for those under age 65, and supplementing Medicare coverage for those older than 65, according to Sue. (UC has a website you can refer to see if you’re eligible, as well as a handy fact sheet.) Systemwide, we are talking about a lot of people – UCSF alone has approximately 21,000 employees who potentially may be eligible for retiree health benefits, based on date of hire and length of service, and any change to the benefit structure will affect them as well as our colleagues who are already in retirement. (There are presently 5,741 UCSF retirees enrolled in the health insurance program, and 342, who live out-of-state, participate in OneExchange, now known as Via Benefits.)
To be sure, it’s a vastly complex issue. “There are a lot of permutations and things to consider,” Andy describes. The way the university makes the health benefit available differs depending on a retiree’s age (below age 65 when they would not generally be eligible for Medicare, versus above age 65 when they would) and whether they live in California or another state.
“Everyone is trying to do this in the spirit of how do we preserve this really valuable benefit that has helped the university attract great people,” he continues. “It is a significant factor for employee recruitment and retention. But the financial constraints have to be dealt with.”
Making the decision to retire takes a lot of planning. Financial considerations are often of the utmost concern, so, if you’re even entertaining retirement in the near future, read these Retirement Planning resources and stay tuned for the outcome of this work group, as it could lead to changes going forward.
Dan’s Tip of the Month
I loved Isle of Dogs! I was captivated by the movie’s artistry, the camaraderie of the scruffy canine pack, and 12-year-old Atari’s dedication to his guardian dog, Spots. Within minutes, director Wes Anderson drew me into his dystopian setting. And the parallels to our current issues surrounding abuse of power and xenophobia weren’t lost on me. But while there’s a lot to like, some have raised challenging questions that cause me to reflect on cultural appreciation vs. cultural appropriation. If you have seen or plan to see Isle of Dogs, let me know what you think.