Thank you to the many of you who sent your best wishes, support, and congratulations to me on the announcement of my stepping down as EVCP at the end of the year. The past seven years in this role have been nothing short of transformative for me. More to come on this topic in the coming months – but let’s not rush the end of summer!
July marked the beginning of a new fiscal year, and I can’t help but be concerned about the continued news of worsening inflation and ever-increasing energy prices. While the Federal Reserve is trying to slow things down, some think this might lead to a recession. It’s a precarious balance, so I checked in with some members of UCSF’s financial team for a local update.
The current economy as well as other disconcerting actions on both the national and global stage can make a person feel helpless and tense. But there are some things we can do to take control and ease the stress – like ensuring that our physical work setup is ergonomically safe and healthy as we manage all of our work-life responsibilities.
This brings me to this month’s topics:
- Watching Our UCSF Wallet: In good times and bad
- Minding Your Posture: New ergonomic training toward working safely
Have a topic that you’d like to read about in the next three months? Please drop me a line at [email protected].
With best wishes,
Watching Our UCSF Wallet: In good times and bad
You’ve undoubtedly seen the news and felt the noticeable increase in prices for basic life staples. Now, think about the impacts on the scale of UCSF and across our patient care and research enterprises, administrative support, and construction program. Inflation adds up to a major challenge.
I checked in with Erin Gore, senior vice chancellor for Finance and Administration, and Mike Clune, senior associate vice chancellor and chief financial officer. They’re following the news closely and reassure me that UCSF can weather the storm.
There’s a lot of chatter in the news about whether we are heading for or already in a recession. One thing we know for sure is that the future is uncertain. Risks exist and we must plan for the possibility of tight times ahead. However, as with past downturns, UCSF has been able to soldier on and emerge stronger and better prepared when the economy recovers.
“Recently, we’ve been in a fairly good place,” Mike says. Through March of the past fiscal year, UCSF had strong growth in revenue for both patient care and research activities. (Year-end results are still being evaluated.) State support is very strong for the coming year, and our philanthropy remains robust. But he strongly cautions, “There are some big challenges. Inflation is driving up our costs. Our investment performance has weakened. And the cost of borrowing is ratcheting up.” In particular, this means the patient care enterprise needs to tighten its belt.
Regarding talk of a recession, Mike adds, “We don’t know specifically what that is going to actually mean for the University. It usually means that the state has lower revenues, and therefore our state funding takes a hit, but the state has some healthy reserves, and we probably won’t know about potential cuts for a while.”
While we’re strong in the face of these challenges, to achieve our long-term goals – including building the new hospital and research building on the Parnassus campus – we need to be efficient, steadfastly responsible in our public fund spending, and willing to try to identify savings that can be redirected to support those goals.
The rising cost of everything from construction to pharmaceuticals to lab supplies presents new variables that we are monitoring. Campus and UCSF Health supply chain teams are working to identify strategic sources and secure best prices, and our construction teams are evaluating options to address supply chain disruptions.
Mike also passed along some good tips – which serve as best practices no matter the economic climate – from our new Associate Vice Chancellor and Chief Procurement Officer Justin Sullivan:
- Use UC’s contracted suppliers. Limits on price increases are pre-negotiated, and to keep our business, suppliers have the incentive to hold the line on cost increases.
- Consider alternative products. Constrained supply chains mean that some items may carry high price tags, while competitive substitutes may be available and even discounted.
- Consider small and disadvantaged suppliers, particularly for services where smaller firms have capable talent without the overhead and cost structure of larger firms.
- Invest in reusable and sustainable products, which often have a longer useful life and lower total cost of ownership, rather than consume disposable or more expensive to operate goods.
- Check out UCSF Finance Explained – UCSF Finance’s website to promote understanding among our community about UCSF finance basics (revenues, expenses, and net income), how funds flow into and within the institution, our long-term planning, and the latest news about our finances – materials are updated regularly.
Concern about a tough economy doesn’t mean we’re currently planning a hiring freeze or spending restrictions, although those tools have been necessary in the past. The salary and hiring freezes we enacted during 2020-2021 ended up saving a lot and showed that UCSF can quickly pivot and conserve when needed. (Interestingly, another lesson was that maybe we froze too much in some areas, as we’re experiencing a challenge hiring now that the job market has tightened.)
The cost of labor – salaries and benefits for our teams – is also rising. As our largest expense area, judicious evaluation of personnel needs is necessary. When a position opens, take the opportunity to carefully review the long-term commitment of hiring a career employee in the context of the overall team dynamic and needs.
We haven’t faced inflation like this since the 1970s, and the last severe economic downturn was the Great Recession from 2007 to 2009. It was the longest one since World War II. But we’re facing a different set of conditions. Other concerns entering the picture include an extended bear market that could cause investment income to drop further. It might also affect the extremely generous level of philanthropy that we receive thanks to our amazing donors. And, tragically, people might make the difficult decision to forego health care, which also would affect Medicare reimbursement.
Remember, UCSF must follow UC-wide policies that govern our spending toward fiscal responsibility – it’s called the Business and Finance Bulletin. Makes for great summer reading!
Erin says, “It’s such a point of pride how UCSF managed through the pandemic in terms of expanding services, meeting people’s needs, and being fiscally responsible.” It was a real threat: The state cut our budget by 10 percent in one year, which was quite dramatic (thankfully, they restored it the next year, and federal funds also helped our hospitals). Due to resilience and fiscal precautions taken early on, the financial devastation didn’t pan out as expected.
Erin adds, “Whether it’s recession, pandemic, inflation, or something else, we need to continually ask: how do we dedicate our resources to their highest and best use? UCSF does a great job of that and that’s something to keep reinforcing.”
In carpentry, there’s a saying, “Measure twice, cut once.” The same applies with money. Before funds are spent, make sure you’re clear on the goal, you’ve considered all options, and the amount and purpose are justifiable (and not fodder for morning headlines).
Minding Your Posture: New ergonomic training toward working safely
How are you feeling? Has your body been talking to you about little (or not so little) tweaks?
Wherever we’re working, whether on site, hybrid, or remotely, we all need to keep good ergonomic habits at the top of our minds, and for many of us, it’s pretty easy to forget and spend too many hours on one task, like for those of us who sit all day in front of our computers.
You can do real damage to your body, not to mention your mental health, if you don’t take breaks, move around, and make sure you maintain good posture. And while our ergonomists work hard to provide guidance on the correct setup for workstations, it’s incumbent on each one of us to make sure our home environment is equipped to keep us safe and healthy.
To that end, our ergonomics team has created a new training that is required for people who use a computer four or more hours a day, and it’s recommended for anyone who uses a computer at all. The good news is the training clips are short, animated, fun to watch, and full of good information – and they incorporate principles of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA).
Kudos to Kristin Amlie, principal ergonomist and Ergonomics & Human Factors Program manager, and her team for partnering with the Ergonomics Program and an animator from UC Davis, and for their commitment to incorporating DEIA principles from the start. The training meets digital accessibility requirements, and the animations include people with different abilities and backgrounds.
When a lot of people started working from home in March 2020, UCSF quickly offered ergonomics training. Now that hybrid work (as job functions allow) seems likely here to stay for the foreseeable future, the training has had an important refresh based on the past two years. Before, there were separate trainings for home and office work, but the new streamlined version covers both scenarios.
The training, Ergonomics Essentials for Computer Users, includes seven short animations, and each is one to three minutes:
- Laptop safety
- Keyboards and mice
- Monitors and lighting
- Schedule and breaks
- Putting it all together/Taking action
You may even know intuitively what some of the messages will be. For instance, Kristin notes that it’s not safe to work directly on a laptop. It’s actually a horrible name for the computer, since you should never work on one while it’s sitting on your lap!
Instead, get a lightweight laptop kit from BearBuy – usual purchase approval will be necessary – so that you can elevate the laptop (use books to raise your monitor if you don’t have a laptop stand) and use an external mouse and keyboard, keeping your eyes on the screen and your wrists at all the right angles. Check out the one-minute training video on laptop kits.
Remember that each department has its own internal policy in this regard, so consult with your local administrator accordingly to see if you can get other items, like chairs and desks, to improve your home ergonomic setup. The ergonomics team has a fantastic website with a ton of resources, but be sure to stick with that site and BearBuy because many products with popular online retailers claim to be ergonomic with little to back it up.
Your health and safety are vitally important, so please prioritize completing this training so you can feel your best wherever you work. One last important tip that’s pretty easy to remember – the 20-20-20 rule: To avoid visual fatigue, every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Your eyes will thank you!
Here’s to your health and wellbeing.
Dan’s Tip of the Month
Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom is made for the student and teacher in all of us. An inspiring story that gets to the heart of the essence of teaching; of the love for one’s students and the joy in seeing them make the effort to learn, knowing that the expansion of their minds will enable them to have a more fulfilling life of their own, and of all those around them. From the most metropolitan school to the furthest outpost on our planet, learning flourishes, and in the best of circumstances, both pupil and teacher are changed. The gorgeous cinematography brilliantly captures the essence and the smallest details of day-to-day life in the remote, mountainous regions of Bhutan. (I’ve traveled this region in nearby Tibet and can vouch for the accuracy!) The paper window shades, latrine, yak dung, children’s earnestness and playfulness, vistas, prayer flags… make for a lovely, poignant, immersive experience.