From the Dean

nd-flagAs I mentioned in last week’s column, there was a lot going on in Bismarck this week. On Monday, the UND SMHS Advisory Council met in preparation for the upcoming North Dakota Legislative Assembly. There were three important items on the agenda, the first being a review of the Fifth Biennial Report of Health Issues for North Dakota. Mandi Peterson was on hand on behalf of the UND SMHS Healthcare Workforce Group that she heads to answer some of the questions that came up. The members of the Advisory Council expressed their gratitude for all of the efforts that went into this comprehensive effort–the full report is almost 500 pages long and is chock-full of vital information regarding the state of health and health care in North Dakota.

The second item was a review of the status of the UND SMHS budget for the upcoming biennium. There continue to be two major uncertainties in our budget–the level of state appropriated funding (more on this subsequently) and the potential impact of the UND MIRA process (Model of Incentive-Based Resource Allocation). We really won’t know the level of state appropriated funding until the higher education funding bill is signed by the governor, likely in May 2019. And the MIRA process continues to evolve. So the bottom line is that the School’s actual funding level for the 2020-21 biennium won’t be known for some time. Accordingly, I outlined my plan to proceed to execute the strategic plan as planned, including admitting the full contingent of students and residents we had anticipated matriculating. We simply can’t operate in “suspended animation” until May. The Advisory Council was fully supportive of this plan.

The final item on the agenda was revisiting the Quarter Each Quarter program. As you may recall, the idea was to take a group of us (student affairs folks, educators, and representatives from both medicine and the health sciences) and visit several cities and towns in one quarter of the state every three months or so (a quarter of the year). When we first discussed this, we envisioned using two vans and traveling for several days. But we put the idea on hold because of the relatively high estimated travel costs. We subsequently discussed this at our Executive Committee, and decided that we could not afford not to take these trips. So we thought we’d resurrect the idea, but take only half of the original number of participants, and thus half the travel costs. This idea was enthusiastically endorsed by the Advisory Council, so we’re planning the inaugural Quarter Each Quarter trip for the second quarter of 2019. More to come!

Later that night on Monday, UND held a reception for the North Dakota legislators who were in Bismarck for a three-day pre-session in advance of the Legislative Assembly that starts on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019. It was a good chance to renew contact with prior members and meet many new members. President Kennedy and team presented a brief overview of where UND is headed under the OneUND strategic plan, and all seemed to enjoy themselves.

Then, on Tuesday night, the School hosted the first of four campus holiday parties. The turnout was great, and I got to recognize and thank a number of the clinical faculty members who help teach our medical students on the Southwest (Bismarck) campus.

The most anticipated event, though, was on Wednesday, when Gov. Doug Burgum presented his Executive Budget for the 2019-21 biennium (July 1, 2019-June 30, 2021). This budget is considered a starting point for subsequent legislative action, but there were a few important takeaways:

  • The degree of budget cuts in the Executive Budget were more modest than some had anticipated. While the original request from the Governor was for up to a 13 percent cut, the actual recommended funding level for the UND SMHS was “only” about 4 percent less than we requested.
  • A merit increase pool of 4 percent for the first year and 2 percent (and possibly up to 4 percent) for the second year for salaries supported by appropriated funds.
  • Funding for most (but not all) of the increased health care premium costs for the biennium.
  • Two potential sources of matching funding for scholarships and research projects totaling some $60 million.

We look forward to working with the Legislature over the next five months as the budget for the School is finalized through legislative and executive action.

The last event Wednesday was the second iteration of our “MD in a Day” program, where we give legislators a whirlwind tour of what medical (and other health science) students experience in their years at UND–but all in four hours! We had the wonderful assistance of seven third- and fourth-year medical students on the Bismarck campus, along with faculty and staff from Grand Forks and Bismarck. Although we had fewer participants than the first time we held the event due to conflicts with pre-session and travel issues, the participants again were effusive in their praise of the event. We are now brainstorming to find additional opportunities to hold more MD in a Day events and involve more members.

Finally, yesterday the School hosted a holiday luncheon at midday and then a campus holiday party in the evening. Turnout was great for both events, with nearly 600 people attending the luncheon! And at the evening event I got to recognize and thank a number of the clinical faculty members who help teach our medical students on the Northeast (Grand Forks) campus.

All in all, a great week!

Joshua Wynne, MD, MBA, MPH
UND Vice President for Health Affairs
Dean, UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences