From the Dean

True to the predictions that were circulating in Bismarck last week, the North Dakota Legislature indeed did adjourn last Friday night on the 76th day of this year’s session (out of a possible 80 days). That leaves four days “in the bank” if it were necessary to reconvene the Legislative Assembly for some reason, albeit unlikely. Gov. Burgum signed the higher education funding bill yesterday, but we won’t know all the details of our budget until we see the budget guidelines that will be distributed by the State Board of Higher Education soon. Then we (and the other institutions of higher education in the state) will finalize our own budgets. But the pressure is on, since ordinarily we need to complete our budget submissions before the end of May!

Assuming that all goes as anticipated, however, there are a number of funding provisions that are of particular interest to the faculty and staff of the UND SMHS:

  • A salary merit increase pool that will average 2 percent (with minimum and maximum amounts) for this coming academic year (July 2019 – June 2020) and 2.5 percent for the next (July 2020 – June 2021)
  • Fully funded health insurance premiums
  • $10.68 million in partial funding for our Healthcare Workforce Initiative that will be part of our “base” funding from now on, rather than “one-time” funding as it was previously, making our budget less vulnerable to cuts
  • Authorization for a $30 million bond to fund needed UND deferred maintenance (although our building in Grand Forks is new as of 2016, we occupy other facilities on the Grand Forks campus in addition to our three regional campuses that are aging and have a variety of deferred maintenance needs)

All of the budget details should be worked out in the next one to two weeks, and we’ll be providing further specifics at that time.

On another note, this past Tuesday I traveled out to Williston for the North Dakota Medical Association’s district meeting hosted by the Kotana Medical Society. I periodically travel to each of the state’s district medical society meetings, but I must confess to my chagrin that it’s been a while since I last visited Williston during the peak of the oil boom. While the region is growing again after the downturn in oil prices and stagnation of the local economy a few years ago, the growth now is more gradual and controlled than it was during the boom years. Families are moving into the region, and births are up. And the people seem happier! That was evident at the meeting, where practitioners from Williston and surrounding communities like Watford City and Tioga were in attendance. Overall, I’ll bet there were about three dozen people there, along with Courtney Koebele, the executive director of the North Dakota Medical Association (NDMA). Courtney did her usual superb job during this past legislative session by following all health care-related bills and staying in touch with legislators as they considered the relative merits of various proposals. Her leadership in NDMA—both during the session and throughout the rest of the year—is widely appreciated throughout North Dakota. At the meeting Courtney gave a short presentation summarizing the just-concluded legislative session from the standpoint of the NDMA, and pointed out that all five NDMA priority bills had a successful result during the session. I was asked to offer a few comments, and I briefed the audience on the current status of the School and our priorities moving forward. But perhaps my most important message was to thank those in the audience who help teach our students and residents. I referred with gratitude to the fact that North Dakota boasts a higher percentage of community faculty on its “volunteer” faculty roster than any other medical school in the country—more than two out of three physicians licensed to practice in the state are faculty members with us! So thank you again—to all of you!

Finally, I’d like to close with an observation regarding one thing that Gov. Burgum emphasizes—that having vibrant communities is essential to our quality of life and to retaining our young people. I was thinking about this after Susan and I attended a phenomenal concert by the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony this past Sunday. We had the incredible pleasure of hearing the world premiere performance of a piece that was commissioned by the FM Symphony and composed by Dr. Rene Clausen, the conductor of the Concordia Choir for more than three decades. Dr. Clausen was on hand to conduct his piece “Before the Whirlwind,” a tone poem for orchestra and chorus that is a chronicle of time from the beginning. Quite a work, and the standing ovation from the audience was evidence enough that I wasn’t the only one to be moved by the work!

That the work was created by a hometown person clearly added to the special feeling that the audience had as it left the concert hall. It is precisely that sense of excitement, pride, and pleasure that is vital to our quality of life here in North Dakota, and will continue to serve as a magnet to attract and retain people. Whether it’s in the concert hall, the sports arena, the church, or the wellness center, we need to discover, expand, enrich, and support those experiences and activities that make living in the state so special, and thus serve as buffers and effective balances to the cold, snow, and occasional flood.

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