From the Dean: Thank you, North Dakota Congressional delegation!

Thanks in part to geography, aggressive physical distancing and other public health measures embraced by many North Dakotans, an impressive ramp-up of the state’s testing and contact tracing capacity, and adroit leadership from the Governor and his executive branch (including the North Dakota Department of Health), North Dakota so far has been able to weather the COVID-19 pandemic in better shape than many other states. Nevertheless, there is considerable concern that two state constituencies are at particular ongoing risk—tribal and rural communities.

Fortunately, some federal help is on the way for the state’s 36 critical access hospitals that support our rural counties. We were very pleased and grateful when both Sen. Kevin Cramer and Sen. John Hoeven, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, announced earlier this week that the federal government’s Department of Health and Human Services, through the Health Resources and Services Administration, had awarded $3,035,412 to UND and the School’s Center for Rural Health (CRH). The funding was provided through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and will help aid rural hospitals in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic. Sen. Hoeven indicated in a press release that the “funds will assist rural hospitals in North Dakota as they continue to provide quality care during the COVID-19 pandemic, and are important resources that will help support our rural health care providers as well as the patients and communities they serve.” This funding is in addition to other funding that has been provided to UND through the CARES Act, as was announced earlier this month by North Dakota Senator Kevin Cramer. So, thank you, Sens. Hoeven and Cramer, and great work, faculty and staff at the CRH!

In addition to its health and economic impact, COVID-19 has changed the educational landscape in a major way. As you undoubtedly are aware, all of UND (including the SMHS) has switched to an online pedagogical model for the remainder of the current spring semester and through the summer semester. We at the School and the University are busy developing plans for the fall semester that begins this August. As interim president, I have asked all UND academic units—including the SMHS—to develop curricular programming that can pivot from a predominant face-to-face and in-class format to a mainly online one as coming circumstances may dictate. I and many public health experts expect that over the next year or two we may well cycle through periods of relative relaxation of the strict physical distancing standards we now are operating under alternating with periods when a flare-up occurs and we have to get more stringent in our requirements. It will therefore be important that our faculty can pivot quickly to change the mode of instruction as circumstances change in the Grand Forks region and state. Being able to do so without major disruptions in the educational process is a big challenge, but I am confident that our faculty (not to mention our students) are up to the task. From an administrative standpoint, I and the School’s senior leadership team will do everything in our power to try to ensure that we support our faculty and staff so that the education of the next generation of health care providers continues in the outstanding manner that has been our tradition.

Finally, we have been in touch with every one of the School’s students to thank them for their patience, perseverance, and dedication during this trying time, and to encourage them as they prepare for their health care careers. Some of them have been financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. If you would like to make a donation to help UND SMHS students in need, please consider a gift to the Angel Fund (which is supported through UND’s Division of Student Affairs & Diversity) or directly to the School of Medicine & Health Sciences through the UND Alumni Association & Foundation. Either way, your gift will help needy students in this challenging time. Thank you! And please stay safe.

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