From the Dean: So far, so good in Bismarck

Here is some promising news regarding the School’s budget submission to the North Dakota Legislative Assembly (Legislature) that currently is being considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee. The Committee just released a status report of its current thinking about the North Dakota University System (NDUS) budget request, of which the UND SMHS is one important component – in fact, ours is the third-largest budget item in the entire system (behind UND and North Dakota State University). The current status with the Committee is a recommendation for approval of the needs-based budget (as we requested, which would obviate a potential roughly $4.4 million budget cut) as well as approval of a 2% merit increase pool for each year of the coming biennium (although we requested 3% in each year).

Additionally, there is a recommendation for minimum and maximum amounts of merit increase per employee during the first year of the biennium (this is similar to what the Legislature has approved previously). There also is some adjustment in the student credit hour formula that governs the flow of appropriated dollars to the institutions in the NDUS, but these adjustments have no material impact on the School’s finances. The Committee, at least thus far, has not endorsed our third request for additional appropriated dollars to fund the merit increases for the three-quarters of School employees whose salaries are funded by monies other than appropriated dollars.

Despite this, support of our needs-based budget and the 2% + 2% merit increase funding pool is a major step forward in our quest for sustainability of our various and far-reaching educational, discovery, and service programs and initiatives. The next important step will be when we meet with the members of the House Appropriations Committee – Education and Environment Division. This is scheduled for a little under a month from now on Monday, March 8, 2021, at 2:30 p.m. There are any number of other health-related bills that we follow and track, but none that have any direct impact on the School. On the other hand, the School gets additional funding from a variety of state agencies – most often the Departments of Human Services and Health – for various projects and programs. We monitor the discussions regarding the funding bills for those agencies as well.

One of the activities that has really increased for me during the pandemic has been responding to many requests for interviews by the news media. I enjoy these opportunities to talk about the science behind the pandemic and our response to it. The toughest questions are those to which we simply don’t have the answers – at least yet. One very important example of this type of conundrum relates to speculating whether any of the newer variants of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) might be resistant to the vaccines now in production. The answer – at least based on what we know so far – probably is “not to a major degree, but we will need to watch this issue closely.” Here is an example of a recent interview.

Next week promises to be an important and busy week for me personally. As you may recall from prior columns, I serve as a member (which is like a board member) of the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME), the national organization that accredits all medical schools in the U.S. and Canada. Because of disruptions related to the pandemic, there now is a backlog of schools awaiting an accreditation decision. The LCME meeting is next week, and we have four days scheduled to get all the reviews done! I was assigned five reviews as the primary reviewer and will present my assessments to the group for final adjudication by all 19 LCME members.

Finally, I’d like to thank all of you who were donors to Giving Hearts Day that took place yesterday. This charity event, coordinated by Dakota Medical Foundation (DMF), has helped raise over $90 million for many local organizations since its inception, including the UND SMHS. The School is especially grateful for the scholarship funding that has been provided to our students thanks to Giving Hearts Day and the DMF. Here’s a special shout-out to DMF Executive Director Pat Traynor for his stewardship of this fantastic event and the support that he has helped garner for our students. Thanks Pat, thanks DMF, and thanks to all of you who gave!

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