To University of Rochester Faculty and Staff:
It’s been nearly five months since the COVID-19 pandemic changed our lives, both personally and professionally. In early March, the University curtailed routine clinical services to make way for a surge in COVID cases, ramped down research labs, and switched to online learning—all in a matter of weeks. Thousands of staff went home to work remotely.
Thankfully, the surge in Rochester was much less acute than projected, and our community has fared far better than many. Even so, the sudden elimination of non-essential patient services caused us to lose $253 million in revenues through June, and suspending residential education added $23 million in losses mainly due to refund of room and board fees. To stem these losses, we implemented an austerity budget, which included either partially or fully furloughing nearly 3,500 Medical Center staff and almost 1,500 staff in other parts of the University between May and August. We also implemented a hiring freeze which requires senior leadership review and approval before replacing or adding any positions.
We are happy to report that our clinical operations are on the way to financial recovery. Patient volumes in June exceeded 90 percent of our pre-COVID pace, research has resumed, and School of Medicine and Dentistry and School of Nursing students and learners are already back or are scheduled to report to school soon. The other academic units of the University, including the College, are currently making plans to welcome at least some students back in August for a semester that will consist of both in-person and online instruction.
These are certainly optimistic developments, but unfortunately the University’s fiscal future is still unclear. There are many unknowns that could hinder a strong financial recovery. For example, another spike in COVID cases would once again reduce the clinical revenue that fuels our Medical Center. Reimbursement rates for virtual visits, which today comprise 20 percent of our clinic visits, are scheduled to decrease in January. The additional cost of PPE and the potential for cuts to Medicare and Medicaid are real points for concern. We do not yet know the impacts on academic revenues as students in non-medical academic units defer or are unable to fully take part in educational offerings because of travel restrictions or other factors.
At the same time, new technologies—telecommuting, telemedicine, and online learning—have undeniably altered our workplace. Everyone in the University community has responded to these new circumstances with resilience and commitment, and we’re grateful for the many ways in which you’ve adapted to, and even thrived, in this new working environment.
Given these many uncertainties, however, many elements of the measures put in place at the beginning of this pandemic, including freezes on hiring, travel restrictions, and controlled spending will need to continue in order to build back a strong financial position. We’ll also need to take a careful look at our operations, including adjustments in workflow aimed at operational and financial efficiencies, and opportunities for continued remote work.
Assessing our ability to recall furloughed staff is another important element in our recovery plans, and must take into account the very different ways in which the Medical Center and the rest of the University’s business models have been affected by COVID. The Medical Center’s recovery is primarily driven by returning patients—an effort that’s been underway for weeks. The rest of the University, parts of which rely heavily on tuition, faces greater uncertainty with regard to the coming academic year. Therefore, the timelines and approach to evaluating furloughed staff will differ slightly between the Medical Center and non-Medical Center divisions of the University.
- At the Medical Center staff will be returned as workloads recover, or if work can no longer be deferred without negative impact to critical missions. In some areas, furloughs may continue if workloads remain lighter or if workflows have significantly changed.
- The rest of the University remains focused on returning students back to campus and to providing online instruction to those who are unable to return to campus. At this time, the majority of non-Medical Center furloughs are planned to extend through August, with some extending into early September. As with the Medical Center, some area furloughs may continue if workloads remain lighter or if workloads have significantly changed.
We know that many of you have questions regarding work-from-home. Human Resources is working with managers across the University to identify areas where the “normal” operations of the past can evolve—or may already have evolved—into new ways of working that are efficient, productive, and rewarding to our valued employees. These efforts will provide direction as we continue to monitor our financial health, manage the current hiring freeze, and fulfill our educational and patient care missions.
There is no denying that the COVID pandemic has changed our clinical, research, and education work environments for the foreseeable future. What has not changed is our sense of community, and an attitude of shared sacrifice that has allowed our institution to remain strong and productive in each of our mission areas. Challenges remain, including uncertainty about the future course of the pandemic and its ultimate effects on our finances and operations. Nevertheless, we are confident in our outlook and thankful for you—our staff and faculty—for all you do each day to contribute to the success of our University.
Sarah C. Mangelsdorf, President
Robert L. Clark, Provost
Mark B. Taubman, CEO, University of Rochester Medical Center
Holly G. Crawford, Senior Vice President for Administration and Finance