Sent on behalf of Richard V. Homan, MD, President and Provost, Dean of the School of Medicine
At our Aug. 6 Virtual Town Hall meeting, we received multiple questions about returning to campus for work and the desire to continue working from home. I hear your concerns and want to take a moment to address them directly.
It is clear from questions and comments during the Town Hall that some faculty and staff members would prefer to continue working from home. At the start of the pandemic, I directed that supervisors facilitate remote work because we knew little about the virus and how to minimize its spread. However, we face less uncertainty now. While we do not know everything about this novel virus, we have learned much and are using science and data as our guides.
I understand your fear and misgivings. However, EVMS must continue to function and deliver on its mission. Although a significant number of employees have worked from home since early in the pandemic, this does not mean that remote work has necessarily been the most efficient or provided the best service for our students, patients and other customers. At some point, we must begin transitioning back to campus and balance risk with the needs of the school and medical group.
Our Ramp-Up Task Force has carefully considered how to do this while maximizing the safety of employees and students. Members of the Ramp-Up Task Force have utilized prospectively updated CDC guidelines as best-practice benchmarks in making their recommendations. The EVMS policies and guidelines also comply with executive orders issued by the Governor. EVMS has taken concrete steps to safeguard your health. We have provided PPE, hand sanitizer, disinfectant spray and other supplies for your personal use at work. We have installed plexiglass shields at reception desks to minimize contact. We have significantly increased our cleaning protocols. We are installing touch-free fixtures in public restrooms. We have required mandatory mask usage and social distancing on campus.
In preparation for our ramp-up, supervisors, department heads and department chairs were required to develop a plan specifying if and when they would have workers return to campus. If employees were to return, the supervisors had to outline steps for maximizing social distancing and safety. These plans were subject to review by key members of senior leadership. If the safeguards and the plan were deemed to provide adequate protection, they were approved.
To supervisors, department heads and chairs: EVMS strongly encourages you to continue allowing employees to work from home wherever possible if this can happen with minimal disruption to operations and service. Understanding the concerns of our employees, I ask you to critically examine your ramp-up plans and ensure that any returns to work are necessary and balance the safety of our employees with the effective operation of your department and EVMS as a whole.
The decisions of our Hampton Roads schools to utilize remote learning for the fall are understandably a concern for employees with children. Human Resources is investigating child care and other support options and will make that information available to you as soon as possible. You should discuss any concerns you have around your child’s remote schooling with your supervisor as soon as possible to determine what, if any, adjustments might be possible.
We must allow our supervisors to make these critical decisions, as they are best equipped to determine the needs of the department. As always, if you have specific concerns, please discuss this first with your supervisor. If you feel the need to appeal the supervisor’s decision, please contact Human Resources. HR will review your request, examine the circumstances for your department and evaluate whether any changes are necessary and/or possible.
While we will do all we can to minimize it, as an employer we cannot eliminate all risk. Each of us experiences risk regularly by doing routine activities, such as going to the grocery store. Working on campus may become one of those activities you will need to engage in over the coming days. Our senior leadership team commits to ensuring that the EVMS environment will be as safe as we can possibly make it.
Thank you for your patience and understanding as we navigate this difficult time. And, as always, thank you for your commitment to EVMS and our mission.