UM Exec Outlines Benefits of Health System

Students urge regents to form office of sustainability
Doug Strong

Nancy Asin, assistant secretary of the University of Michigan, places a phone call to UM Regent Andrea Fischer Newman, who participated in Thursday's meeting by speaker phone. Looking on is Doug Strong, CEO of UM Hospitals and Health Systems, who was at the podium to make a presentation to the regents.

University of Michigan Board of Regents (Feb. 19, 2009): At their most recent monthly meeting, UM regents got a detailed report about the community benefits provided by its health system, and heard from several students lobbying the university to establish a sustainability office.

Most items on the agenda – including approval of over $13 million in construction projects – received little or no discussion among regents or UM’s executive officers.

UM president Mary Sue Coleman began the meeting by noting that Ann Arbor was recently named the nation’s top college sports town by Forbes magazine. What was particularly rewarding, she said, was that the ranking took into account other things that made this community attractive, including its public schools, restaurants and cultural activities.

The university contributes as well, she said, citing as an example its musical theater program, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a concert of alums and Broadway stars on March 21. The university serves as an economic stimulus, with campus activities ranging from music to sports that help “keep our community vibrant and strong,” Coleman said. Those contributions include the university’s health system, she said – a remark which segued into the meeting’s first presentation.

UM Health System’s Community Benefit

Doug Strong, CEO of UM Hospitals and Health Systems, was on hand to describe exactly how much the university’s healthcare system contributed to the community. There are different ways to view community benefit – “even the IRS has a view,” he said – but he would look at three main areas: Research, education and patient care.

In research, the university’s health system garners more than $340 million in federal research dollars each year. ”That’s a tremendous annual boost to the Michigan and Ann Arbor community,” Strong said. The system also covers $142 million in research costs and services that aren’t covered by grants and contracts, he said.

Back cover

A UM Health System ad was published on the back cover of the Sunday, Feb.22, 2009 New York Times Magazine.

Of the physicians educated at UM, more than a third remain in Michigan to practice, Strong said. As for patient care, the university sees more than 300,000 different patients each year. In fiscal year 2008, UMHS provided care to Medicaid patients from every county in Michigan.

In total, Strong estimates UMHS provided $323 million worth of community benefit last year. The lion’s share of that is calculated to be $170 million in uncompensated care to uninsured or underinsured patients. That compares to $88 million in 2006, so the need is rising, he said.

The university is a partner in the Washtenaw Health Plan, in which 12,490 low-income residents are currently enrolled. “The enrollment is growing because of the success of the program,” Strong said, “and unfortunately because of the need.” UMHS is also a partner in the Washtenaw Community Health Organization, which provides mental health and substance abuse education and services to about 20,000 adults and children who are uninsured or eligible for Medicaid.

Strong also mentioned several other programs and clinics that UMHS contributes to in some way, including the Corner Health Clinic, the Delonis Center, Hope Clinic and the Housing Bureau for Seniors, among others.

Health care needs are growing, Strong concluded, especially among the uninsured, and the current economic climate is putting stress on providers like UMHS to respond.

Following Strong’s presentation, Bob Kelch – UM’s executive vice president for medical affairs – said that one of the most striking things he learned was that the rate of uninsured residents in Washtenaw County was on par with the state average, despite this area’s reputation for affluence. ”So there is tremendous need in our local community,” he said.

Michigan Student Assembly Report

As part of her monthly report to the regents, MSA president Sabrina Shingwani said they’d just received news that the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Ally College Conference had chosen UM to host its 2011 meeting, which would bring about 2,000 students to campus from across the Midwest.

She also noted that MSA had held its second annual Sustainability Fair earlier in the month, and that several students had come to the regents’ meeting to talk about sustainability issues during the time allotted for public comments.

Creating a Sustainability Office

Following up on Shingwani’s comments about sustainability, UM’s chief financial officer, Tim Slottow, said the university was making progress in that regard. He said he’d talked to students about their recommendations to create an office of sustainability, aimed at coordinating and promoting campuswide efforts. He planned to make a pitch to Provost Terry Sullivan to fund such an office in the next budget.

Also related to sustainability efforts, Stephen Forrest, UM’s vice president for research, said his office had started to “aggressively” integrate the university’s research into its operations. He said a group was looking at ways to deploy new technologies throughout the university, creating a kind of “experimental testbed” on campus.

Financial Reports

The regents approved several major construction projects with no discussion. They include:

  • A $6.6 million project to replace about 600 feet of tunnels in the northwest section of the Diag and 125 feet of piping in underground tunnels near Lorch Hall. It’s part of an ongoing project to replace aging tunnels and pipes in the vast underground network on central campus. For this project, the university is working with the Grand Rapids engineering firm Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber Inc., with an anticipated completion date of fall 2009. “This is the sexiest project we have,” Slottow joked.
  • A $3.25 million project to add a cooling tower to the University Hospital, to keep up with demand during summer months. Integrated Design Solutions of Troy will design the project, to be competed in the spring of 2010.
  • A $2.1 million project to renovate 11,300 square feet in East Quad’s Residential College Auditorium. The work will include technology upgrades and improvements to lighting, the stage, seating and accessibility standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The project will be designed by UM’s Department of Architecture, Engineering and Construction, to be completed by fall 2009.
  • A $1.2 million project to update 8,300 square feet of research lab space on the ground floor of the College of Engineering’s Environmental and Water Resources Engineering Building on north campus. The project will be designed by UM’s Department of Architecture, Engineering and Construction, to be completed by fall 2009.

Public Comment

Eight people spoke during the meeting’s public comment time:

Merry Walker: Walker, a graduate student in energy systems engineering, was one of three students who urged regents to form a new office of sustainability on campus. She said that over 1,000 students, faculty and staff had signed a letter that was sent to President Coleman about the issue. The content of the letter resulted from hundreds of hours of research, she said, and contained two main recommendations: 1) to establish a university sustainability office, and 2) to implement university green building standards.

Sustainability is about more than the environment, she said. It’s also a sound business strategy. The main challenge is the decentralized nature of the university – there’s no entity to coordinate the more than 60 programs related to sustainability. Walker said they realized that this effort would require upfront costs, but that the university had generous donors and she believed there would be a concrete payoff. UM should be leaders in building the green community of the future.

Greg Buzzell: Buzzell is a first-year MBA student at Ross School of Business and the School of Natural Resources & Environment (SNRE). He said his research has revealed that an office of sustainability would pay for itself over time. Students already support current efforts,Buzzell said, including the president’s environmental task force. They want to build on the successes the university has already achieved, and would appreciate a student voice at the table.

Aaron James: James is also a student in business and SNRE. He said that buildings account for 98 percent of all energy use and carbon dioxide emissions, and that while constructing buildings up to LEED standards does add to a project’s cost, it provides operational savings over time. “Green buildings are not an added expense,” he said. “They are an investment in the future of our university.”

Kate Barut: Barut was one of two UM students who represented the HEI Workers and Students Together for Justice, a group which wants the university to reconsider its $65 million investment in HEI Hotels & Resorts because of the way the corporation treats its workers. She said members of her group had met with Slottow and presented him with a petition signed by 300 people, encouraging HEI to respond by the next regents meeting on March 19. She said they’d be contacting each regent individually to ask them to write their own letter of support.

Laura Misumi: An LS&A senior, Misumi commended the university’s Advisory Committee on Labor Standards and Human Rights for recommending that UM end its licensing agreement with Russell Corp., an athletic apparel company that allegedly fired workers for trying to unionize. She said she hoped it set a precedent, and noted that conditions for HEI workers in San Francisco had become markedly worse over the past few weeks.

Glen Ford: Ford said he was a mechanic at the UM Medical Center and a member of AFSME Local 1583. He wanted to bring to the regents’ attention an ongoing case of harassment by union leadership against workers who supported a disaffiliation vote. He was asking for two things: 1) that the university’s Department of Public Safety take reports of harassment, and 2) that the university issue a memo stating that UM will uphold its contract with workers regardless of the outcome of the vote.

Derek Blumke: Blumke is a UM student, Air Force veteran and president of the Student Veterans of America, a group he founded. He said he started the group because he encountered bureaucratic obstacles when he tried to enroll at UM, and felt isolated and alienated from other students when he came to campus. He said that Ann Hower, director of UM’s office of New Student Programs, is doing a great job in setting up programs for veterans. He hopes that UM can make additional changes that will encourage even more veterans to attend the university.

Carl Ireland: Ireland is a senior at UM, a veteran who served in Afghanistan for two years and president of the Michigan chapter for Student Veterans of America. He asked the university to consider a range of proposals: 1) offer in-state tuition to all veterans, 2) recognize military training as part of a transfer credit system, 3) provide an extended application deadline for veterans returning from service, and 4) waive application fees for veterans. “The university has a chance to take the lead on this,” he said.

The meeting, which began at 3 p.m., adjourned at 4:20 p.m.

Present: Mary Sue Coleman (ex officio), Julia Darlow, Larry Deitch, Denise Ilitch, Andrea Fischer Newman (via speaker phone), Andrew Richner, Kathy White

Absent: Olivia Maynard, Martin Taylor

Next board meeting: Thursday, March 19, 3 p.m. in the Fleming Administration Building, 503 Thompson St., Ann Arbor. [confirm date]