Transcript from the Aug. 29 Campus Update

A lightly edited transcript from the Campus Update on Monday, Aug. 31, 2022:

Good morning, everyone. Thank you for coming and joining us again on this fine Monday morning. I really look forward to these updates and more importantly, an opportunity to converse and see if there are any questions about where we're going as a university.

Thank you again for coming together as we are approaching the end of summer. We're fully back as a university with the students in all three colleges. So this is an exciting time, but it's a particularly exciting time because Higher Learning Commission is coming up.

Jeff Wenstrup here in front of me. Jeff, thank you very much for all your work and for chairing the Committee for the HLC Accreditation. There are a lot of hands who've gone into this. In fact, at some level, probably everybody in the University has touched the assurance argument.

I hope you all had an opportunity to look at it. If you haven't, it's online under our HLC page. Rick Kasmer, our vice president for academic affairs, and Deb Loyet have really been driving forces with Jeff Wenstrup on this. But I know it's an entire village. There are so many people who have been involved in this. I keep looking and seeing more and I wish I could recognize everybody who's here right now, but we spend the rest of the time doing that.

This is this is our big, every-10-year reaccreditation. This will take place on the 12th and the 13th of September. We're expecting to be in good shape. If we're not, it means we we're missing the mark somehow. And it's all the great work that all of you do and your contributions that put us in the position where we think we're going to be really get through this without any significant problems.

I did have an opportunity to meet with the chairman of our team who's visiting us. She was great. She's really looking forward to the opportunity to learn about what we're doing. And she asked me what it is I would like to learn during the process. And I've asked her and her team, when they're meeting with you, just to try and get a good litmus test from you and all of our members of the family here at NEOMED, where they think we're at, are we on a good trajectory? How are they feeling about the university overall?

I also want to send a special thanks to Dr. MacPherson and Dr. Diaz, who've been working on the exceptional student experience element, turning that into something real, not just a slogan or a phrase, but really understanding what it is we need to do as part of our exceptional experience piece. And a big focus on that's been around communication, which is also where we have a big focus with all of our faculty and staff too.

Communication is never easy. It's the biggest challenge. I think at every organization there's a sender and there's a receiver. It's easy to send and think you're getting it out clearly, but sometimes the receiver is not getting it, and it could be for a number of reasons. One is there's a lot of noise out there. You've got information being sent to you daily by a typically hundreds of emails, texts, online programs, Pulse.

We use Pulse, but not everybody gets a chance to see that. So we've got to figure out better ways to do this. Sometimes it's not that you just didn't receive it. Sometimes it's because the person who's delivering it isn't delivering it as well as they could be. And sometimes for many of us, it's because we didn't quite want to hear what was being told to us, and we tend to drown that out.

It's normal. We want to hear what we want to hear, and we all do that as humans. So all we can do is emphasize as much as possible to get the communication out and then do our best to make sure it’s two-way.

The military likes to use the term HUA, which is for the receiver that has been heard. So that's the H. The U is understood, and the A is acknowledge. I'm letting you know I got the message. I understood the message. And it's a difficult thing to do. I see Dr. Welton smiling. He knows exactly what I'm talking about.

Leadership searches

Let's talk about updates on our searches for some of the key positions.

VP for research: I want to thank our team, the selection committee, who has been involved in that process. We have 14 faculty and staff and some of the executive management team involved in that process. We had 14 reasonable candidates, many highly qualified. We narrowed it down to five, and we did initial Zoom-based interviews, and the committee came back with three names; last week was our first visitor. Tomorrow, we have the second who will be in town.

And then the day after that we have our final third, and then we'll sit together as a group on Friday and discuss them and try and set a path forward. The vice president for research position is a critical position for the university. One, it keeps us out of trouble. It's regulatory, it’s compliance. That's the side of things where we need somebody who is really attentive to details to make sure the University maintains all the rigorous requirements that the federal and state government sets upon us.

The other one is somebody who can represent our faculty and represent our clinical faculty, help us to align and to grow around our research enterprise and make it one that's beneficial to our students. So really important position for us.

The other big hire right now is our College of Medicine dean’s position. Dr. Mowad has been amazing, stepping up and serving as the interim, and I think he's doing a wonderful job.

But at some point we're going to bring in a formal dean. The recruiting firm we're using is WittKieffer. We have our first update meeting with them later today. I've seen a list of some of the applicants who have already been recommended to go forward, as well as a list of individuals who are being considered, as they're continuously coming in.

I think we have some amazing applicants. In fact, some applicants are beyond the qualifications I thought we were going to receive initially. So this is going to be a very good thing. And I ask that all of you please be engaged in the process. For those of you who were in the College of Medicine, this is a critically important position for you.

This is a leader of the College of Medicine for those in graduate studies and for those who are in student services and those who are in pharmacy. This is part of the University, a big representation. And we want more of our University elements working together. So it's important that this is a collegial partner who's looking after how the University does well as a whole, in addition to looking out for the growth and development of the College of Medicine.

Journal of Medical Sciences

Trinity Sampson is one of our medical students. She is an M.D., Ph.D. student. You've probably heard her name a lot. She's done an amazing number of things for us at the University, but I wanted to recognize her and Dr. Safadi. They started up the NEOMED Journal of Medical Sciences, and the first edition is, should be, online and available now to read.

I think they did an amazing job. They have a great number of publications. This was more than just let's take research at the University or our affiliates and put it into paper format. It's really brought our students and our faculty together around publication and learning what it means to publish in a peer-reviewed journal. So for our students, it's very educational.

They're learning what it takes to be an editor and to be on an editorial board. They've all reached out at Elsevier to teach them what's required. When you serve as a reviewer on a journal so that you're creating a product that's really high quality and has been reviewed by your peers appropriately. I think it's incredibly amazing what she and her team have done.

We're looking forward for them to expand it. They had so many submissions and so many more already in place that we're hoping to get down to at least two, if not four publications of this per year. And now she and her team are working to try and get this indexed so that it will actually have its own impact factor eventually.

And the students and some of the faculty will be able to use this on their CVs as peer reviewed publications. So big shout out to her.

Alumni event

We also had a great event in Youngstown this weekend. We had about 80 people show up. We were also graced by Jim and Ellen Tressel, the president of Youngstown State, who came out and supported NEOMED event.

Many of our alumni, our clinical faculty and community partners. Really was a warm event and it was quite amazing. And I want to thank the Tanejas, who hosted that event for us and for those of you who attended.

Higher Learning Commission visit

Part of what we do is have third parties look at what we are doing at the University to validate that what we're doing is really good, that we're really on track.

That's what HLC is going to do. We had a third-party validation around what we've done as a University around focusing on appropriate structuring, sustainability and development of the financials. Now the number crunching that drives all the resourcing of the University. We can tell you we're doing a good job. We can tell you that we did Lean Six Sigma implementation to save money and to take that money that was wasted and put it back into the University.

But that third-party validation is important.

Moody's rating

Two weeks ago, roughly two weeks ago, Mary Taylor sat with Moody's, our bond rating agency. And Moody's is really a well-known international entity. It's one of two major bond rating companies, and their name behind something means an incredible amount. On their review they finished by saying this is an incredibly rare event in higher education and health care right now, but we are increasing your bond rating.

We went from a Baa2 to a Baa1. So you can see the progress that occurred 2019. We were Baa2 with a negative outlook, the next year Baa2 stable and next year Baa2 with a positive outlook. And now Baa1. Why does that matter? One, it says that our finances are in good shape and continuing to improve. From an outside expert’s eyes.

But the other thing it says is your new bond rating gets you a lower cost of capital, meaning when we borrow money, our interest rates are lower. So just like the mortgages on your homes, we want a lower interest rate because that's part of that waste I was referring to. If we're taking $100,000 a year and giving it to a bank instead of using it internally because the interest on our loans is high.

That's not a good use of our resources. So right after doing that, Mary and her team went out and reissued bonds for The Village. It's about $32 million in funding for The Village, our student apartments. They got a 2.8 X over subscription for those bonds. So then our team went back and lowered our interest rates more by having negotiations with those who wanted to invest in us and ultimately over the 22-year life of the bonds, the estimate is that starting this next year, we'll save somewhere in the neighborhood of $215,000 per year on interest. That's money that comes back into the University to invest in what we do every day. So this is a really good “grade” for us, shows that we're on target. We're doing good things. And fortunately for most of you and for our faculty, we don't want you to have to think about the finances piece.

That's the job of the numbers crunchers to do that. So that what you do think about is, how can I do my work? How do I conduct my profession with more resources, better to have higher impact? And that's our goal.

University picnic

The University picnic is this Wednesday. I hope you're all able to join us. I do ask for those of you who are interested.

I know it's about a two-hour window. We're hoping during that first hour that many of you will be able to join us for a Dr. Nkoy’s presentation on his vision if he were to be selected as the vice president for research. While we're having the picnic and it's a really important event to bring us together socially, I do want to ensure that we have a good attendance and get good feedback from our faculty and staff who have a vested interest in the vice president for research piece. But a big thank you to the Human Resources team for putting this together.


They also worked very hard to try and figure out how to provide extra benefit to our employees at the University. They need your input, your feedback, what's valuable to you as we're continuing to strive toward better delivery of services? In fact, we do, and I know they're going to tell me it's a little premature, but we do know that you're going to get an improvement in the quality and the cost of your dental insurance this coming year. They've gone out and negotiated better rates. We will continue the low rates that you've had for your health care insurance at a time when rates are going up for most organizations. And that's all been driven by our H.R. team.

Campus events

We also have VITALS starting up again for the year. That's our monthly seminar series that we invite the public to. VITALS stands for Value-based, Innovation, Technology, Advocacy, Leadership and Service. The tools that we use to improve health care, whether it's improving service, whether it's improving access or decreasing costs. We have experts who come in and share 17 minutes on what they've done and how they've done it. And the rest of the time is an open forum discussion. This time, we're really fortunate to have a class of 1984 graduate, Dr. Frank Papay.

Dr. Papay is chairman of plastic surgery and dermatology at the Cleveland Clinic, and he is also the lead surgeon who led the very first full-face transplant in the United States. So truly one of our most talented graduates. And if you have an opportunity, this is a Zoom-based meeting, we ask that you please participate. Ideally ask some great questions that Dr. Papay becomes challenged on what he's done and really informs us through an interesting discourse.

We also have the Race and Diversity Series. That's this Thursday at noon. We're fortunate to have a great visitor, a virtual visitor from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Great institution. And that speaker is Dr. David McIntosh, who leads their diversity, equity, inclusion elements at the medical school. So please attend if you can. We're excited for that.

Campus rejuvenation

We're continuing to work on campus rejuvenation. I think most of you, at least on the front side of the campus, would have noticed that the south corridor was probably the portion that looked the most rundown. So we've worked hard to reorganize, restructure and paint and freshen up that area. If you go through today, you'll see the majority of that work is done.

The planters are in place, the big screen TVs in place, the Bitonte atrium looks beautiful and is currently glassed in, the colors are vibrant. And these colors and in the carpeting were chosen by our students as what they wanted to be able to have that as part of their working, living and educational area. So we're excited to have that finished up. You'll see that the next phase is happening where the old cafe used to be, the old cafeteria.

That's being turned into an innovation cafe. And some of the older brick walls are going to be wrapped with drywall to brighten up and lighten that area. And then the space committee is going to look at where is stage two, where we will put some of our newer efforts as we continue to transform and rejuvenate the campus and take some of the more tired looking areas and try and make them more modern. It gives a better feeling and better environment for our faculty or staff and our students when they're here.

NEOMED Health Care

And then finally, NEOMED Health Care is continuing to grow and to do well. I met with Dr. Boltri about two weeks ago, and he shared with me that we're seeing a really market increase in the number of patients who are coming into that clinic every month. In fact, over the last six months, it's been over a 400% increase.

We have capacity to see more. But it's not just our students, faculty and staff but members of our community. If we continue to grow at the rate we're at that, we may have to hire some new physicians in the future because it's really catching on. It was a badly needed element in our local community, its ability to help serve Rootstown, to expand and to empower our SOAR clinic.

And then over time to expand what we're doing. Right now it's primary care and it's also substance abuse. We're looking to get behavioral health and other components in there growing.

Those are the things I wanted to focus on with you today. But certainly I want to take some time and open it up to questions. As always, you will get a transparent and honest answer.

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