KU Medical Center braces for furloughs

Employees to find out Friday if they are deemed ‘nonessential’

by Andy Marso, KHI News Service

A spokeswoman for the University of Kansas Medical Center said Thursday the institution will try to protect student education, time-sensitive research and clinical care as the possibility of furloughs approaches.

Natalie Lutz, the medical center’s director of communications, said employees of the state’s only medical school will receive notifications by noon Friday telling them whether they have been deemed “nonessential” and are therefore vulnerable to furlough if state lawmakers don’t pass a budget before Sunday.

“We are certainly very hopeful something will get figured out before furloughs ever happen, but in the meantime we need to be prepared, nonetheless,” Lutz said.

Lutz confirmed that medical residents who work at KU Hospital are considered state employees subject to furlough.

But she said that if furloughs are necessary, the medical center would prioritize and protect three core functions: student education, time-sensitive research and clinical activities like patient care.

“They’re trying to keep it as skeleton a crew as possible but still maintain those important functions,” Lutz said.

That might mean instructors would be furloughed on days their classes don’t meet but back on the job on the days they do, she said. Furloughs likely would target those on research projects that aren’t time sensitive, those in maintenance fields like landscaping and those with administrative functions, like human resources.

Rep. John Carmichael, a Democrat from Wichita, said he has received no clear sense of whether those who work on federally funded research projects or have federally funded positions in state government could be subject to furloughs.

“Apparently, there isn’t a clear policy in place,” Carmichael said. “It appears this is being handled on kind of an ad hoc, disorganized basis. It’s not been well thought-out.”

Lutz said KU has created a website to update employees of the medical center and the university campuses on the status of furlough plans.

Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little issued a statement calling even the threat of furloughs “an enormous disruption” and telling employees that any “nonessential” designations should not be construed as an evaluation of their jobs’ value to the university system.

“I think I can speak for most employees in saying how disappointed I am that legislators have not passed a budget in a timely fashion,” Gray-Little said. “Please know that we continue to work with legislators to avoid furloughs. And know that I remain truly grateful for your continued hard work on behalf of the university, and that every one of you is essential to our mission.”

State Budget Director Shawn Sullivan said cabinet agencies are communicating with their federal agencies to ensure there are no penalties for furloughs. He called it an “agency-by-agency” decision and was unsure how higher education institutions were handling the situation.

The nonprofit KHI News Service is an editorially independent initiative of the Kansas Health Institute and a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor reporting collaboration. All stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to KHI.org when a story is reposted online.

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