August 22, 2013

Zeppos: Faculty discussions happening now will set university’s course

Chancellor Zeppos addressed faculty and presented annual awards at the Fall Faculty Assembly.

For the first time faculty from all schools and colleges of the university are charged with formulating “bold and ambitious” ideas that will be the blueprint for Vanderbilt’s future investments and next capital campaign, Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos said at the Fall Faculty Assembly.

“We began these discussions over the summer, and these exchanges have been provocative, brilliant, spirited and enlightening,” Zeppos said Aug. 22 at the Student Life Center. “We have gone deeply into questions of mission and values and the unique qualities and potential of Vanderbilt.”

Zeppos noted that the effort marks “the first-ever where the schools of Medicine and Nursing, along with our other colleges and schools, will participate fully in a strategic plan for Vanderbilt.”

Zeppos previously outlined four areas of focus for the conversations:

  • Defining for the 21st century the undergraduate experience in a residential research university;
  • Identifying the areas of greatest promise for new trans-institutional programs and funding of existing areas where Vanderbilt can be best-in-class and make world changing differences;
  • Developing, researching and testing the educational potential and peril of new technologies and social media, and intensely studying their broader impact on society and the individual; and
  • Harnessing the considerable expertise and disciplinary breadth at Vanderbilt to develop a health care system that is fair, effective, efficient and transparent.

The current environment for health care providers is exceedingly challenging, Zeppos said.

“The federal sequester has chopped significant funds from research, the lifeblood of American innovation and entrepreneurship,” he said. “The sequester has also cut Medicare, when more than one-third of our health care patients pay through this shrinking source of revenue. Uncertainty over federal budgets and the debt ceiling extension lead all institutions to exercise caution.”

The long-term picture isn’t any brighter.

“As federal budget pressures are forcing reductions in Medicare reimbursements, our patient population continues to age, meaning that more and more of those for whom we care will be on Medicare that pays these lower reimbursement rates,” Zeppos said.

“Added to this is the continued doubt over the extension of Medicaid in Tennessee,” he said. This is particularly significant for Vanderbilt because “we provide more than one-third of the free indigent care in the entire state of Tennessee.

“Finally, we are seeing private insurance reducing what they will pay for health care services. … Through this combination of forces, the system is now showing strain on all fronts.”

Zeppos praised the leadership of Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs Jeff Balser and his team for their handling of “this time of disruptive change.”

“We have had to move quickly to adapt, and it is not without challenge and pain,” Zeppos said.

The chancellor said that “the future of American health care will be one driven by great doctors and nurses, who are increasingly reliant on information technology that drives quality, consistency, efficiency and improves outcomes.”

Overall, Zeppos said, Vanderbilt is doing well during a challenging time and place in history.

“A number of words come to my mind as I advise you about the state of the university – strong, ascendant, enduring, exciting, innovative, optimistic, transformative.

“These stand in marked contrast to the larger political and economic environment in which we operate – stagnated, pessimistic, divisive, gridlocked, superficial.”

Annual awards also were presented during the assembly.

Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos speaks Aug 22 in the Student Life Center during the Fall Faculty Assembly (Anne Rayner/Vanderbilt)