Staff Council discusses new emergency fund proposal, HR partnerships


Zoom screenshot

Pitt’s Staff Council met Wednesday over Zoom to vote on the Staff Emergency Fund proposal and hear from speakers from All of Us Research Program, Pitt’s United Way Campaign and the Office of Human Resources.

By Natalie Frank, News Editor

Not everyone can donate millions of dollars to fund research. But Mylynda Massart, a co-investigator for All of Us Research Program, said it’s the smaller contributions — such as spitting into a tube — that greatly contribute to scientific advancements.

“I always kind of joke, like, I can’t donate a million dollars to Pitt, but I can spit in a tube and donate to science for Pitt researchers, you know, forever,” Massart said. “And, that is an incredibly valuable donation to science and to advancing our health care.”

Pitt’s Staff Council met Wednesday over Zoom to hear presentations from the All of Us Research Program, Pitt’s United Way Campaign and the Office of Human Resources. The council also met to vote on the Staff Emergency Fund proposal, which would offer financial support to Pitt staff going through hardships.

Massart, who also serves as the associate director of clinical services in the Institute for Precision Medicine, gave a presentation on the program, which is currently trying to enroll more than 100 million participants nationwide into a research database. Massart said Pitt staff should consider contributing to the organization’s research to capture data such as “genetic information, electronic health record information, survey data, wearable data and beyond.”

Massart said her team is especially focusing on getting underrepresented and minority populations to join the research, since previous biomedical research has “done a poor job” of this in the past.

“And we know that that has to be reconciled. In order to close disparity gaps, we need to truly have everyone represented in the data set,” Massart said. “And so this study has specifically emphasized and set goals to enroll as much as 80% underrepresented previously in biomedical research, and this is a critical advance in our research studies.”

Massart said benefits to participating in the study — which is associated with the National Institutes of Health — include “improving the health of our own generations, as well as future generations, an opportunity to learn about our own health and the ability and choice to access our own data as we go forward.”

Around six staff members in attendance said in the Zoom chat that they are a part of the research program, and encouraged others to join.

The council also discussed and passed a proposal to establish a staff emergency fund, which would provide up to $500 in financial assistance to staff members on a rolling basis who are experiencing a temporary hardship. The committee voted overwhelmingly in favor of establishing the fund.

Alex Toner, assistant director of community engagement, asked if the council will seek contributions from the University or if it will offer potential seeding for the fund. 

Angela Coldren, director of administrative support in the Office of Research Protections, said the council plans to have a formal write-up about the fund to present to administrators. 

Mark Henderson, chair of Pitt’s United Way Campaign, updated the council on the campaign’s fundraising progress. Henderson, who also serves as vice chancellor and chief information officer, said donations currently total $132,515, which contributes toward a $750,000 goal for this year. Henderson said contributions are “gravely important.”

“There are literally folks who are wondering where the next meal will come from, and also keeping roofs over their heads, among other things,” Henderson said. “So I can’t emphasize how important it is that we open up our hearts and our pockets and give to this very worthwhile effort to help those who are less fortunate than we are.”

Kelly Gilliam, Pitt United Way campaign manager in the Office of Philanthropic and Alumni Engagement, discussed a new aspect of the campaign — a payroll rollover option for those who donate the same amount every year to the same organizations. Gilliam said if a staff member gave payroll deduction last year, the deduction will automatically roll over with January’s pay. The donor doesn’t have to take any action unless they want to change the amount they pledge.

Gilliam also said staff members can earn money for United Way by working shifts at the University Store during Pitt basketball games. Gilliam said staff will earn $35 per person for their work, which will be donated to the campaign.

Mark Burdsall, assistant vice chancellor for consulting services, reported several different initiatives currently coming from HR. Burdsall said HR has an arrangement with — an online forum used to find caregivers — to access the premium network, which a user normally has to pay for. Burdsall said this initiative offers unlimited access to the website’s network of caregivers, but also provides emergency backup care for dependents. 

April O’Neil, operations specialist, shared feedback about the partnership. She said having this resource was very helpful when she needed to find a caregiver for her grandmother in West Virginia.

“But I just wanted to say thank you,” O’Neil said. “Because this was just, I know, it seems like a little trivial thing, but it was just the right thing we needed at the right time.”

Burdsall added that HR is looking into more resources to help support employees in finding dependent care.

Burdsall also introduced a new partnership with GreenPath Financial Wellness — an organization that provides confidential finance and debt coaching — to help University employees manage their finances and potential debt. Burdsall said while the debt management services still come with a fee, that fee is much more manageable through the HR partnership.

Burdsall also announced that the Office of Human Resources hired a new vice chancellor, James Gallaher. Burdsall said he “couldn’t be more excited for the University” for Gallaher’s arrival on Dec. 1.

“I am extremely excited about him, his background, his higher ed experience that he’s going to bring to the University,” Burdsall said. “I’m excited about that announcement.”