Citing budget constraints, Tufts University School of Dental Medicine (TUSDM) announced in late August its decision to lay off 77 employees, place 26 workers in furlough for four months, reduce hours or salaries for other workers and suspend several community hygiene programs, according to Dean Nadeem Karimbux.
Karimbux explained that the pandemic has dramatically impacted the dental school.
“The dental school has been hardest hit at Tufts,” he wrote in an email to the Daily.
The clinics at the dental school typically provide oral health care to more than 30,000 patients each year, according to Karimbux. He noted that in the wake of increased pressures and statewide shutdowns, however, TUSDM closed almost all of its clinics, except the emergency care clinic.
Patrick Collins, executive director of media relations, said in an email to the Daily that the emergency clinic served about 12 patients per day during the shutdown that resulted from COVID-19. Still, the school is following the state’s restrictions on the number of people who can occupy its clinical spaces.
According to Karimbux, the loss of revenue from the closures of the clinics, coupled with reduced clinical operations, led to a budget deficit of about $22 million for the dental school.
“We waited to communicate this news definitely until the plan was finalized and approved and to ensure that no populations were disproportionately impacted,” he said.
Karimbux also said that the school sought to spread the direct impact of the measures across departments to preserve as many jobs as possible. Each department and division within the dental school was asked to work to reduce their budgets.
He indicated that, in an attempt to alleviate the budget deficit, the school implemented hiring freezes, pay freezes and voluntary salary reductions by leadership personnel. The school also announced the suspension of a program that provided dental health services to high-risk populations in schools in local communities.
In total, 195 employees were affected by the dental school’s new changes, according to Karimbux.
Collins noted, however, that the university is providing separation benefits for those who have been laid off.
He added that, alongside the lost revenue from clinics, the school faced surmounting costs associated with health and safety measures, including investing in plexiglass barriers and personal protective equipment, among other alterations.
Collins explained that a combination of measured and strategic actions has enabled Tufts to avoid layoffs and reduce costs in other university schools, including moratoriums on hiring, wages and discretionary spending, and placing almost all capital projects on hold.
According to Collins, the university’s budget is currently in balance.
“Going forward, we intend to continue to manage the university’s finances strategically, carefully managing our expenses with a goal of trying to keep our budget balanced throughout the year,” Collins said.
Collins added that the budget issues and actions taken by the dental school are due to the pandemic’s unique impact on the dental field and the reduction of TUSDM’s clinic revenues, as a result of state-related restrictions.
Currently, TUSDM clinics are operating at 35% to 50% capacity. Despite the significant reduction in clinic operations, the dental school hopes to increase operating capacity by the end of 2020, according to Karimbux.
Karimbux acknowledged that the school cannot predict the future as it relates to the pandemic. He also expressed the difficulty of taking such measures that affect many members of the school’s community.
“As healthcare providers, we take pride in providing high-quality care to our patients. As educators, we take pride in providing high-quality education for our students,” Karimbux said. “As individuals and as a community, we are saddened by the steps we had to take to balance our budget: We are losing members of our community.”