Tucson Medical Center CEO calls on educators to expand in-person learning

Judy Rich claims schools not causing COVID-19 spread, medical workers need kids to go back to school so they can return to work

Tucson Medical Center CEO calls on educators to expand in-person learning
Judy Rich, the president and CEO of Tucson Medical Center, is asking schools to offer more options for in-person learning.

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The president and CEO of Tucson Medical Center has asked local educators to expand in-person options for students and their families.

Judy Rich, who’s also a registered nurse, wrote a letter initially to Pima County School Superintendent Dustin J. Williams.

In the letter, Rich claimed schools are not causing the spread of COVID-19 and that medical workers need their children to go back to school so they can return to work.

“We understand the ‘why’ behind closing schools and transitioning to at-home learning, particularly in the early days of the pandemic, and appreciate how very hard you have worked to develop detailed mitigation plans,” Rich wrote. “However, what we know now that we didn’t know earlier in the pandemic is that school environments - particularly elementary schools - are not proving to be where spread occurs."

Williams was quick to respond, telling Rich he doesn’t have the authorities to open or close schools. Those decisions are left up to the individual school districts in the state.

“As the elected Pima County School Superintendent our office does not have the authority to open or close schools,” Williams told Rich. “That decision is locally controlled by the actual district or schools. I can relay your message to our educational leaders or help by making connections but ultimately the decisions on opening or closing are out of my hands.”

Kristel Ann Foster, a member of the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board, also responded to Rich’s letter.

“How can the numbers that are reported now, rising to those that prompted schools to be closed across our state in the spring, not affect the COVID data dashboard this week in Pima County or urge Pima County Health officials not to recommend we pull all our schools back into remote learning? How can statements like this one be made from the CEO of Tucson Medical Center,” Foster asked on Facebook. “I do not regret decisions I made, as I trusted the medical professionals at the time that I made them. But not anymore. I can no longer trust that influence and politics are not impacting the recommendations coming from these individuals and organizations I was depending on.”

Below is Rich’s letter in its entirety.

Dear Superintendent,

COVID-19 has tested hospitals and schools in ways previously unimaginable. Our leadership has been tested with our internal teams and the stakeholders we serve. And while our work is different, it is intricately intertwined.

It’s been well reported that COVID-19 is again surging in Pima County and across Arizona. And, predictably, as we see cases rise, hospitalizations rise as well. In schools, teachers are essential for you to open classrooms. For hospitals, the critical resource for us is nurses. We talk about the number of hospital beds available, but it’s rarely the physical bed that is our limitation - it’s the nurses and techs needed to care for the patient in the bed that are limited.

Tucson’s hospitals are facing a critical staffing challenge as we stand on the frontline. You see, in addition to being professionals, many of essential employees are also mothers and fathers who have no option but to stay home with their elementary school children who are in at-home learning programs.

We understand the “why” behind closing schools and transitioning to at-home learning, particularly in the early days of the pandemic, and appreciate how very hard you have worked to develop detailed mitigation plans. However, what we know now that we didn’t know earlier in the pandemic is that school environments - particularly elementary schools - are not proving to be where spread occurs.

Contact tracing has demonstrated that when elementary schools have identified cases within their population, those children acquired the virus at home or in other community settings. We acknowledge that school-based athletic programs have been demonstrated to be a source of spread, but those programs are not common and can be limited in elementary school settings.

We know that the state of Arizona is not planning to reverse its stance on hybrid learning in schools based on what science has shown us about the viral spread in school-based settings.

We are writing to you today to implore you to expand in-person education options so that essential health care workers are available to come back to work where they are desperately needed.

We stand ready on the frontlines - and we need our valued staff to be here with us.

Sincerely,

Judy Rich

TMC President & CEO

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