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UNT HSC medical school becomes TCU School of Medicine

University of North Texas Health Sciences Center and Texas Christian University announced Wednesday that UNT HSC has transitioned the governance of its health sciences program to TCU.

UNT HSC officials said they weren’t available to answer questions Thursday but shared documents and the official announcement.

The new medical school is now the TCU School of Medicine, UNT HSC Chancellor Michael R. Williams and TCU Chancellor Victor J. Boschini Jr. said.

The two universities joined in a large-scale collaboration in 2015, forming one of the country’s newest allopathic medical schools.

The collaboration was the first of its kind in Texas, and a rare example of a private university, with an allopathic medical focus, joining a public school with an osteopathic medical program to train healthcare professionals. (Allopathic medicine addresses disease symptoms, whereas osteopathic medicine treats patients rather than diseases.)

The university medical programs partnered in part because a merger means they might attract increased private and public funding, officials said in 2015. But the merger also represented both a response to the rapid growth in demand for healthcare providers in North Texas, and an opportunity for TCU and UNT HSC students to get practical experience in DFW hospitals, clinics and labs. Additionally, the new medical school meant more residencies available for graduates as they transitioned from the classroom to professional medicine.

In the announcement, TCU officials said the collaboration required support from the North Texas community, its leaders and its philanthropic foundations. It’s first students started coursework in 2019.

The collaboration’s first graduates will receive their degrees in 2023. Total enrollment for the 2022-2023 school year is expected to be 240.

The School of Medicine is recruiting its fourth class now. Those recruits start their studies in July.

“This is an exciting and transformational medical school with remarkable students,” Boschini said in a statement. “We are grateful to UNTHSC for their collaboration and for all of the hard work and dedication needed to get this school launched successfully.”

When the two schools entered into the collaboration, TCU took over the UNT HSC Interdisciplinary Research and Education Building, its library, classrooms and labs in Fort Worth as a renter. In the medical school’s frequently asked questions page, officials confirm that the school will eventually relocate to the former UNT HSC campus, the interdisciplinary building. The former UNT campus was part of a vibrant commercial and residential zone near a bustling and revitalized downtown Fort Worth.

However, agreement documents and the new medical school website indicate that TCU School of Medicine will make an announcement about a “permanent new home” for the school. Current students attend classes on both campuses.

All six faculty and staffers of UNT HSC were offered positions at the new school of medicine.

The TCU School of Medicine offers degrees in family medicine, pediatrics, surgery, internal medicine, clinical sciences, emergency medicine, medical education and obstetrics and gynecology.


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Denton County judges postpone some jury trials due to COVID spike
  • Updated

Jury trials in most courts in the Denton County Judiciary are canceled for the rest of January as a precaution because of the latest COVID-19 spike.

The Denton County Courts building on McKinney Street is home to the county’s district and county courts. On Friday, the county court judges formally decided to reset their January jury trials for February, while some district courts are moving forward with trials.

Jurors will still meet on Thursdays for the grand jury, District Attorney’s Office spokesperson Jamie Beck said.

“The county courts had already stopped having jury trials; then they just solidified it on Friday,” Beck said. “It’s up to the judges’ discretion. They run their own kingdom, and sometimes it’s day by day or week by week.”

Jury trials were put on hold for most of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that continued into 2021. While jury trials in Texas could resume last summer, per the Supreme Court of Texas’ guidelines, it was still up to the judges if they wanted to proceed.

“We agreed to reset all jury trials for the month of January in the county courts,” Judge Susan Piel, the administrative judge for the county courts, said. “We’re hoping that the latest COVID numbers will show evidence of peaking and getting better, and then we can resume. We hope this is a very temporary pause in jury trials.”

The latest surge of cases reached a new high Monday when Denton County Public Health announced 2,070 new cases of COVID-19. It covered three days’ worth of reporting, and DCPH Director Matt Richardson said Monday the high case load was a result of a lot of current test results coming through at one time.

DCPH on Wednesday estimated 12,967 county residents were actively infected with the coronavirus.

Piel said she and the other county court judges also made the decision to reset trials because none of the defendants in their cases are sitting in jail awaiting trials, unlike with the district court judges. She said county court defendants are all out on bond.

“If we had somebody that was in jail and postponing trial would’ve meant that person had to wait in jail longer, that would’ve been a consideration,” she said.

Judge Bruce McFarling, the administrative judge for the District Courts, said the 16th District Court and 158th District Court aren’t holding jury trials for the rest of the month. He said the other judges are continuing at a slower pace because some defendants are in jail, and Child Protective Services cases have certain deadlines they have to meet.

McFarling said some judges are factoring in what kind of case they’re trying and how long ago it was filed to decide whether to continue.

“We’re hoping this sharp spike [in cases] will drop very quickly,” he said. “The biggest factor in going back to jury trials for me and the others is for the numbers to come down.”

He said this was a proactive measure so they wouldn’t have to declare a mistrial in case a juror gets sick in the middle of a trial and has to call out sick.

“You have a case that’s going to take say two weeks,” McFarling said. “So what do you do if your juror gets COVID? We reset it to next week in the middle of the trial. What happens if another juror or witness gets it? Right now with so many people testing positive, it just seemed like the prudent thing to do so we wouldn’t have to try these cases two and three different times because we’ve had to declare a mistrial.”


National
Supreme Court blocks Biden's workplace vaccine rules, allows requirement for health-care workers

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Thursday stopped the Biden administration’s vaccination-or-testing requirement on the nation’s largest employers, expressing doubt that there is legal authority for such a broad mandate.

But the court allowed a different policy, which requires vaccinations for most health-care workers at the facilities that receive Medicaid and Medicare funds.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh were the only members of the court in the majority of both orders. Essentially, they found Congress had given federal agencies the power to impose the requirement on health-care workers at facilities receiving federal funds, but that there was no authority to impose sweeping requirements in workplaces across the nation.

Liberal Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan would have allowed the workplace requirements. Conservative Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett objected to the health-care worker requirements.

The White House said the order covered about 17 million health-care workers, while the requirement on large companies would have covered more than 80 million employees, about two-thirds of the American workforce.

The administration had argued both were needed to push Americans to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

In its unsigned order blocking the workplace rules, which had been devised by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the court said that although the risks associated with COVID-19 occur in many workplaces, “it is not an occupational hazard in most.”

“COVID-19 can and does spread at home, in schools, during sporting events, and everywhere else that people gather. That kind of universal risk is no different from the day-to-day dangers that all face from crime, air pollution, or any number of communicable diseases,” the order says. “Permitting OSHA to regulate the hazards of daily life — simply because most Americans have jobs and face those same risks while on the clock — would significantly expand OSHA’s regulatory authority without clear congressional authorization.”

In their dissent, the court’s three liberal justices, said the majority’s decision would hinder the federal government’s ability to counter “the unparalleled threat” American workers face.

“Acting outside of its competence and without legal basis, the Court displaces the judgments of the Government officials given the responsibility to respond to workplace health emergencies,” Breyer, Kagan and Sotomayor wrote.

Lower courts were split on the ability of federal agencies to impose such requirements. The Supreme Court on Friday held a highly unusual oral argument on the policies, lasting more than 3 1/2 hours.

Businesses and 27 Republican-led states asked the court to put on hold the workplace requirements proposed by OSHA, which had been upheld by a lower court.

The Biden administration asked that the requirements for health-care workers, which courts had put on hold for about half the states, be allowed to move forward.

The majority of justices who supported allowing that mandate to take effect said in an unsigned order that the secretary of health and human services was allowed to take unprecedented action. “Of course, they wrote, “the vaccine mandate goes further than what the Secretary has done in the past to implement infection control. But he has never had to address an infection problem of this scale and scope before. In any event, there can be no doubt that addressing infection problems in Medicare and Medicaid facilities is what he does.”

Thomas dissented, saying Congress did not expressly authorize the power to require vaccinations. “These cases are not about the efficacy or importance of COVID-19 vaccines. They are only about whether [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] has the statutory authority to force healthcare workers, by coercing their employers, to undergo a medical procedure they do not want and cannot undo,” he wrote, joined by Alito, Gorsuch and Barrett.

In weighing previous challenges to COVID-19 restrictions and requirements, the court has been largely deferential to state responses to the pandemic — but skeptical of the powers of federal agencies.

That seemed to be the case Friday when court considered the OSHA rule.

Federal law grants OSHA authority to issue emergency rules for up to six months to protect employees “exposed to grave danger” from “substances or agents determined to be toxic or physically harmful or from new hazards.” The administration said that gives OSHA not only the authority but also the responsibility to act.

The temporary rule would have given companies with 100 or more workers a choice: mandate all employees be vaccinated or require unvaccinated employees to provide weekly negative COVID-19 test results and wear face coverings to work on-site.

The rules were set to take effect Jan. 4, but OSHA pushed back the date in response to the litigation and said it would not immediately issue citations for those not in compliance.

Soon after the administration announced the rules for private companies in November, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit blocked enforcement of the policy.

But lawsuits emerged around the nation and were consolidated for review by a different court. A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit dissolved the 5th Circuit’s stay, saying the rules could go into effect.

The other challenged policy was a vaccination requirement for what the White House says is more than 17 million health-care workers at 76,000 facilities that receive federal money tied to Medicare and Medicaid.

The administration has pointed to federal law that gives the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services the ability to impose requirements necessary for the “health and safety” of patients. For decades, it says, the secretary has had authority to require participating health-care providers to establish programs for the prevention and control of infectious diseases within the facilities.

The states challenging the policy said the federal government did not have such coercive powers over the states. As a practical matter, they said, worker opposition to the vaccine would cost the facilities skilled employees at the time they are most needed.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit dismissed a request from Florida to stop the requirement. But a district judge in Missouri stopped the rules, and the 5th Circuit agreed with a challenge from Louisiana.

Because of the uncertainty surrounding the litigation, OSHA announced that it would not penalize companies for not complying with employee testing requirements before Feb. 9, as long as employers show “reasonable, good faith efforts” to meet the standards.

In response to concerns about a shortage of health-care workers, the administration said the secretary of health and human services has given facilities some flexibility to meet the new requirements, including an additional 60 days to get employees fully vaccinated. The agency also said it will hold off on any enforcement action, as long as 90% of the workforce is vaccinated and the facility has a plan to immunize its remaining workers.

The OSHA cases are National Federation of Independent Business v. Department of Labor and Ohio v. Department of Labor. The health-care worker cases are Biden v. Missouri and Becerra v. Louisiana.


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Employment often determining factor on long, short stays at Denton County's shelter for domestic abuse victims

People who have a job have the upper hand in trying to get out of an emergency shelter and into more steady housing after they’ve fled from domestic violence, according to Denton County Friends of the Family.

With two local shelters to provide roofs and safety to 49 people at a time, Denton County Friends of the Family’s housing services quickly fill up as soon as a spot opens up. Milidtza Guerrero, the director of residential and crisis services, said the agency tries to provide shelter first and foremost to people who are in present danger of losing their lives, although they’re not the only people experiencing domestic violence to check into its emergency shelter.

“When they’re calling in for shelter, we’re feeling out how best we can (fulfill) needs they may have,” Guerrero said. “Sometimes it’s hotel assistance, a shelter closer to where they’re actually located if they’re calling from another city, and sometimes it’s our shelter.”

Even with the pandemic and trying to limit room capacity, Guerrero said Friends of the Family still is maintaining shelter for 42 people.

“Eighteen are kids today, as of right now [on Tuesday],” she said. “The shelter does maintain a steady at-capacity rate. It’s usually within the first 24 hours of somebody vacating the shelter that we are filling [that spot].”

For someone who comes into the emergency shelter, the goal is to get them the counseling and advocacy they need and then find them a new home. The counseling would be to start to heal from the trauma of domestic violence, and advocacy can range from legal help in getting protective orders or divorces to retrieving identifying information such as Social Security cards and birth certificates that were left behind.

“If somebody comes in completely unemployed or with no history of employment, to be able to get a job easily or quickly, that [person’s] stay might be a lot longer than someone who already has employment,” Guerrero said.

Someone who already has a job and stays at their emergency shelter can be in and out in about a month, she said, but there are cases where someone won’t fit the mold. Having children also doesn’t really have an impact on someone’s stay.

“It really is whether or not they come in unemployed or other barriers,” she said.

The initial contact with Friends of the Family can be when a person facing domestic violence calls the organization’s crisis line or through police contact.

Richard Godoy, the victims assistance coordinator for the Denton Police Department, said police have a packet they follow when they’re out during a call and learn there may be an issue of domestic violence going on to determine the lethality of a situation.

“Once they arrive, they’ll separate them and find out what happened,” Godoy said. “Did he have his arms around you, strangle you, hit you with a closed fist or open fist? Ask them if they feel safe. If they don’t feel safe, talk about shelter. Usually what’s happening is if it does take that route [of feeling unsafe], we’ll call the shelter.”

He said the shelter then assesses the victim’s situation to see if that person can be admitted. While separating people, officers also can help victims identify other friends or family they can go to. Denton County Friends of the Family is the Denton County organization they work with the most. Other organizations are Abigail’s Arms in Gainesville and Hope’s Door New Beginning Center in Plano.

Even if someone enters and leaves the Denton County Friends of the Family emergency shelter, Guerrero said that person can still come back for services.

“The client ultimately would determine when they no longer need services from us,” she said. “Having said all that, at any point, any given day or time, exiting from one of our programs is a success, but they can still come back and get those services again if they needed to.”


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