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August 19, 2021

Dear Faculty and Staff,

Earlier this month we made the difficult decision to cancel our annual department summer picnic because of the recent COVID-19 surge. I am very sorry about this and I want to reach out with a brief note.

For many of us, this summer feels better than last summer, but we are struggling with yet another COVID surge in our community and in our hospitals and with new concerns about breakthrough infections. Some of us have had our summer plans disrupted by the latest COVID surge or by the recent heat wave and the smoke from wildfires. Our world is not normal and not right, but I hope that you and your families are doing ok.

I also know that some of you are concerned about returning to the office when the university opens its doors to students again in September. As a department, we will do what we can to make sure that we are all as safe as we can be. Most of our clinicians have been on-site for months now and we have learned that we can create a very safe work environment here at UW Medicine. Our administrative and research programs have coped remarkably well with working from home during the pandemic, but we are becoming increasingly aware that some in-person interactions will be critical if we want to have the department function at anything more than a ‘crisis level’ going forward. We have worked hard this year and over the summer to remodel and improve some of our workspaces and we look forward to welcoming back many of our faculty and staff on campus this fall. We will do this with safety for our faculty, staff, trainees and patients in mind and we will continue to follow all UW guidelines to make our workspaces as safe as we possibly can.

When I take a deep breath at the end of the day to try and get some perspective, I often reflect on the fact that we have been fortunate in many ways. Many of us have weathered this pandemic better than our friends and colleagues in other parts of the world. Most of us are reasonably well protected by vaccines now. Most of us have jobs that make us feel valued and that allow us to support our families. In that way, we are privileged.

I am really sorry that we can’t see each other at our department picnic this summer. I had hoped to thank and appreciate you all in person, and I want you to know that I am here and that I am happy to talk and to help in any way I can. Please also remember that there are confidential mental health resources available for you and your family and that our faculty and staff support several of these resources. I thank you for that as well.

Thank you for all you do! I hope that you and your families are safe and that you get a little bit of a chance to take a break this summer. I look forward to continuing our work together and to seeing some of you back in the office in the fall.


Jürgen Unützer, MD, MPH, MA
Professor and Chair
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
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