University Animal Care Surprised to be Named 2022 Department Award for Excellence Winners

March 18, 2022
UAC reacts to award announcement

University Animal Care (UAC) were gathered in person and virtually for a monthly seminar when the ERC surprise patrol arrived to make their announcement. They were excited to hear they had been chosen for recognition  and some special treats in recognition too.  

UAC serves over 290 principal investigators and over 2,000 research staff and students who utilize animals for research and teaching purposes. Our team of six veterinarians and 65 staff provide daily husbandry and veterinary care for over 55,000 animals housed in UArizona facilities each day of the year, including weekends and holidays, and provides emergency veterinary assistance 24 hours per day. This service continued uninterrupted throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. For the past 22 months, the UAC team has been on site, performing essential work to care for all the animals on campus, every day. This allowed critical research to continue including cutting edge studies focused on Covid-19. This time has been challenging to the whole world, and I am extremely proud that UAC maintained normalcy for each other, the animals, and our research community. I believe our success in keeping status quo for our research endeavor exemplifies the qualities that merit recognition with the Department Award for Excellence.

One of the few positives of being in year two of a pandemic, are the lessons learned from year one. In early 2021, UAC commissioned a cultural assessment by our HR consultant. This was in response to high turnover and low morale. Staff felt disconnected and isolated by Covid safety protocols. And they were tired of the daily job duty shuffle required due to sick call outs. As a result we made department wide adjustments in scheduling to better accommodate individual life-work balance. We extended part time options as well as 4-10’s schedules. This allowed for personal choice and although many remained in traditional routines, some chose to change, and all appreciated the choice. We also adopted intentional communication strategies to encourage bi-directional problem solving. Daily huddles, regular feedback sessions, added peers to search committees, and generally opened the door to better communication and inclusion between staff and supervisors. We incorporated many new ideas and solutions which improved staff happiness. UAC has always been a welcoming place but the isolation of Covid required a strong intention towards empathy and inclusion. Staff retention improved and the sense of community returned to our teams.

Covid and the daily staffing shortages, revealed selfless dedication among UAC staff. Under enormous pressure to meet the daily needs of animals and researchers, staff took on extra duties, extra shifts, move between facilities and roles without notice, and truly embraced the value of teamwork. Veterinarians cleaned animal housing rooms. Administrative staff became materials handlers, shifting inventory around to ensure we stayed ahead of supply shortages. Animal Care Technicians became testers of new and sometimes, less than desirable PPE. Suffering thick plastic gowns when our usual breathable gowns were unavailable. Reacting to and accepting the almost daily updates in mask requirements. I am most proud of how everyone remained positive especially when University direction was focused on staff working at home, not those of us on site every day. I am also proud that we kept staff safe. We inevitably had positives in our team, however none were linked to work related exposure. And we had no work-related transmission. At times our safety guidelines were stricter than the University’s, and the staff did not rebel, and kept each other safe.

UAC maintained consistent service throughout the pandemic. There was a brief drop in animal census in spring 2020 which rebounded to pre-pandemic levels by early 2021. Despite the “great resignation” and some unexpected early retirements, our support to research was uninterrupted.

"The professionalism and dedication of all the people working for UAC allowed us to continue operations uninterrupted, and 2020 was in-fact among our most productive years. We generated 26 new genetically modified mouse models and cryopreserved over 30 strains during this pandemic year. I believe these goals could not have been met without the uninterrupted services provided by UAC." - GEMM Core

"Our experiments are often complex and require the use of commercial and unique transgenic animals as well as procedural and surgical suite space. Vital to these operations is continuity and quality of care for the animals themselves, maintenance of research space (surgical and procedural) and responsiveness to unique research needs (e.g. quarantine services for non-commercially sourced animals, unique or long-term procedures). The veterinarians, husbandry supervisors and technicians who work so hard daily for UAC have always been exceptional in meeting our research needs. Having been able to do so over the course of the last 2 years and the pandemic is frankly just remarkable and that accomplishment should not go unrecognized. UAC it has been “business as usual” from the external stand point of a research user of the facilities – and I know I don’t understand the full depth of what that took on UAC employee side but I know it was exceptional. Beyond just maintaining the quality care and services it is the poise and confidence UAC personnel were able to accomplish this. They have made what I am sure was an equally extraordinary amount of effort on their part appear routine all while maintaining their service-oriented and positive attitude. They are truly deserving of the Departmental Award for Excellence for a job very well done!" - COM Phx Basic Science

UAC has had to deal with employee turnover, planned and unplanned absences and issues getting supplies needed for daily operations. UAC weathered these challenges without the research community seeing any change in service. This was only possible because of the dedication of staff, teamwork, adaptability, contingency planning and creative thinking. Congratulations UAC for this well deserved recognition!