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Vol. LIX, No. 7
April 6, 2007

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‘Have an Hour, Give an Hour’
Leave-Sharing Program Crucial to Employees in Crisis

On the front page...

When Karen Adams woke up, she had no idea where she was.

“I was surrounded by doctors asking me if I knew my name,” she says. “I peeped down my hospital gown and saw staples. It was so overwhelming.”

Adams was with-it enough to realize that staples meant surgery—major surgery. And while she didn’t know the doctors, she remembered the accident: “I was on my way to work, on 395 at the 14th Street Bridge. I got hit, and hit the car in front of me. My car got all smashed up.” She was admitted to Holy Cross Hospital and did okay, but 2 weeks post-discharge she had a setback: “I got real sick,” she says. “I couldn’t keep anything down.”


  VLTP recipient Karen Adams with photo of son Richard Worsley III—“We call him RJ.”  
  VLTP recipient Karen Adams with photo of son Richard Worsley III—“We call him RJ.”  
After readmission to Holy Cross, she lapsed into a coma. Her liver was failing.

“I wasn’t a drinker,” she says. “The reason it failed was from the car accident. They put me on the top of the [transplant] list.” While she lay unconscious, with her family praying at her side, events whirled around her. “One minute I’m in Maryland,” she says, “and the next minute I’m in Colorado”—in Denver University Hospital, where she was flown to receive her new liver. A few days later, she awoke.

This is a story with several heroes, including Adams herself; the medical/surgical teams; the flight crew; the organ donor and the donor’s family; and Adams’ loved ones, who stuck by her.

Then there’s the Voluntary Leave Transfer Program (VLTP)—a major player in this drama—and the folks who make it work.

“VLTP is just one of the great leave programs available at NIH,” explains Shirley Flottum, NIH’s leave policy specialist and ITAS guru. “It is government-wide and widely used.” The idea is simple: employees share their accrued annual leave with other employees who have insufficient leave to cover a “serious medical condition” for themselves or a family member.

Family member is defined as “a parent; spouse; parent of spouse; children and spouses of children; brothers, sisters and spouses thereof; any individual related by blood or affinity whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship.” It’s a benefit for the way we live now.

After a 1-year pilot, VLTP was launched in 1994; in personnel lingo it’s known as a retention benefit. “It could make the difference in choosing between paying the mortgage or putting food on the table,” Flottum says. “You can use it intermittently”—say, for dialysis twice a week—“or you can use it continually”—for a difficult pregnancy that demands bed rest. “Or you can use it to take a child to the hospital once a week for testing. VLTP is donated constantly, especially towards the end of the year when people have use-or-lose annual leave. We send out NIH-wide messages throughout the year, encouraging employees to donate and, as requested, put the names of donors and relevant information on the NIH and HHS VLTP web sites.” People donate as little as a single hour; some donate 200 hours in one chunk.

Shirley Flottum, NIH’s leave policy specialist and ITAS guru
Shirley Flottum, NIH’s leave policy specialist and ITAS guru

From 2000 through 2006, a total of 1,806 recipients used VLTP—258 folks per year, on average. Total hours used in that 7-year period topped 270,000. In 2006, the average use was around 136 hours, or 17 days, per recipient. “Of course,” says Flottum, “some recipients only use a few hours; some a lot.”

“To get on VLTP,” Adams reports, “my mom helped.” An administrative officer in the Office of Financial Management, Adams’ mother, Kathy Adams, was familiar with the program; daughter Karen’s then-supervisor put her on “the list.”

As federal employees, both her parents contributed leave, as well as her mother’s colleagues and a scientific review administrator at NIDDK, where Karen Adams was working. “People I didn’t even know gave me their leave,” she says. She also received some advanced sick leave (ASL); she was out of work about 6 months.

After her return, it took her over a year to pay back the ASL, but all donated leave was free and clear. She gradually resumed her routine, then transferred to the Office of Extramural Research, where she coordinates review panels in the Division of Extramural Activities Support.

Meanwhile, although she was grateful to be alive and thankful to those who’d helped her, she still had to take immunosuppressants to prevent organ rejection. “My whole insides were out of whack,” she says. “I really wanted to have a child; I kept trying and was ready to adopt, and then I just forgot about it.”

Some Tips for Donors or Recipients of VLTP

Tips for donors:

  • Leave donors may contribute any amount up to one-half the amount of annual leave they would be entitled to accrue during the leave year in which the donation is made. Exceptions to this may be made through a waiver, which is built into ITAS.
  • To begin, go to ITAS, choose “Donate Leave” and in the drop-down box are the available recipients.
  • Donations must be earmarked for a specific person.
  • Donors may be from other federal agencies.

Tips for recipients:

  • You or a surrogate must complete an NIH VLTP request application.
  • You must document a medical emergency that is projected to put you in “nonpay status” for at least 24 continuous hours.
  • You can choose what kind of request broadcast you want: office-wide, I/C-wide, NIH- or HHS-wide.
  • You can also choose how much information you want to include about your medical condition.
  • You must first exhaust all of your own leave before using any donated leave.
  • You may receive annual leave or restored annual leave donations only.
  • Those who ask for leave and don’t get enough can be advanced annual and sick leave (to be paid back), at the supervisor’s discretion.
  • If you don’t use the leave, it must be restored; it is prorated and given back to the donors.

That’s when she became pregnant.

Although she was considered high-risk—“They told me I may not go full term”—on Jan. 2, 2007, Adams gave birth to Richard Worsley III, weighing 8 pounds, 9 ounces. VLTP helped again, so Adams could take 2 months to recuperate without having to use ASL.

“I would advise people, if they have leave to donate, to go ahead,” Adams says, “because you never know what will happen to you.” NIH Record Icon

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