Emergency fund helps staff members in crisis, available for donations on HornRaiser

Lauren Grobe

When Fran Peña realized she was having a mental health emergency, she did everything right. She went to an emergency room and checked herself into a mental health hospital, but before she could leave, she had to pay a bill. Then, another bill came in the mail. And another. And another.

“For some reason, they won’t allow you to leave until you pay something,” said Peña, administrative program coordinator for the Latino Research Institute. “To me, (the hospital is) bringing more anxiety when they want money, when you’re supposed to be working on (anxiety).” 

Peña was able to pay her medical bills after a friend recommended she apply for the Staff Emergency Fund, which is offered through the Employee Assistance Program. 

“(I) got a check in the mail, and I was so relieved,” Peña said. “It really helped ease that burden and anxiety of having all these different bills.”

The staff emergency fund is available to all University staff when they face unexpected out-of-pocket expenses they are unable to pay, said Jeff Stellmach, a University senior social worker. The maximum award for an individual is $1,000. 

“Primarily, we’ve had people who have had medical emergencies utilize it,” Stellmach said. “But it’s not limited to just those.”

The fund is supplied through donations from UT Cares, the Staff Council and, for the first time, HornRaiser. Kellie Sullivan, associate director for annual giving for the University Development Office, said HornRaiser is an effective platform for any initiative at the University.

“We’re able to draw attention to some of the many areas that you can donate back to here at UT, like the staff emergency fund,” Sullivan said.


Stellmach said the Staff Council and human resources department created the fund in 2003. Stellmach said the fund has been promoted through other avenues, and this year, HornRaiser contacted the Employee Assistance Program about hosting the emergency fund. The fund’s HornRaiser will accept donations through March 6, according to the HornRaiser website.

“It’s an additional source of funding and promotion,” Stellmach said. “That’s our primary interest: promotion to the campus.”

Stellmach said the fund is also promoted through the Staff Council, the human resources department and the Employee Assistance Program website.

Peña said she had never heard of the staff emergency fund until she needed the financial aid. She also said it would have been much more difficult to pay her medical bills without the fund, and she was grateful to the University.

“Even though it’s not thousands and thousands of dollars, it does help no matter what,” Peña said. “If you don’t have any help like that, you’re stuck with all (these bills).”

According to the UT System website, University staff who have worked at least 1,250 hours within the past year can take up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave per year for medical and family emergencies. The University does not offer paid medical leave, according to the website.

Under the UT System health care plan, an individual can pay up to $7,900 in out-of-pocket expenses before the health plan covers all costs of covered benefits.

“Our insurance, I wish it covered more, but it just doesn’t,” Peña said.