Big changes at UTMB after Ike

June 22, 2009 2:35:49 PM PDT
The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston has been a staple on the island for well over a century. On Tuesday, employees who heard rumors they would be out of a job thanks to Hurricane Ike were given hope. But UTMB will still be changing significantly. [MAYOR NOT HAPPY: Lyda Ann Thomas voices concern]

Hundreds of worried UTMB employees attended a town hall meeting Tuesday. Most of them were concerned about their future.

"This is probably the largest town hall meeting we've ever had," said UTMB employee Larry Hinson. "People were in the aisles, everywhere."

"Did you get reassurance?" we asked.

"It was a lot more positive than I thought it'd be," he answered

Most of the 2,300 UTMB medical students and nursing students will return in two weeks. The researchers are going back to work as their labs reopen. But for UTMB's John Sealy hospital, it will re-open, but it won't look the same. They expect to open less than 1/3 of the 700 beds they had before Hurricane Ike. That means layoffs, but they don't know yet how many.

"It's too early for me to comment on any specific plans," said UTMB President Dr. David Callender. "We're trying to think of all the different configurations. What makes sense? What doesn't make sense? And offer a number of ideas that lets us pursue our opportunities. We need more time."

"The hospital was hit hard," said UTMB Scientist Professor John Papaconstantinou. "Like he said, they're going to have to change certain strategic plans."

But the UT system's interim chancellor was there and squelched one rumor.

"Someone asked David (Callender) in the meeting if there were plans to move UTMB to Austin," said Dr. Ken Shine. "And I responded very simply, 'There are no such plans.'"

As for John Sealy Hospital, UT regents have asked for startup costs. From that number, they'll be able to determine how much of the hospital they'll be able to open up and how many employees they'll be able to keep.

We're told that Houston hospitals are already vying for UTMB employees.

UTMB has trained more Texas physicians than any other medical school in the state. Its website says they've issued more than 28,000 degrees since opening in 1891. There are more than 23,000 living alumni. Last year, there were more than 753,000 outpatient visits at UTMB.

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