Shriner's Hospital hopes to reopen

March 24, 2009 9:04:07 AM PDT
The Shriner's Children's Hospital and burn center in Galveston could be given a second chance.[SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

The hospital suffered millions of dollars in damage after Hurricane Ike, and the national Shriner's group decided not to reopen. But this week, they could change their mind. The national board, which voted to close it in January, is convened at its meeting in Tampa and is voting again, this time deciding whether or not to reopen.

The hospital was a victim of circumstance, says its governing board members. First, there was Hurricane Ike.

"The suspension of the operations of the hospital was the result of the damage to the hospital and it already being closed," said Tommy Lambright with the Galveston Shriner's Governor's Board. "But also because the Shrine endowment funds, that funds the operation of all 22 Shriner's hospitals nationwide, had also suffered a significant downturn."

Then came news that UTMB would close, meaning UTMB doctors who work at Shriner's would be leaving.

"I was shocked," said burn surgeon Dr. Jong Lee. "I think everybody else was shocked, too."

But then news came two weeks ago that the UT regents were committed to keeping UTMB on the island, and the push to reopen Shriner's renewed.

"We feel strongly it was in violation of our bylaws, our international bylaws, that specifically state they cannot close a hospital," said Lambright.

About 250 people work at the now-closed Shriner's, which is closed due to about $3 million in water damage to the first floor. Some of them are now working in the open blocker burn unit at UTMB across the street, like Dr Lee.

"We can't treat kids with big burns anymore," he said. "We are admitting up to 30 percent burns for kids under the age of 13."

That means severely burned kids have to go elsewhere and that's why the local Shriners are hoping for a vote to reopen.

The blocker burn unit at UTMB has plans to start accepting all burned patients starting April 15 unless Shriners reopens. They'll learn the outcome of that vote sometime this week.

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