Big day for UTMB Galveston

August 2, 2009 3:45:03 AM PDT
Emergency patients on Galveston Island are now able to go back to the University of Texas Medical Branch. The hospital's ER is now open again. It's a major step in Galveston's road to recovery following Hurricane Ike. It's been almost a year since UTMB was damaged in the storm, and the hospital ended up laying off almost 3,000 workers. Now many have been re-hired and the hospital is bouncing back.

The hospital saw about 150 patients in their emergency room Saturday, which is about the daily number they saw before the storm. After 11 months without a Level One Trauma Center, Galveston residents are finally seeing a place to go in emergencies.

An asthma patient for years, Jessie Mahoney doesn't mince words when it comes to the re-opening of UTMB's emergency room.

"A big relief. I've been waiting for it," said Mahoney.

For months, the Galveston resident has had to go off the island for her treatment, but now she's able to get that same care near her home.

"When we get sick, we don't have far to come and a majority of us don't have transportation," said Mahoney.

It's been a very long journey. It has taken months of planning and preparation to get the ER back and running after Ike. To a point, doctors were able to see their first patient at 7:45am Saturday morning.

"It's pain in my lower area," said Miracle Toran.

Miracle Toran just happened to be vacationing in Galveston from Humble and her mom calls the reopening a blessing.

"I'm very grateful that they opened on today because I don't know what I would do. I don't really know the Galveston area at all," said Tabunka Toran.

While there are some changes, like the exclusion of psychiatric care, for the most part the ER has been restored to pre-Ike status. The ER is staffed with two doctors, 17 nurses and several support personnel, nearly identical to what it was before the storm.

"This puts back a critical resource for a nine county area along the Gulf Coast of Mexico. It's very important to a lot of people," said Dr. Bill Mileski, UTMB Chief of Trauma Service.

That certainly can be said for Jessie Mahoney, who's glad to see her hometown hospital getting back in business.

"When I came here, John Sealy was here, and I wouldn't know how to live without John Sealy," said Mahoney.

Hospital officials say they do expect about a 20 percent reduction in patients this year because of displacement following the storm. That equates to about 44,000 patients, compared to 64,000 patients last year.

UTMB had been operating a 24-hour urgent care center for patients with minor injuries. That center will close now that the ER is back at full capacity.

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