Meeting held to discuss UTMB's future

February 20, 2009 11:24:53 AM PST
The message at a public hearing Friday on the future of Galveston's hurricane-damaged public hospital and medical school was clear: Rebuild it and keep it in this island city. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

Doctors, medical students, residents and local and state officials implored the UT System Board of Regents to reject a report it commissioned that recommends all patient beds be moved to the mainland from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

The public meeting came after Atlanta-based Kurt Salmon Associates recommended this month moving the beds as the best hope for securing the financial future of UTMB, which suffered more than $1 billion in damage when Hurricane Ike came ashore Sept. 13. Only about $100 million of that was covered by insurance.

"While you may feel you need to support the consultant's report, we urge you to set aside the findings and proceed with the restoration of Galveston before more damage is done to the future of UTMB, Galveston and Galveston County," said Sally Prill, a Galveston resident. "Hurricane Ike damaged UTMB. Only you can restore UTMB."

UTMB -- Galveston County's largest employer -- laid off 3,000 employees and reduced the number of beds at its public hospital from 550 to 200 after the hurricane.

The regents commissioned the report from the consulting firm as they and state lawmakers consider the future of UTMB, the state's oldest medical school.

The firm's report recommended splitting hospital beds between the island and mainland as the second best option. Repairing UTMB and keeping all beds on Galveston -- which all people who spoke at Friday's public meeting advocated -- was deemed the least affordable option.

The report said an inland location would be closer to the more heavily populated outskirts of Houston, which has a greater proportion of patients with commercial and government insurance.

Under the option of moving to the mainland, the only patients who would remain on the island would be inmates who are treated at a Texas prison hospital at UTMB.

Even before the hurricane, UTMB had been in financial trouble, losing millions of dollars due to its underfunded indigent health care program. The facility has been a provider of indigent care in Southeast Texas for many years.

Brian Masel, a second-year medical student, criticized the consulting firm's report, saying it focused on money and not patient care.

"What's so unique about UTMB? Faculty, the patients and the system. Many of the proposals outlined in this report do not take these pillars into consideration. The quality of care of patients will suffer," he said.

Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas told the four regents at the meeting that they had an opportunity to carry on UTMB's "grand traditions" of medical care, research, and care of citizens, whether rich or poor, insured or uninsured.

"I ask you to bring compassion to your deliberations," Thomas said. "As a city, Galveston needs and has counted on UTMB for 118 years. Our physical, mental, cultural and economic health has and still depends upon the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston."

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