Vote should re-open Shriners Hospital

GALVESTON The Shriners Hospital for Children in Galveston is quite possibly, as its doctors like to brag, the best place in the world to get treated for a burn.

However, for almost a year now, it's been virtually empty, still suffering from an estimated $5 million dollars in damage it sustained during Ike.

One of the few doctors who still has an office at Shriners, Dr. Jong Lee, has been working across the street at UTMB's Blocker Burn Unit, which took over care of young acute burn patients. This small unit, though, has its limitations. It's attempting to do with four beds, what Shriners once did with 15.

So, when news broke here that Shriners will once again re-open, Jong says, the excitement spread quickly.

"I think… it's just we're happy," said Dr. Lee.

The impact on Galveston's Medical Center could be substantial. The Texas Legislature has already promised $150 million to bring to UTMB back to its former state before Ike.

Shriners' Chief of Staff Dr. David Herndon said re-opening the burn hospital will help bring even more patients back to Galveston Island.

"It's a renaissance, a rebirth, and it should be nothing but an exciting moment for Galveston and Houston," said Dr. Herndon.

For those who work here, it is an optimistic sign.

"I think we'll be back to where we were, probably better when we're finished rebuilding," said Dr. Lee.

The word that Shriners in Galveston will likely be reopening is welcome news for many on the island. It means pediatric patients will no longer have to travel to burn facilities in Cincinnati, Sacramento or Boston for treatment.

Former Shriners' staffers are anxious to return to work and say the Galveston facility is vital to the gulf coast area.

Before Hurricane Ike, the hospital treated some 1,500 burned children a year.

"It's a big need for Texas or the southern United States -- Louisiana, Texas and, of course, to have a specialized pediatric burn unit," said Dr. Michael Jeschke.

The hospital's chief of staff says he's "immensely gratified" about the news and says he doesn't anticipate any surprises or changes that would keep the hospital from reopening.

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