Ike-devastated hospital to reopen

GALVESTON, TX Tommy Lambright, of the hospital's governing board, said the Galveston facility is tentatively scheduled to reopen Nov. 8.

Lambright helped lead a rank-and-file revolt that overturned a decision by the boards of the International Shriners and Shriners Hospitals for Children to keep the hospital closed after the Sept. 13, 2008, storm, the Houston Chronicle reported Saturday.

"It's been a long journey," Lambright said.

The hospital is a world leader in burn research and source of the foremost textbook on burn treatment. The 1,300 Shriners who are members of the hospitals' governing body rejected a proposal in July to close six facilities permanently, instead opting to explore downsizing the hospital system's operations and to accept insurance payments for the first time.

The Shriners had considered closing the Galveston facility and others in Shreveport, La.; Greenville, S.C.; Erie, Pa.; Spokane, Wash.; and Springfield, Mass., eliminating a total of 225 beds.

The hospitals historically have provided care for free, without billing insurance, to any child they thought they could help.

Shriners chief of staff Dr. David Herndon said the first two Shriners' patients since Ike are being treated at the University of Texas Medical Branch's Blocker Burn Unit in Galveston. Herndon, who also is the head of the Blocker unit, said an agreement was signed Oct. 9 giving Shriners two temporary beds there.

Shriners doctors initially will perform only reconstructive surgery and won't begin treating burn patients -- except those accommodated at the Blocker unit -- until December, Lambright said, because the hospital is still recruiting staff.

The newly reopened hospital will be smaller and leaner, Lambright said. If fully staffed by the end of the year as expected, Shriners will have 200 employees compared with the 333 it had before Ike, he said. The national boards are expected to approve a budget that is about three-fourths of the $33 million pre-Ike budget, he said.

Douglas Maxwell, the president and CEO of Shriners Hospitals for Children, said the organization's trust fund has recovered after shrinking from $8 billion to $5 billion in the 2008 stock market decline. The fund is now worth about $6.5 billion, he said.

Maxwell said Shriners will no longer rely solely on its trust fund to pay for daily operations, and in addition will begin accepting Medicaid and insurance payments.

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