UTMB took six to seven feet of water in the basement and two to three feet on the first floor. When we were there after Hurricane Ike, everyone knew that the hurricane damage was extensive that it'd be difficult to come back; but no one thought UTMB's future would be in limbo three years later.
UTMB closed. There was minimal medical care on the island. Doctors, nurses and staff were laid off. There was even concern UTMB would be moved to another city.
"As a complex, it wouldn't have been abandoned but it might have been significantly reduced in size and scope," UTMB President Dr. David Callender said.
While the legislature debated its future, UTMB began reopening slowly until the emergency center finally reopened.
"It's been great being back open," a nurse at the facility said.
During the first month, 4,000 patients came to the newly reopened ER.
"Having this back open has made all the difference," UTMB patient Dwayne More said.
But what was the future for the rest of the downsized hospital? That answer finally came two weeks ago.
UTMB will rebuild and expand back to the 600 beds it had before Ike. The board of regents approved a new $400 million tower housing 310 beds, new operating rooms and ICUs. And the existing John Sealy building would be renovated.
The new UTMB should weather most hurricanes with minimal damage. And if a Category 5 hits...
"We designed the facility so that we can quickly evacuate staff and patients and get them back and continue operations within a matter of just a few days, even perhaps hours," Dr. Callender said.
Instead of the months and years it has taken since Hurricane Ike, construction on the new hospital tower starts in a few months. The existing tower will be renovated at the same time and both buildings are expected to be ready for patients in 2016.