"Should we move this facility off this storm-prone barrier island?" Dr. David Callender, UTMB President, recalled state officials asking.
It is the oldest medical school in Texas. But Hurricane Ike caused $700 million in damage to the hospital and research labs. Dr. Callender said state officials finally agreed with medical staff at the institution that it was too valuable to close.
Having a hospital on the coast with a burn unit, a Level One trauma center and a medical school, were critical to the island and to Texas.
If they tried to move it, "it would take 10 to 15 years to reconstitute that as it existed before Ike, and the state couldn't afford that," Callender said.
So began a $1.2 billion revitalization, the biggest on any UT campus. The hospital reopened department by department. The emergency department reopened almost a year after Ike. And they worked to storm proof it.
The floor is terrazzo tile. The walls are made of impervious materials. Even the outlets are 4 feet above ground, and flood gates protect the lower floors.
Patients like Brian Alley, who was broke his leg and 5 ribs in a motorcycle accident, recover in renovated rooms with state-of-the-art equipment.
"It's really nice now, they've done a wonderful job with. The room's amazing," he said.
The new Jennie Sealy building will add 300 beds. When it opens in 2016, UTMB will have close to 600 beds, more than before Ike.
"We're so much less vulnerable to damage we promised the state of Texas we would fix that vulnerability and we have," Callender said.
For UTMB's 27,000 inpatients and almost 700,000 outpatients, that is good news.