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UTMB’s comeback

This is great to see.

A bigger and better University of Texas Medical Branch is rising from the debris of Hurricane Ike, with more than $1 billion in repair, refurbishing and new construction under way or being planned.

The UT Board of Regents recently authorized $667 million worth of new projects at UTMB, an amount that doesn’t include a proposed $400 million hospital tower. When completed, the tower will restore the medical school to the 550 hospital beds it had before the storm slammed into its Galveston Island campus Sept. 13, 2008.

The burst of construction is in remarkable contrast to the gloom over UTMB’s future only a few months ago. Earlier this year, a consultant recommended moving the UTMB hospital off the island. Last November, UTMB announced it was laying off a third of its work force.

But Dr. Ben Raimer, UTMB senior vice president, said the branch had an obligation to rebuild a better campus. “We would be very culpable if we put things back the way they were,” he said. “UTMB has a once in a lifetime chance to build for the future.”

That’s awesome, not just as a symbol of recovery, but also as an economic engine going forward. Galveston is doing all right economically, all things considered, but having a large employer like UTMB, with the types of jobs it provides, is crucial to its long-term success. I couldn’t be happier to read about this.

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One Comment

  1. George Reamy says:

    Unfortunately, the controversy surrounding UTMB’s recovery is far from over, contrary to what the Houston Chronicle’s article would lead one to believe. The centerpiece of the recovery is getting the bed count up to 550 or so. The key to that is a new 220-bed hospital tower. The Legislature authorized $150 million to build the new tower, but that money was contingent upon Galveston County’s coming up with the money to fund indigent and uninsured health care. Everyone thought the county would do so by creating a hospital district, but to create a district, county residents would have had to vote for it. North Galveston County, with its wealthier and well-insured residents, has interests quite different from its southern end. UT knew it and was counting on the north county to queer the deal. The county commissioners caught on, too, and decided to just vote for a hike in property taxes themselves rather than risk a vote on the district. The hike went through a week or two back, and the Legislature’s prerequisite for the release of that funding was met.

    UT was counting on a hospital district vote to fail, so they were largely silent, leading people to believe that it would comply with the Legislature’s wishes if the county came up with the money. When it looked like the county would push thru a tax hike, however, UT suddenly started transmitting, and management was clearly unhappy. Administrators started demanding unconstitutional guarantees (i.e., binding future legislatures) that money would come in future sessions.

    To this day, regents refuse to commit to building on Galveston Island.

    http://txfacassn.typepad.com/utmb_galveston_chapter_te/2009/08/utmb-tax-hike-commissioners-right-to-mistrust-ut.html

    I have no doubt that UTMB will recover; where it will recover is the real question. Will UTMB build that tower on the mainland on the 64 acres it owns in League City, where it has already tried to move before Galveston mobilized to stop it, or will regents follow the intent of the Legislature and build that tower on the Galveston campus? Everything is still up in the air except that tower, which is still a dream in some architect’s portfolio.

    Oh, UTMB will recover; Galveston may not.