Emergency!

Hurricane Ike devastated the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Another storm is brewing over why the regents don’t want to rebuild it.

Steve Ogden, the sharp-witted, white-haired chairman of the state Senate Finance Committee, is not often stumped, but lately he has been mystified by the behavior of the board of regents of the University of Texas. Ogden can’t figure out why, in the wake of Hurricane Ike, the leaders of the UT System seem willing to allow one of Texas’s finest medical institutions, the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, to suffer a slow and unnecessary death. The demise of UTMB, which consists of a medical school, five hospitals, numerous clinics, and an affiliated unit specializing in burns, threatens not just the livelihoods but the very lives of the people who depend on it for employment, care, and support. Yet even before the cleanup from Ike was complete, the regents balked at the costs of reopening the sprawling complex. “For whatever reason, [the university] is not asking the foundations, the Legislature, and the voters for help, and I can’t understand why,” Ogden says. “The financial issues are not insurmountable. I don’t understand the politics. I don’t understand what’s driving a decision that I would consider a political disaster.”

If you live far from the Gulf Coast, this controversy may have escaped your notice, what with the financial crisis, the global warming crisis, and the health care crisis, but in fact, this crisis has a relationship to all three. Founded in 1891, UTMB is the oldest medical school in Texas and arguably the quirkiest: For most of its life, it embodied the best of Texas medicine, which means that its doctors were fiercely independent and irrepressibly innovative. The Level I trauma center at John Sealy Hospital had the highest survival rate of any trauma center in the United States. UTMB ranked third in the country in receipt of valuable National Institutes of Health grants, and it quietly and steadily pioneered treatments for AIDS, burns, infectious disease, mental illness, infertility, and kidney disease, among others. Further, it was known as a place that encouraged and nurtured minority medical students—people who looked like the patients they treated. UTMB was known all over the state as the medical center of last resort for poor and uninsured patients who could not pay; other medical centers routinely turfed the very sick there, and it was a point

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