Following the online publication of “Emergency,” Mimi Swartz’s January 2009 column about the University of Texas Medical Branch, in Galveston, I received a number of unhappy calls and e-mails from people connected with the UT System, beginning with one from interim chancellor Kenneth Shine. All were concerned that Mimi had misrepresented or otherwise misunderstood the position of the board of regents. While I of course stand by Mimi and her piece, I invited Shine or anyone he designated to send a written response on behalf of the System. Late yesterday, I received the following letter from Scott Caven, the chairman of the UT Board of Regents.

—Evan Smith, President and Editor in Chief


To the editor:
I was dismayed and surprised to read Mimi Swartz’s piece about the impact of Hurricane Ike on The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (“Emergency!”).  It unfairly and incorrectly conveys the notion that the UT System Board of Regents has in the past short-changed UTMB, plotted its demise, and sought to diminish its role as a health care provider to uninsured and under-insured Texans.  This is simply not true and some minimal fact checking by Ms. Swartz would have easily shown that.

As the Board and UT System have consistently stated, we are committed to a successful, financially-viable and responsible future for UTMB and the advancement of its education, patient care, and research mission.  There is no secret plan to move or dismantle UTMB; and to suggest that the Board is using a natural disaster to further such goals is absurd and offensive.

As to the specifics of the article:

* Senator Steve Ogden has a right to his opinions – which he has frequently expressed beginning long before Hurricane Ike.  Representatives of the UT System have met with Senator Ogden and other legislative leaders several times; while there have been expressions of support and sympathy, no concrete commitments of funding have been made.

* One of the primary reasons that UTMB was experiencing financial difficulties even before the tragic aftermath of Hurricane Ike is that state funding for uncompensated medical care at UTMB is inadequate.

* The Board of Regents will not allow UTMB to go bankrupt and is committed to the institution’s future, one that would be impossible if the Board didn’t make tough decisions to preserve the financial integrity of the institution.  UTMB will be seeking state financial support early next month and the Board will consider a report from an outside consultant on a viable health care delivery program.  The UT System is committed to growing research and educational programs on Galveston Island and to the further recovery of UTMB’s patient care activities, which have, incidentally, seen the delivery of more than 800 babies since the hurricane.    

* No one enjoys laying people off.  And, while allusions are frequently made to the UT System’s great wealth, our endowments are devoted by law to specific uses and cannot be used for wages and benefits at UTMB.  State funds are not channeled through the UT System; the Legislature appropriates funds directly to each individual component institution within the system.

UT System Interim Chancellor Kenneth Shine and UTMB President David Callender publicly testified to these points and others last week at a special legislative hearing.  You can read their testimony here.

We look forward to working with elected officials and the philanthropic community as efforts continue to rebuild a dynamic UTMB.    While we understand that portraying administrators and regents as heartless and unconcerned makes good editorial and political fodder, it does nothing to advance the recovery process and it is simply untrue.
H. Scott Caven, Jr.
Chairman, The University of Texas System Board of Regents
Houston, Texas