Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Another blow for the Island....*sigh*

Shriners suspends repair of hospital, e-mail says

By Laura Elder
The Daily News
Published January 20, 2009

GALVESTON — Repairs of hurricane damage at Shriners Hospital for Children in Galveston have been halted, leaving in question the future of a world-renowned pediatric burn center and more than 300 jobs.

Although officials with the local hospital’s parent organization, Shriners Hospitals for Children, denied Monday they had announced mass layoffs and a possible permanent closure, employees and an e-mail obtained by The Daily News said otherwise.

In an e-mail to some University of Texas Medical Branch employees who might be affected by closure of Shriners, Dr. David N. Herndon, director of research for the Galveston hospital, said the Shriners board of trustees decided to suspend repair of the hospital damaged by Hurricane Ike and to stop operations except for maintenance work on March 31.

Herndon wrote he would this week meet with all interested parties about Shriners’ future.

The hospital faced difficulties after being damaged by Hurricane Ike on Sept. 13, but no layoffs had been announced to staff members, corporate spokeswoman Marlena Lagina-Kleine said Monday.

“The Shriners Hospital for Children suffered significant damage during Hurricane Ike that has yet to be fully remedied,” Lagina-Kleine said. “We are still investigating and assessing the damage of the hospital. Patients will continue to be treated at Shriners hospitals in other locations as appropriate.”

The island hospital has been closed since the storm.

Shriners officials have said as recently as November that the island hospital, ranked among the best pediatric burn treatment centers in the world, would reopen as soon as possible.

But four Galveston employees — some tearful — told The Daily News they were informed Monday the hospital likely would close for good and they would continue to receive pay until March 31. Those employees declined to give their names.

Officials told employees there was only a slight possibility the hospital could reopen, they said.

Should Shriners close its island hospital, which before the storm employed 325 people, it would be another blow to health care workers in the county and end a 50-year relationship between Galveston and the philanthropic group known for members who wear red fez hats.

Although the University of Texas Medical Branch does not operate the Shriners hospital, it works in concert with the facility at 815 Market St. Shriners hospital contracts with the medical branch for doctors and other medical services.

Shriners operates 22 hospitals specializing in pediatric care.

About 5,000 children from across the nation were treated each year at the Market Street hospital, which opened in 1996 and boasts an intensive care unit with 15 beds, a reconstruction and plastic surgery unit with 15 beds, three operating rooms, a multi-bed recovery room, clinics and a large outpatient population.

But Shriners’ island relationship goes back to November 1963, when the Tampa, Fla.-based philanthropic organization opened a seven-bed ward in the John Sealy Hospital to treat children with severe burns.

At the same time, Shriners began building the 30-bed pediatric burn hospital, which opened in 1966. The organization has treated about 18,000 children in Galveston since its inception.

Shriners Hospital for Children’s operating budget of about $34 million comes from an endowment.

Earlier this month, Shriners made news when it received a $120,000 donation from Devon Energy to repair storm damage.

Officials said the hospital would reopen when renovations and repairs were complete.

In November, administrators were working to get out a message that the island hospital would return and that rumors of its demise were wrong.

“The message we want to put out is that we were hurt badly, but we are not going away,” John Swartwout Jr., administrator for the hospital, told The Daily News.

At the time, its board of trustees had extended hazard pay to hospital employees until Jan. 1.

Employees have been out of work or displaced since the hurricane sent a surge of more than 2 feet into the hospital’s first floor. The hospital sustained major damage.

Hurricane Ike’s hit to health care on the island has been staggering. Storm surge flooded 750,000 square-feet in buildings on the medical branch campus, which is yards from Galveston Bay.

With hurricane expenses and lost revenues of about $710 million, the medical branch, home to research facilities, the state’s oldest medical school and John Sealy Hospital, in November began laying off 3,000 people.

After making storm repairs, John Sealy Hospital opened 200 beds to the general public in a sharply downsized facility.

John Sealy Hospital’s emergency room, however, still is operating on a treat-and-transfer or treat-and-release basis.

Mainland editor T.J. Aulds contributed to this report.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Galveston Officials Paint Bleak Picture to Lawmakers After Ike

Galveston officials paint bleak picture to lawmakers after Ike

12:20 AM CST on Thursday, January 8, 2009

Associated Press

GALVESTON, Texas -- Galveston officials pleaded with state lawmakers on Wednesday to help them rescue their island city from the dire financial straits it finds itself in nearly four months after Hurricane Ike caused devastating damage.

Galveston officials paint bleak picture after Ike
January 7, 2009 View larger E-mail Clip More Video Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas and City Manager Steve LeBlanc painted a bleak economic picture of their city for members of a legislative committee meeting on the island.

They told lawmakers that despite a hiring freeze and a 3 percent pay cut for all employees, layoffs are imminent and that property tax revenues will be down by up to 40 percent.

About 75 percent of the homes in Galveston, about 50 miles southeast of Houston, sustained some damage from Ike’s 110-mph winds, rain and 12-foot storm surge when the storm came ashore near the city on Sept. 13.

“We’re getting to the point of being desperate for help,” LeBlanc said. “If there is no help from the state, we might have to cut back on city services severely.”

Galveston, which has an annual budget of about $80 million, also needs help to pay for the $178 million in damage Ike caused to buildings, roads and other infrastructure, LeBlanc said.

Thomas and LeBlanc asked lawmakers for financial help, including letting the city temporarily keep most or all of the sales tax revenue it usually gives to the state and apply for long-term, low cost emergency loans.

“By rebating the sales tax for a set time for areas devastated by Ike you would be enabling us in the Gulf Coast to rebuild our homes and mitigate against future disasters,” Thomas told members of the House Select Committee on Hurricane Ike. Audience members applauded.

LeBlanc said the city applied for help from the Disaster Contingency Fund, created by the Legislature in 2007 to provide money and other help for local governments after a natural disaster.

But the city was turned down because lawmakers never appropriated money for the fund.

LeBlanc also implored the committee to help the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston—the area’s largest employer and a major provider of indigent care in Southeast Texas—recover from the damage it suffered during Ike.

UTMB officials originally estimated the state’s oldest medical school sustained about $710 million in damages from Ike.

On Wednesday, UTMB leaders told lawmakers damages are now estimated to be more than $1 billion. Only about $100 million of that was covered by insurance.

The massive damage at UTMB prompted the UT System Board of Regents to lay off 3,000 employees and reduce the number of beds at the medical facility’s public hospital from 550 to 200.

The downsizing has prompted some, including Thomas, to question whether UTMB and the UT regents are committed to restoring the facility.

Both UTMB President Dr. David Callender and UT System Regents Chairman H. Scott Caven Jr. told the committee they remain focused on restoring the facility.

“We want to bring UTMB back to the level of excellence it had before Ike,” Callender said.

Callender said UTMB plans to ask the Legislature during its session this year for an emergency appropriation of about $335 million to help pay for business losses as well as damaged equipment and buildings.

Callender said UTMB could eventually be a 500-bed facility but not all of these beds might be located on the island’s hospital.

Wednesday’s hearing was the final one for the committee, which plans later this month to submit its report about how local governments as well as the state responded to Ike.