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.
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