More than 1,000 students returned to classes at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston on Oct. 20, five weeks after Hurricane Ike caused most to flee the Gulf Coast island. Now the question remains if the UTMBs entire labor force will returnand, if so, when that will be.
Home to an academic medical center, six hospital research laboratories and the coasts only level-one trauma center, UTMB suffered about $710 million in water damage after Hurricane Ike hit the island in mid-September. Anywhere from 6 inches to 6 feet of water seeped into almost all of the campus buildings, with the exception of the Galveston National Laboratory, which had only minor seepage and wind-driven rain, according to Raul Reyes, a spokesman for UTMB. Having sustained severe damage, the UTMB campus is far from being fully operational.
We have limited ER capabilities, Reyes said. We are able to treat emergencies, but we do not have inpatient capabilities. If they need it, they are transported off the island by ambo or helicopter, he said, referring to patients. We have mobile surgical units and mobile ICU units set up in the parking garage where people would normally park for the ER. We could perform surgeries, but we dont have inpatient capability.
The campus continues to offer services little by little. On Oct. 13, UTMB opened a special maternity unity with 16 beds, and it also has a pediatric urgent-care unit that is also meant to be a treat and release facility, not an inpatient facility. In addition, UTMBs Stewart Road Family Health clinic had a mobile unit operating almost immediately after the storm and returned to its permanent facility on Oct. 14. Other services will return gradually over the next few months, Reyes said.
What is less certain, however is the fate of the campus labor force, which includes about 12,000 employees. On Oct. 14, Gov. Rick Perry called a meeting with legislators and University of Texas officials to discuss the effects of the storm on UTMB and its staff. It was a productive meeting and we look forward to meeting again in the next couple of weeks, said Katherine Cesinger, a spokeswoman in Perrys office. The governor is committed to working with those leaders to move the institution forward and protect the people who work there.