Recently, University of Texas Medical Branch colleagues and I were asked a blunt but reasonable question: In view of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Ike, why should the Texas Legislature continue to invest in a health sciences complex located on a storm-prone barrier island?
The reasons are multiple.
An in-depth study conducted recently by the Perryman Group and the University of Houston at Clear Lake indicates that, despite hurricane-related damage, UTMB Health — the newest member of the Texas Medical Center — continues to create a multibillion–dollar economic benefit for the greater Houston region and the state as a whole.
In addition, UTMB Health provides a significant return on investment to the people of Texas. The university has graduated more physicians than any other Texas medical school and awarded more than 34,000 degrees since opening in 1891. Last year alone, we graduated more than 800 doctors, nurses, allied health professionals and biomedical scientists.
Our students routinely outperform peers on national licensure exams, and a high percentage return to their home communities to practice — of major importance to a state that ranks 42nd in the proportion of physicians to what is one of the fastest-growing populations in the nation.
UTMB Health's 81-acre campus on Galveston Island also represents a major asset to the state. To replicate the existing health sciences complex elsewhere would cost an estimated $4.5 billion; it would also take approximately 10 years to restore to current levels the number of health professionals graduating from Texas institutions. The cost in dollars and health care work force over that time would be impossible to make up, putting both the state and its residents at a serious disadvantage.
Fortunately, we are rebuilding in a way that protects critical infrastructure, significantly reducing the potential cost of future storms and speeding our ability to return to full operation. As we mitigate, we also are improving the function and accessibility of our facilities to better serve our students, patients and employees.
UTMB Health is a world-class research institution, with unique strengths and a specific focus on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of age-related, chronic diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, diabetes and end-stage cardiovascular disease.
We are home to the Galveston National Laboratory, one of only two federally funded, university-based facilities dedicated to the safe study of infectious threats to human health.
We boast one of the largest vaccine development centers in the world and one of only 12 Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Centers in the country.
And we are among an elite group of universities to receive a Clinical Translational Sciences Award from the National Institutes of Health to accelerate the translation of basic biomedical research into clinically useful knowledge and treatments.
As one of the largest health systems in the area, we are a major component of the region's health care infrastructure. When our Emergency Department — celebrated before Hurricane Ike for operating one of the nation's leading Level I trauma centers — closed for more than 10 months, other providers struggled with dramatic increases in their patient volumes.
UTMB Health has restored the full complement of inpatient care services at its John Sealy Hospital. We also operate a comprehensive network of primary and specialty outpatient clinics on the island and mainland to help meet the growing need for medical services in the area. And we operate a network of clinics from McAllen to Nacogdoches that last year helped improve the health status of more than 100,000 economically disadvantaged women and babies.
Among our areas of clinical excellence is the Texas Transplant Center, another critical resource for patients in the region waiting for lifesaving heart, lung, kidney, liver and pancreas transplants. We also operate leading programs in trauma care, adult burns and telemedicine, all of which provide critical services to another major sector of the regional and state economy — the petrochemical industry.
We take great pride in our proven record of improving health in Texas and around the world. We are equally proud that we play a major role in the economic vitality of the region and state. UTMB Health will continue to be a worthy investment for generations to come.
Callender is president of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.