UTMB To Build New Hospital Building By 2015

The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston will build a new 13-story hospital on its main campus on the island. The storm-proof structure will have 246 beds. KUHF Health Science and Technology reporter Carrie Feibel explains that in the post-Ike era, UTMB is actually growing.

13-story Jennie Sealy Hospital
Artist’s rendering of the planned 13-story Jennie Sealy Hospital.

UT regents voted unanimously to approve the construction of the new building.

The new “Jennie Sealy Hospital” will replace an older building by the same name. The older John Sealy Hospital is also being renovated.

The hospital rooms in each building will be bigger and updated with new technology. And of course, strengthened for future Hurricane Ikes:

“The newer buildings have been built to withstand storm surges and hurricane-force winds.”

Dr. David Callendar is UTMB’s president.

“We now clearly understand the sort of damage that is likely.”

The new tower’s lobby will be 25 feet above mean sea level.

Elevator equipment and other critical machinery will also be located on higher floors.

All of those strategies were already incorporated into the construction of the  Galveston National Lab, a center for infectious disease research.

Callendar says that tower opened in 2008 and weathered Hurricane Ike just fine.

“It had a little water under the front door in its foyer space and otherwise had no damage associated with Hurricane Ike. So we know we can build buildings that can withstand these big storms and in fact continue in operation.”

It’s true that Hurricane Ike drove down the island’s population.

But UTMB has been attracting more patients from the mainland, and has re-opened its level 1 trauma center.

“We play a major role in terms of the trauma system for the greater Houston region, we accept referrals from all over the state. Most of our patients now come from the greater Houston area off the island of Galveston.”

Like other hospitals, UTMB saw its state funding slashed for the next two years.

In July, it announced lay offs for up to 250 employees.

Still, Callendar says the long-term plan is to grow. Specifically, UTMB is tapping into the population growth along the Gulf Freeway.

“Our strategy has been to locate our primary care and specialty care clinics for our patients in those rapidly growing cities like League City, the Clear Lake area, Friendswood, Alvin, Pearland. In fact, we already know there’s a shortage, a major shortage of physicians in that area.”

Since Hurricane Ike, UTMB has opened 19 new clinic locations on the mainland.

The new hospital will cost about $440 million and should open in 2015.

The Sealy & Smith Foundation has pledged $170 million, and the state will pitch in $150 million.

Callendar says that for the rest, UTMB will solicit other philanthropists and dig into its own coffers.

From the KUHF Health, Science and Technology Desk, I’m Carrie Feibel

Bio photo of Carrie Feibel

Carrie Feibel

Health & Science Reporter

Carrie Feibel is KUHF's health and science reporter. She comes to Houston Public Radio after ten years as a print reporter...