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Conference committee OKs UTMB funding bill

From staff reports — Galveston County Daily News, May 22, 2009

A conference committee of the Texas House and Senate this week unanimously approved a bill key to a plan to rebuild University of Texas Medical Branch hospitals on the island.

Among other things, Senate Bill 1 increases general revenue funding for the medical branch by $97 million, officials said.

The legislation now goes back to each chamber of the Legislature for formal approval.

If SB 1, which is the state budget, receives final approval and with insurance proceeds, the medical branch will have about $1.3 billion to rebuild, to restore its trauma center and to continue providing unsponsored care for the poor and uninsured.

The committee also approved:
$150 million for the medical branch as a state match for $450 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for hurricane repairs and to harden the campus against future storms;
$150 million toward construction of a new hospital tower on the island with matching funds from the Sealy & Smith Foundation;
$50 million toward the business losses caused by Hurricane Ike; and
$12 million in so-called formula funding, which is allocated to teaching hospitals for providing specialized care. John Sealy Hospital had been the only academic hospital in Texas that did not get formula funding based on a specialty.

The money approved this week and earlier in the session was essential to a plan proposed by state Rep. Craig Eiland, a Democrat representing part of Galveston County, to restore the bulk of medical branch hospital operations on the island.

His plan was offered as an alternative to a consultant's recommendation to move those operations inland after Hurricane Ike caused more than $700 million in damage and unbudgeted expenses and cost more than 2,000 people their jobs at the island campus.

Medical branch officials said Thursday they also anticipated another $41 million in supplemental appropriations for program losses during the 2008-09 fiscal year and $93 million in increased funding in two years for the correctional health care program, under which state prison inmates receive medical care.

In addition, Gulf Coast Regional Psychiatric Hospital gained almost $1.4 million a year for 10 additional mental health beds in its 20-bed facility and $325,056 a year to cover Medicaid rate increases.

"I think that the conference committee approved this funding for two of our community health care systems reiterates the Legislature's commitment to the rebuilding of Galveston," Eiland said.

State Rep. Larry Taylor, a Republican representing part of Galveston County, said: "UTMB has been facing operational funding shortfalls for many, many years. I am very pleased that the Legislature is finally responding to our efforts and is now stepping up to more adequately fund the operations of UTMB."

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