Dr. Ben Raimer isn’t new to UTMB – in fact, he’s worn numerous academic and administrative hats in Galveston over the past four decades. As a tenured professor in the departments of Pediatrics, Family Medicine and Preventive Medicine and Community Health, Raimer was most recently appointed as senior vice president for the Office of Health Policy and Legislative Affairs in 2008. He previously served as vice president for the Office of Community Outreach, chief physician executive and CEO of UTMB Correctional Managed Care, medical director of the UTMB Primary Care Outpatient Clinics, CEO for Community Health Services, and chief physician executive for UT-MED.
Since completing an internship and residency in pediatrics at UTMB in 1977, Raimer has provided community-based care to young patients living in Galveston and neighboring counties and has been honored by local and national children’s advocacy organizations for his contributions.
During the Texas legislative session, Raimer posts his personal thoughts and developments in health policy and legislative affairs to Ben’s Blog, which he created in 2011.
Although Raimer is busy juggling a full schedule between Galveston and Austin, he took some time out to give us his insight on the 84th legislative session, as well as a peek into his life outside of work.
What does the Road Ahead look like for you?
For me, the Road Ahead is filled with optimism and excitement. For the first time that I recall in my time with UTMB, the course is clear and the goals are well defined and achievable. We have clearly defined goals related to our people as well as our mission.
Are you optimistic about UTMB accomplishing some of its top priorities for this legislative session?
I remain optimistic about this legislative session, however, it does take all of us and our Austin colleagues reminding us daily to retain that attitude. We have a legislature that is committed to a very cautious and lean fiscal policy. In spite of an economy that has put record-breaking revenues into the state treasury over the past four years, the legislature remains reluctant to restore prior draconian reductions to university/higher education funding and health care priorities. Just this past week, the House Appropriations Committee voted out a budget that leaves an untouched balance of $11 billion in the general fund and over $8 billion in the Rainy Day Fund -- together that is over $19 billion that might have been used to advance higher and public education or to deal with statewide health care issues, transportation funding, and the like. The “logic” is that oil prices may continue to fall and create a shortfall in tax collections or, worse yet, another recession and we will need those savings for the lean times. Some would say that times are already pretty lean.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
The most challenging aspect of the job is covering a broad spectrum of issues in the national and state legislatures as well as dealing with the local and regional political issues that are always abundant – being a good steward of time and resources. Acquiring, analyzing and storing information in all of these domains is a challenge. Fortunately, we have a great team in our office who are content experts in each domain and can within moments have the necessary facts, figures and answers to complex questions in my hands. In the legislative arena, the pace is always at warp speed. The quest for information is constant; sorting out the wheat from the chaff requires vigilance and a tad of wizardry. Using the facts to provide the most desirable answer is a group-think project. My colleagues in HPLA are terrific at information analysis and interpretation.
The most rewarding?
I think for all of us involved in government relations, health policy and legislative affairs, the most rewarding thing about our jobs is the production of an outcome that moves UTMB, our employees, students, health care providers and patients into the most desired state possible for their future success. There is a great amount of satisfaction in knowing that you are in a small way part of an effort that paves the way for future generations of students and patients in providing them the necessary environment for success. Whether that is changing regulations and rules that impede collaboration and productivity or acquiring financial support for a new building or project, we strive to improve the climate in which the university and hospital can successfully produce those most desirable outcomes. The institution’s strategic planning is central to all that we do as we sample the external and internal environments in which we work and seek the best solutions for our success.
You’ve been at UTMB for more than three decades – what has changed the most?
Actually, four decades! I arrived in 1969!
Of course the physical plant at UTMB is the most changed part of UTMB. Frankly, I am quite happy that important parts of UTMB have not changed -- like the dedication and determination of our faculty and administrative staff to provide the best educational environment possible for our students. And, that the long-standing focus on clinical excellence remains the hallmark of patient care and student education. The students’ commitment to their patients and their concern and compassion for their patients along with their altruistic volunteerism have not changed, but have only grown greater over time. I think that collegiality among faculty and students creates a culture of trust on our campus that is rare in these low-touch, high-tech educational times.
What is the one thing most people don’t know about you?
I am pretty transparent, so probably not much is unknown. I grew up on a farm in the east Texas Big Thicket without electricity until I was 7, and was 13 when we actually had indoor plumbing! I grew up hunting, fishing, farming and had an unquenchable thirst for learning, especially reading. I worked my way through college and medical school as a photographer and part-time barber.
How would people most likely describe you?
Persistent (hopefully, as opposed to stubborn; I take Churchill’s quote “never, never, never give up!” personally).
Compassionate (I love my family and I love people; I want to make the world a better place in which all can live and work, and a better place for all children, including my five grandchildren to grow and live).
What do you like to do when you are not in your office?
Play with grandchildren. Visit with friends and family. Read, work on genealogy projects, travel.
What is your favorite book?
I am an avid reader, having just finished book five of George R.R. Martin’s "Game of Thrones" series. I like sci-fi, historical fiction, mysteries and a little bit of everything. I have read every Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes ever written. I love [Douglas] Preston and [Lincoln] Child’s series chronicling the strange life of FBI Agent Pendergast, as well Steve Berry, David Baldacci, and Paul Christopher’s "Templar" series. My all-time favorite books are "Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follett, "Shantaram" by Gregory Roberts and the whole "Dune" series by Frank Herbert.
What have you always wanted to do but have not done yet?
Visit the Valley of the Kings; I have read dozens of books on Egyptian history and archeology, so I would really like to see it for myself along with a side trip to Petra in Jordan. We are ticking items off our bucket list, including Peru’s Machu Picchu, the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, Bangkok’s temples, St. Petersburg’s palaces of the Tsars, Scotland, Ireland, England, Spain, Portugal, Germany, France, Central America, Peru, Agentina, Istanbul, the Greek Islands and others.