Vote on children's facility comes at national convention in San Antonio
By HARVEY RICE
for complete article see the 2009 Houston Chronicle July 6, 2009, 8:45PM
GALVESTON — Delegates at the national Shriners convention meeting in San Antonio voted Monday to reopen a world-renowned burn hospital for children in Galveston, closed since it was damaged by Hurricane Ike in September.
Convention delegates voted to keep open all of the 22 hospitals nationwide in the Shriners system and, in a separate decision, voted 756 to 482 to reopen the Shriners Hospital for Children-Galveston.
The leadership failed to convince delegates to close hospitals in Shreveport, La.; Spokane, Wash.; Greenville, S.C.; Erie, Pa.; and Springfield, Mass. Delegates will vote over the next two days on proposals to save the money-starved system without closing hospitals.
The vote followed months of lobbying by the 1,000-member El Mina Shrine, based in Galveston. Tommy Lambright, the Shriners Hospital for Children Galveston board member who led the lobbying effort, said every one of the 1,500 delegates to the convention was contacted by phone.
The Galveston hospital, known for its advances in burn treatment, was kept closed after the storm by the combined boards of the International Shriners and Shriners Hospitals for Children after the endowment for the hospital system shrank from $8 billion to $5 billion because of the economic downturn.
Repeated attempts for comment from the governing boards were unsuccessful. A spokeswoman for the 135th Imperial Council Session responded to an e-mail requesting comment by saying that a news conference was scheduled for Thursday.
The vote was welcomed by the hospital’s chief of staff, Dr. David Herndon, a celebrated burn surgeon.
“I’m immensely gratified,” said Herndon, who also is head of the University of Texas Medical Branch’s Blocker Burn unit, in a telephone interview from San Antonio.
“Very few hospitals can take care of the massive burns we can anywhere in the world,” Herndon said. “This is vitally important to our area.”
Herndon said the burn center is the only one in the Houston region and that the immediate care given burn victims has suffered without it, including the death of a burn victim from Mexico who had burns over 40 percent of his body.
The hospital offers free care to burn victims from Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and some parts of Colorado.
Gordon Pranger, 35, of Dickinson, was one of three burn victims treated at the Galveston burn center who traveled to San Antonio to lend moral support. “It means everything in the world that it’s still here,” said Pranger, who survived after being burned over 99 percent of his body 21 years ago.
Convention delegate Stuart Simms, a member of the Galveston hospital’s governing board from San Antonio, put forward the proposal to reopen the burn center. Simms said he did it “because in my judgment there was a need for medical care in regards to burned children, and this was the most efficient way to meet it.”
‘Positive medical impact’
Lambright said over the next two days the combined boards could introduce new measures to keep the hospital closed.
The hospital’s reopening is the second reversal in fortunes for the city of Galveston, which will eventually regain about 300 jobs that were lost when the hospital failed to reopen, Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas said.
Earlier this year the Texas Legislature forced the University of Texas Board of Regents to reverse a decision to drastically scale back operations at its Galveston Medical Branch.
Thomas fought hard to bring back UTMB and backed efforts to reopen the burn center because of the economic damage the closures inflicted on the city, still struggling to recover after Ike damaged 75 percent of its structures.
“Children have come from all over the world and many lives have been saved because of this facility,” Thomas said. “It’s a positive medical impact and a positive financial impact on the city.”
Lambright said it’s too early to know when the hospital will open its doors. All the building lacks is some sheetrock on the first floor, but the hospital must be reaccredited and many of its skilled employees have moved on to other jobs, he said.
The hospital opened in 1966 and has treated children from 43 states and 49 countries. It treats about 250 severely burned children each year and keeps treating them until they are 18. In 2007, the hospital admitted 1,575 patients, including 548 severe burn cases.