Texas Liberal

All People Matter

UTMB, U. Of Texas Regents, & State Of Texas Happy To Let People Die For Being Poor

The number of the indigent patients being seen at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston has been cut drastically.

These cuts have been mandated by the University of Texas Board of Regents and by the Texas State Legislature.

From the Houston Chronicle—

“UTMB has been edging out of the charity care business for nearly a decade and last year devoted the smallest portion of its resources to charity in memory, dropping to 2.6 percent of patient services. Charity care is a money loser, and UTMB officials say the Legislature wants it to make money, not lose it ..The decline in spending on charity care fell from 20.6 percent of total patient services in 1999 to 2.6 percent last year, according to a chart prepared by Dr. Merle Lenihan based on UTMB’s annual financial reports. Lenihan is the author of a report by the Galveston County Cancer Coalition on the county’s lack of charity policies. UTMB filled a vital role in Texas by caring for the indigent since the 19th century. Those days are gone, said Dr. Ben Raimer, UTMB senior vice president. “I think it is a different world for UTMB, but it is a world of accountability,” Raimer said…In fiscal year 2006, UTMB cared for uninsured patients from 160 of Texas’ 254 counties. By 2009 that number had dropped to 83 counties. That trend has consequences for social service agencies like Jesse Tree, based in Galveston. The organization has seen a 75 percent increase in people seeking health care since Hurricane Ike..The agency is enrolling 1,000 applicants a month seeking everything from primary care to cancer treatment, Hanley said. “We’re coming apart at the seams,” he said. Hanley said the problem is acute because half of Galveston County’s 250,000 population is uninsured….”It is their responsibility, that is a historic one, for UTMB to provide services for those that are economically disadvantaged,” said Joe Compian, a member of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston Campaign for Human Development’s local board. “It is a state institution. It is a local institution, as well, and that means it belongs to the people of Texas and let’s do right for the people of Texas…””I think it’s a travesty,” Galveston County Judge Jim Yarbrough said. “It should be an integral part of their mission. They are the state indigent care facility, and they have patients coming from all over the state.” Yarbrough is irked that Galveston County rode to UTMB’s rescue last year, but now it can’t even get a contract with the medical school to care for the county’s poor. State law allows counties to spend $30,000 per patient, but UTMB wants twice that….To meet a condition set by the Legislature for a state bailout of UTMB, the county raised taxes by 6 cents last year to pay for indigent medical care other than checkups, such as care for diabetes or cancer..Fortified with new legislative appropriations, UTMB has embarked on a $1 billion reconstruction effort, has plans for a new surgical tower and other buildings, and reportedly expects to finish this fiscal year in the black.”

Here is the web home of the Jesse Tree charity mentioned in the article.

There are many decent people who work at UTMB who want to care for all people. But the policy decisions are made at the top and they seem to reflect callousness.

“…A world of accountability” one UTMB senior official says. What?—Being accountable for death and suffering?

And while people suffer from the lack of insurance and lack of care, the State of Texas is fighting what will be a losing battle in the courts to overturn Health Care Reform.

Here is a web page that discusses the benefits of Health Care Reform.

Our State of Texas is acting in a barbaric manner in letting people die because they don’t have health insurance.

We don’t seem to have any standards of decency at all anymore. Everything is about money and about extremist small government ideology instead of concern for our fellow human beings.

August 27, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

UTMB Rehiring—Why All The Layoffs To Start With?

The University of Texas Medical Branch is now hiring people back after massive layoffs in recent months

I’m glad about this. Though I’m still concerned about the future of UTMB in Galveston.

At the moment though, what I’d really like to know is why all the layoffs to start with? Surely there was some other more transparent way to do this that did not cause so much misery and anxiety for UTMB workers and for the people of Galveston.

March 25, 2009 Posted by | Galveston | , | 2 Comments

Texas Progressive Alliance Bloggers Take Phone Call With Houston Mayor Bill White

A group of Texas Progressive Alliance bloggers recently interviewed Houston Mayor and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate for Texas Bill White.  The interview was conducted on a conference call. I was on the call.

Like all the bloggers on the call , I was wearing a huge diving suit–

God knows what people are doing while on the phone.

The Texas Progressive Alliance is a confederation of Texas political bloggers from the Democratic and left side of the aisle. Quite often, members of this group find themselves in agreement. (We’ll focus on agreement here.) 

Mayor White, while no doubt serving what he saw as his own purposes, was good to make the time to take the call.

The call was organized by well-regarded Houston blogger Charles Kuffner. Charles takes it well that sooner or later I’ll be passing his daily blog traffic and I respect him for that. Thanks to Charles for setting up the call. 

The call was recorded so, I guess, that we can’t claim the Mayor said something he did not, and, so the Mayor can’t claim we all speak Klingon to each other when gathered in a group.

Below is the transcript of the call in Cuneiform


( Thanks to Perry at Brains & Eggs for chiseling out this transcript.) 

I asked the Mayor a question about the impact of cuts at the University of Texas Medical Branch hospital in Galveston.  Mayor White has expressed concern about the lack of beds in our area for the uninsured after these cuts, and has said that our local teaching hospitals need to find enough insured patients to help pay the bills given the demands placed on the system by the uninsured. 

This situation might prompt the Mayor to advocate for Universal Coverage. Below is part of what the Mayor says on his campaign web home about health insurance–

Increase the number of insured Americans — We should expand enrollment in existing programs and develop new plans like three-share programs that allow employers, employees, and public funding to each contribute to the cost of affordable premiums for basic care

I don’t know that increasing the number of Americans with coverage is the same as universal coverage. Given how many Texans lack health insurance, I would call upon the Mayor to give further consideration to his views. 

Regarding UTMB related concerns, Mayor White said he had just testified to the state legislature on the matter. He said, in essence, that no progress had been made on resolving the problems. I do believe the Mayor is sincere when he says he would like to find some solution. I hope he will continue to address this issue. 

(I don’t have the exact quote from the Mayor because I’m not a reporter. I do seek though to be an honest broker and this is pretty much what he said.)

I was glad to have this chance to speak to the Mayor. Normally we only get a chance to talk when I go to his house and yell questions at him from beneath his second-floor window.  He does open the window and respond, but I can’t hear him when his neighbor’s dog barks. 

I look forward to more of these calls with candidates for office in Texas. Next time I promise I’ll turn down the TV in the background. It’s just that the call took place at the same time as a Good Times marathon on Nick At Night.    

March 9, 2009 Posted by | Blogging, Politics, Texas | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Cardinal DiNardo, Silent On Many Questions Of Social Justice, Shuts Schools in Poor Areas And Opens Schools In More Wealthy Areas

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, silent on so many questions of social justice, is shutting down four schools in poor urban areas and is looking at opening new schools in more affluent sections of the region including The Woodlands.  

From the Houston Chronicle article on the subject

The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston will close four elementary schools in low-income areas by summer, but will be building schools in fast-growing suburbs, diocesan officials announced Friday. The diocese is urging about 450 students at the schools that will be closed to transfer to nearby Catholic schools. “We do have limited resources like everyone in the world,” said diocesan superintendent Sister Kevina Keating. “Our Catholic schools are here to stay.” Closing will be: • • Holy Name, just north of downtown• • St. Philip Neri in the Sunnyside-South Park area• • St. Charles Borromeo on Tidwell• • Our Mother of Mercy in the Fifth Ward just northeast of downtown.

 Some parents and officials at soon-to-be-shuttered schools decried the diocese’s decision. The diocese, they said, will cater to the needs of affluent parishes but is giving up on a mission to help children in some disadvantaged neighborhoods. The median annual household income in neighborhoods surrounding the four schools range from $22,000 to $33,000, according to the latest Census figures available. The schools are in mostly Hispanic and black neighborhoods. …The diocese hired Meitler Consultants of Hales Corners, Wisc., to study its current and future demographics and revenue stream. The consultants recommended which schools should close and which areas needed schools. New schools the diocese is opening are generally being built in suburbs. St. Theresa parish in Sugar Land opened a school while the diocese was studying the closing issue. …Catholic officials are considering opening a high school in Spring or The Woodlands….”

Please get with the program Cardinal DiNardo. Your voice is needed speaking out about the drastic cuts at the U. of  Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, the urgent need for greater resources for hurricane recovery, the large number of people without health insurance around here, and the ever-widening gap between rich and poor in the region served by the Archdiocese.  

Yet instead of your clear and consistent voice on these questions, what we get are these school closings. Why would anyone look to you for leadership on questions of social justice when you close schools in poor areas in order to serve the more affluent? 

Would St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (drawing above), the Patron Saint of Catholic Schools, have followed this course?  St Elizabeth, who was the first American born saint, cared for all. From a description of her life— 

The extraordinary manner in which Elizabeth lived an ordinary life flowed from the centrality of the Word of God and the Eucharist in her life. These strengthened her enabling her to be a loving person toward God, her family, her neighbor, and all of creation. She undertook works of mercy and justice. Not only did she and her Sisters of Charity care for orphans, widows, and poor families, but they also addressed unmet needs among persons oppressed by multiple forms of poverty. Elizabeth had a special concern for children who lacked educational opportunities, especially for religious instruction in the faith.”

No–St. Elizabeth would not have followed the path that Cardinal DiNardo is following.

February 8, 2009 Posted by | Galveston, Houston | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Casino Gambling—The Opportunistic Infection

Not surprisingly, with Galveston, Texas a long way from recovery after Hurricane Ike, casino gambling is on the table for the island.

Here is Dolph Tillotson, President and Publisher of the Galveston County Daily News, writing in favor of casino gambling. 

Many business owners in Galveston are hoping that casino gambling is part of the future.

For this gambling to be allowed in Galveston, it would have to be allowed in Texas in the first place.

Above you see staphylococcus aureus. It is the most common cause of staph infections. About 20% of people carry this bacteria. It does not kill in most cases. Though it can kill. For the most part, it causes a variety of troubles for the victim that can range anywhere on the scale from major to minor.

Staphylococcus aureus will do it’s damage when you give it a chance. It takes advantage of wounds and disease. It’s the cause of opportunistic infection.

Casino gambling is the same way. It moves in when there is no more hope of an economy producing anything of real value. Or when local  or state governments cannot or will not raise enough tax money to provide basic services. It sees its opportunities and it takes them. It is always waiting for its chance.

In the case of Galveston, casino gambling finds opportunity in the wake of a hurricane, and as the island’s largest employer, the U. of Texas Medical Branch, slashes thousands of jobs.

In honesty, because I don’t see another option, I’d favor at least considering this gambling in Galveston. I don’t have another solution to help people in Galveston find work. Nobody is going to help them. The liars who comprise the U. of Texas Board of Regents are doing everything possible to hurt the island for who knows what reason. 

I have moral objections to casino gambling—Yep! I sure did get married at a casino—and moral views have every place in politics and policy. (More public policy questions than we realize are moral questions. How much tax money we raise and how we spend that money are moral questions in many respects.)

Yet though I think casino gambling preys on those least able to afford it, and that it is a lousy way to fill the public coffers, it seems at this point the people of  Texas and Galveston should vote on the issue. Galveston will no doubt talk about regulating the casinos, but when they move in the people will lose control of their city government.  Though since this little city of 50,000 has no control over hurricanes, of course, or over UTMB,  what does it really matter?

Maybe I’m being pragmatic here. Or maybe I’m just fatigued trying to think about what will serve as a solution to help what I view as the most interesting and enjoyable place to visit in all Texas. If somebody has a better idea I’d like to hear it.

I’m certain the people of Galveston are very fatigued right now. I’m certain fatigue makes one more vulnerable to the type of opportunistic infection that casino gambling represents in any community that has run out of better and more hopeful choices.   

(Below—Galveston is vulnerable in many respects.)

January 10, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

White, Emmett & Duke Address UTMB Cuts & Houston Area Care Crisis

I was glad to see an opinion column in yesterday’s Houston Chronicle by Houston Mayor Bill White and Harris County Judge Executive Ed Emmett about cuts in services for the uninsured caused, in part, by Hurricane Ike damage at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.    

In their column, Mayor White and Judge Emmett , joined by the well-known Dr. Red Duke, focus less on job reductions at UTMB and the damage these layoffs will do to Galveston’s economy, though the  job losses are mentioned, and more on the need for health services to be restored for the the entire metro region.

From the opinion piece–

“Before Hurricane Ike, the upper Texas Gulf Coast was already at the center of a storm — the crisis of unreimbursed medical care provided to working people and children not covered by health insurance….After Ike decimated UTMB in Galveston, the storm surge receded but other medical institutions in the region have been flooded by the patient case load displaced from this historic, invaluable Texas asset….Both the state of Texas and counties in the upper Gulf Coast need to quickly develop a plan to restore these services with three related elements. First, funds from FEMA and insurance policies need to be available immediately to restore the medical, research and physical facilities to the capacity required before Hurricane Ike. We should let both private insurers and FEMA know that we expect prompt payment on valid claims. The UT System must make hard choices concerning the location of some clinical facilities and recognize historic ties to the island, while being convenient to customers, including more insured patients…. Second, there must be a plan for sustained funding of some portion of uncompensated care for the region served by UTMB. The Harris County Hospital District was formed over four decades ago in response to the crisis of unreimbursed care within Harris County. There should be a formula for fair funding of contributions by the counties served by UTMB in proportion to the uninsured patients served from those counties….In the longer term, leadership should consider the need for one or more hospital districts. In addition, Texas should continue its historical support for this great medical school from general funds….Third, some portion of the federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds for Texas should be earmarked for a program to compensate those providers who now receive the uninsured patients diverted from UTMB.”

The cuts at UTMB by the University of Texas Board of Regents are a case of kicking the little guy when he is down. The job losses in Galveston in the aftermath of Ike, and the cuts to already stretched services for the uninsured, strike at a poor area of our state, and at individual patients who for the most part lack the ability to fight back without help.

I hope the public opinions now expressed by Mayor White, Judge Emmett and Dr. Duke are just the beginning of a strong effort by elected officials and medical professionals to help restore what has been lost, and help improve what was, even before the hurricane, a difficult situation.

December 9, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Galveston—A Disaster Before And After Hurricane Ike


Just over two weeks ago I took my first trip down to Galveston since Hurricane Ike. Ike hit in mid-September.

Above and below are pictures I took in Galveston. One is of a boat still out of the water. The other is of a very damaged pier. You can explore the online edition of the Galveston County Daily News to get some sense of life on the island today.

The upshot of what I saw in Galveston is that the outward damage to buildings could have been much worse, but that many homes and business places were flooded with sea water and need much work before they can be used again.

The fact that gets lost is that Galveston was an economic disaster zone before the hurricane. The poverty rate on the island has always been high. In 2007, 20.6% of people living in Galveston lived in poverty. This is even higher than the appalling 16.3% rate for all Texas. 

With massive layoffs at the University of Texas Medical Branch in recent days, Galveston has become even more of a disaster zone. UTMB is the largest employer in Galveston. 8,000 of its 12,000 employees live in Galveston. 3,000 people are being let go with this round of layoffs. Galveston had a pre-hurricane population of just over 50,000.

It’s a trick when we are told the hurricane was a unique disaster for Galveston. The trick is that disaster conditions that merit a special response come only every so often, and the rest of time it is business as usual.     

Of course in Texas, we do things a bit differently. The prevailing ethos under both Democratic and Republican political control in Texas has often been to kick a guy when he is down. The layoffs at UTMB, under the pretense of losses sustained since the hurricane, is a fine example of this creed. The fact of an actually acknowledged disaster was just the right time for the huge job cuts. 

Oh, for the malignant neglect of better days!      

The downsizing of UTMB began before the storm. The number of beds and services for the uninsured were already being cut.  You can take what the University of Texas Board of Regents says about the cuts being a result of the hurricane as false. They want to chop down the size of UTMB and leave Galveston, of all things, high and dry, when it comes to places to work on the island.  

Galveston is one of the founding communities of Texas. It’s history runs many years before that of most of the rest of Texas. I’m not going to pretend I have the solution to Galveston’s problems. A good starting point might be to see Galveston as worth saving. And to realize that even with the Sea Wall, Galveston has long been underwater in many regards.     


November 21, 2008 Posted by | Galveston, Texas | , , , , , | 4 Comments

U. Of Texas Board Lays Off 3,800 at UTMB in Galveston—Island Sinks Deeper Into Misery

The board of the University of Texas have voted to lay off 3,800 employees from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.  

(Above–The UTMB campus.) 

Happy holidays!

And good luck with the hurricane recovery.

UTMB suffered $710 million in damages from Hurricane Ike. The state claims that only $100 million was covered by insurance. So what? Governor Rick Perry can find a bailout to rebuild what was damaged.

According to the Houston Chronicle, 8,000 of the 12,500 UTMB employees live on Galveston Island. Maybe 55,000 people total live on that island. So that’s a lot of folks with some big trouble. Or who will have to move off the island to, maybe, find hospital jobs in Houston.

The UT regents said that the U. of Texas medical school would remain in Galveston. That’s what they say.

Many people associate Austin with liberalism. When I think of the place, I think of a miserable state government, and now these job killers at U.T. Austin has done pretty well by these institutions. The rest of the state has done less well.

November 13, 2008 Posted by | Galveston, Texas | , , , , | Leave a comment