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GALVESTON, TX-Following months of uncertainty, and disdaining a recommendation from an Atlanta, GA consulting firm, the University of Texas System Board of Regents voted unanimously to restore the 500-bed John Sealy Hospital and trauma center to its pre-hurricane operations, and to build a new surgical tower. The 12-story hospital, seriously damaged when Hurricane Ike came ashore last September, has been open on a very limited basis and with an uncertain fate.

The board of regents determined the future of the hospital, and of healthcare on Galveston Island, on March 10 in Austin, TX. Though all nine regents voted in favor of restoring the medical branch, the state’s oldest, the vote wasn’t by any means a sure thing.

Last November, in attempts to meet payroll, the hospital’s trauma center was closed, with 3,000 people laid off. The regents at the time also approved a plan to reduce beds at John Sealy from 500 to 200, though the emergency room is operating on a treat-and-transfer/treat-and-release basis.

Adding further difficulties was a $285,000 report issued by consultant Kurt Salmon Associates recommending that most of the medical branch’s hospital and clinic operations relocate to League City, TX, southwest of Houston, though the medical school would remain on Galveston. The report was met by public outcry, however, which was apparently heard by the system’s regents.

“The mood here is celebratory,” a spokeswoman with the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston tells GlobeSt.com. “Everyone feels as though they were listened to, that the regents really thought this through. We’re grateful to the board for their support.”

The spokeswoman acknowledges, that the decision to keep the hospital on Galveston Island is only a first step. A construction timeline and what, exactly will be built and repaired, will depend on funding. Estimated costs to restore the hospital to pre-Ike operations are just shy of $400 million, with the state and FEMA kicking in part of the money. The question becomes where the remainder will come from.

Still, “we’re happy here,” the spokeswoman says. “This was a complex issue, but they recognized the need for the hospital here.”

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