Medical branches address proposed cuts

Melissa Ayala

Presidents of UT's six medical branches asked state senators Tuesday to reconsider funding cuts that could impact research, residency slots and overall funding for Texas health-related institutions for the 2012-2013 biennium.

The presidents testified about the potential damage of a proposed $169-million cut to the centers before the Senate Finance Committee. The six branches are part of the UT system and each train medical students while also operating medical centers for patients and research.

“We would have to reduce our residency slots by 50-60 or as many as 100,” said Dr. David Callender, president of the UT Medical Branch at Galveston. “We’re thinking about significant increases in tuition. If we have 2,660 students at $1,000 per student, we would raise a couple million dollars for us for a year and that would be helpful.”

For the second time, UT President William Powers Jr. was not able to testify before the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday after being hospitalized with a pulmonary embolism on Feb. 8. UT spokesman Don Hale said Powers is now recovering at home and will testify in March.

All UT system institutions face cuts as the state Legislature seeks to balance a $27-billion budget shortfall. Callender said the Galveston branch faces unique circumstances after Hurricane Ike cost the school $9 million in repairs in 2008.

“We’re only a couple years removed from a 25-percent reduction in our workforce that occurred following Hurricane Ike,” he said. “We really don’t have a big opportunity to do a significant reduction in workforce to make up budget shortfalls. We’ll have to think of more creative ways.”

Dr. Larry Kaiser, president of the UT Health Science Center at Houston, said the branch has already begun reducing expenses by adding accelerated nursing programs and expanding online interactive classes.

“We already have taken an extensive review of ways to streamline services and coordinate programs more efficiently across our six schools,” he said. “Subsequent restructuring and consolidation efforts remain underway and will result in savings for the state as requested the 5-percent and 2.5-percent cuts in our institution, about $17 million.”

Individual effects of the cuts were different for all branches, but all agreed that if possible, lawmakers should try to allocate more funding within the proposed budget.

“My main recommendation to you today is that you fund the formulas of the health-related institutions as fully as you can,” Kaiser said. “That should be your highest priority.”