The University of Texas Medical Branch’s president said Thursday that $42.9 million in proposed cuts by the Texas Senate put some of the medical branch’s major mission programs — including a new unit that would be used to treat Ebola patients and the medical programs to care for indigent patients — at major risk.
In its initial budget, introduced earlier this month, the Senate left out appropriations known as “special items” for state colleges and universities. The proposed omissions would cut about $1 billion from the budget.
The medical branch had a budget of about $576 million for the 2016-2017 biennium. Special items made up about $29.3 million, or about 5 percent of that budget.
Faced with an order from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to cut 4 percent out of its budget and with decreased revenues statewide, the senate proposed giving $533 million to the medical branch over the next two years, with no funding for special items.
As representatives from the Texas A&M System told senators Wednesday, the removal of special items could kill some programs.
Dr. David Callender, president of the medical branch, told the finance committee the medical branch was poised to lose $14.2 million that is used to fund indigent care at its hospitals.
“Those cuts would have a tremendous impact on our ability to provide care to the indigent patients that come and see us,” Callender said.
“If these cuts stand as proposed, UTMB must significantly reduce care for those vulnerable populations who present with life-threatening illnesses from across the state.”
The medical branch treated 33,600 indigent patients from 124 counties last year, according to prepared remarks provided to The Daily News by the medical branch. The care cost $49.6 million in 2016. Of that, $47.7 million, or 96 percent, of the payments charged went uncollected.
In 2014, in the midst of an outbreak of Ebola in Texas, the medical branch was tasked with creating a bio-containment unit inside its hospital that could be used to treat people infected by highly virulent diseases like Ebola.
The medical branch was to operate one of two such units in the state and received $8.1 million in funding for 2016 and 2017 to establish the unit.
Callender said that the medical branch had completed full design of the project but would need to put construction on hold without special item funding.
“It remains vital to our state’s and our nation’s readiness to respond to Ebola, Zika and similar threats,” Callender said.
The medical branch is also requesting $12 million to create a Center for Excellence in Infectious Disease Research, Treatment and Biosafety. The center would work with Texas A&M to create a Trans-Texas Vaccine Institute, which would research infectious diseases and their treatments, as well as support the training and operations at the Galveston National Laboratory.
The medical branch requested funding for a vaccine institute during past sessions to no avail.
The budget for the next biennium will not be completed for months. The senate has created a working committee to review each of the special item requests.
“There are going to be some decisions made that people aren’t going to like,” said State Sen. Jane Nelson, the chairwoman of the finance committee. “We’re going to try our dead-level best to keep our good programs.”