UTMB Closes ED, Opens Urgent Care Center


236px-hurricane_ike_off_the_lesser_antillesThe University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston trauma center was significantly damaged by Hurricane Ike in September 2008. After the storm cleared, UTMB kept its ED open only to treat patients with minor ailments or to provide stabilizing treatment and transfer to patients who needed higher levels of care. About 600 patients needed transfer since Hurricane Ike struck the area.

UTMB’s program appears similar to a program at the University of Chicago that evoked public outrage not too long ago.

According to an article in today’s Galveston County Daily News, UTMB stopped the “treat and transfer” program that it had been using since September.

Instead, UTMB decided to close down its emergency department.

Now no one has access to emergency care at the hospital. Everyone with an emergency condition must call 911 to be transferred to another hospital – apparently in Houston which is a 48 mile trip according to Google Maps.

Instead of continuing to provide emergency services, UTMB is running an “urgent care center” out of the emergency department. For those of you who haven’t read my previous posts, urgent care centers don’t have to treat any patient that walks through the door looking for care. EMTALA laws don’t apply to urgent care centers.

Oh, and by the way, the article states that “the urgent care facility will require patients to undergo financial screening.” I don’t know the hospital’s official policy, but that statement sounds like the urgent care center is doing a wallet biopsy on potential patients and triaging out those whose biopsies come up short. Sound familiar?

The comments section to the article was a mixture of desperation from patients and disgust from some medical professionals. One person stated “Many of us have severe problems and are desperate.” Another asked “Why should Houstonians suffer with longer waits in the emergency room because Galveston and UTMB can’t get their act together? They shouldn’t have to.” One PA stated that he was “really ashamed that I graduated from UTMB and have to witness this travesty of medical care to the citizens of and visitors to Galveston.”

It should be noted that UTMB stated that it plans to reopen its emergency department in 3-4 months – albeit with less services available. It should also be noted that, unlike the University of Chicago, UTMB is the only game in town in Galveston.

I predict that the speed with which UTMB gets its ED functioning will be directly related to how well the urgent care center does financially.

Welcome to the new face of medical care in this country, folks.


  1. Just out of curiosity….could a facility qualify themselves as an “urgent care” and still provide emergency care, thus avoiding emtala? I’m not saying it would be ethical or a good idea- just curious if it would work.

  2. This is awesome! I wish all hospitals would do this. I can only hope the government idiots wont rush in and put a stop to this.

  3. Pingback: UTMB Closes ED, Opens Urgent Care Center « The ACUTE CARE Blog: Non-Urban Emergency Medicine

  4. Pingback: Free does NOT equal more! « Adventures of a Funky Heart!

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