This week the much-anticipated and dreaded staff cuts were implemented, with all the sorrow, anger, and drama that such an action brings with it. The reductions are being implemented with a certain brisk efficiency…600 a day. Apparently, fewer people were dismissed than had originally been stated, but a large part of the difference may be due to the voluntary change in location on the part of those employees who got good offers elsewhere, or who were tired of dealing with the situation here and simply left, for their own reasons. Head-hunting firms are courting a number of faculty with attractive propositions, in some cases, suspiciously attractive ones, recalling those TV adds about making six-figure sums by working at home part time. But, whatever. Dismissed employees receive salary and full benefits through the end of January, while junior and senior faculty are given a sliding scale of temporary coverage. Out-placement help is supposed to be offered, but the Human Resources staff are very hard pressed, and of course are afraid that, once they have done this job, they’ll be next. It’s oddly reminds you of the accounts if the Moscow Purges of the 1930s… lot of fear, and lots of bitter but hilarious jokes too. The anxiety, anger, fear and bitterness, the averted eyes, the hushed conversations, the attempt to find some reason why X was dismissed and not Y,the relief it wasn’t you, the guilt at the relief, all make the comparison a fitting one, I’m sorry to say. I have also been thinking a great deal about the phrase “storm victims” As the national economy slides, or somersaults, into serious recession those who are losing their wages and benefits have every reason to be fearful and resentful. They did all the right things: signed the pledge of Compassion, Integrity, and Respect, they attended the courses and seminars, got various certifications and degrees, observed the dress code, worried about meeting their Smart Goals, obediently wore their ID badges, and in very many cases took the job home with them, working off the clock via phone, beeper or Blackberry. In other words, they bought in, and how. No matter. Victims, in truth.
UTMB has been losing money for a very long time on uncompensated care given to the uninsured and medically indigent from this part of Texas. Now, other hospitals in the area are having to deal with an influx of patients who used to come here, and in particular, of uninsured patients, who were formerly sluiced to UTMB. And, they don’t like it much. What might come of this is hard to say. Editorials and stories in other papers have been muttering about making this an issue in the new session of the Texas Legistlature, starting in January. UTMB has to make its operations pay; that’s the word. Plans envision opening the hospital with 200 beds, and then expanding as circumstances dictate to 300, 350 or more. A medical educator I talked to was confident that students can be given very good clinical training, but admitted that some residency programs might have to shrink, at least for a while, until the patient base builds up. Some others are not so sure, about the timeline, at least. The seven lean years of Joseph’s dream may be here. It might be seven years, or fewer, or more.
The John Sealy Hospital opened today at 7 a.m. with the foreseen 200 bed capacity. Things went faster in some ways than had been planned, so the facility was declared ready, and patients are being seen. I talked to a surgeon last night who mentioned that he had three procedures scheduled for this morning. Everybody is being cautiously optimistic. There is no point in saying something that will have to be retracted, so better say little or nothing. But this is good news, clearly. How soon things get back to an approximation of normal depends on how quickly the buildings can be repaired, cleaned, disinfected, checked out and returned to service. The upper floors of many buildings were undamaged, but getting them back to work implies some mundane, low-tech services such as reliable elevators and functioning fire alarm systems. Some faculty who had offices facing outwards lost precious hard drives, thumb drives, disks or paper fiiles. These may not have been badly damaged, but they were removed by salvage crews and shipped off someplace to storage. Getting to them can be dffiicult. Many of the clean-up workers have gone, the worst part of the mucking out having been completed. And a lot of the heavy machinery has been removed also,and, I suppose, is stored somewhere to wait for the next disaster.
People who lived on the Island or the Bolivar peninsula, or the shore line of Galveston Bay of course had the worst of the surge. The relatively low wind level (Category II) and the relative dryness of the storm didn’t cause massive damage on mainland communities, and some people may be drawing the wrong conclusions from this. A Cat.IV surge and a Cat. IV wind would spread the destruction envelope much further inland, so conclusions that this place or that is “safe” may not be supported by events.
Many residents have temporary quarters on the mainland, and their drive to work should be made a little easier by the opening of the new Galveston Island Causeway, which has been under construction for the last several years. Crews are linking up the bridge roads with the main road onto the Island (I45), moving barriers and laying pavement. There are still boats to be seen tossed up onto some section of land, and after such a while, the fact that a boat is so far out of its natural element doesn’t really excite comment or interest. We have gotten used to them. What might be called the “second wave” of debris is starting to appear in quantity on streetsides, as more contractors get started on repairs. The “first wave” was due to what I’m calling “mucking out”…removing damaged or destroyed materials to stabilize the buildings and prevent further loss. The “second wave” comes from restoration efforts. The City has set a deadline of Nov. 30 for contractor pick up, so removal of these new piles will be somebody else’s job.
Last night the Galveston Symphony Orchestra played it’s first concert of the season, not in the Opera House, but in the ballroom of the Moody Gardens Hotel. There was a good crowd, and the GSO was in form, with music by Rossini, Rimksky-Korsakoff and Berlioz…the stomping, thundering Symphonie Fantastique. GSO Board president Mike Hughes spoke to the audience, saying that this was the first arts event on the Island since the storm.
He also noted that the badly damaged Opera House will reopen on Jan.4. So, the place which has heard the voices of Caruso, Nelly Melba, Fredericka Von Stade, Samuel Ramey, Denise Graves, Mel Torme and countless other performers, in all forns and genres from Grand Opera through Country, Rock and Jazz, will host the GSO again in its February concert. It’s another sign of life.
People here are resentful and angry at the “hands off” attitude taken by the state, most particularly with regard to the failure to help out UTMB. And they are aware that, despite the obligatory pilgrimages to the Island by various legislators, no significant rescue package was ever contemplated, much less planned. This, and the dismissal of staff at UTMB, are putting the Island’s economic future under a cloud, and some are trying to chase away the cloud by listening to the seductive siren song of casino gambling. To Islanders, this is old stuff. Galveston used to be “wide open” to use a somewhat old-fashioned phrase. There was gambling and fast night life. That was the reason big show biz names came down here in the first place. So there is nostalgia for what seems like Better Times Than These. Some people are convinced that gambling here will turn the trick: money, jobs, prosperity, and the rest. Others say that such a move is Death to the image of Galveston as a “family resort”, and that where gamblling goes, drugs, hookers, the Mob will surely follow. To me, the old saying is true: there’s no such thing as easy money. Casinos bring their own people and don’t hire locally,except for the lowest paid jobs. They try their best to keep the suckers at the tables, so there’s no incentive to visit the local shops, restaurants and businesses. Then, there’s the ethical question: is this the best we can do? Fleecing suckers? It may happen. We’ll have to see.
I was at my house yesterday, working on some things, when I looked out the patio door into the back yard. It’s pretty desolate and very sad looking. All that brown, against a grey sky, was a mood-buster. I also went out west a little, to the airport, Scholes Field. It was built during WWII as a training facility for navigators, I think. Lots of buildings were left over, and, while many of them were torn down, others were taken over by small businesses and kept going over the years. Helicopter services that fly to and from the oil rigs in the Gulf, form the bulk of the air traffic now. IKE hit the place very hard. Many of the old WWII era buildings are in ruins, as are many of the newer metal sheds. You can see a debris line on the cyclone fences, up about 6 or 8 feet from the ground, where leaves and grass were deposited by the surge, as a reminder, if you needed one, about what happened. It’s all pretty ghostly and empty, at least on a Sunday. The trailers the chopper crews and rig staff used to sleep in are gone, either moved, or swept away. Not many machines were to be seen, either. I don’t know where they went, or if they’ll be back.