San Antonio’s Hospital Woes San Antonio The University of Texas regents are building a $12 million medical school in San Antonio; now they say there’s a chance it may not open. Along with this, the people of Bexar County have two charity hospitals and not enough money to run one. The two situations are tied together so tightly that one cannot be solved unless the other also is. This is how: the university is about to finish construction of its third state medi: cal school, from which it hopes eventually to graduate 100 doctors a year. Next door to the school is the Bexar County hospital district’s unfinished teaching hospital. The med school is required by statute to have the teaching hospital if it is to operate and the hospital district can’t run that hospital unless it finds a new source of revenue. The district’s projected income for next year cannot possibly cover the cost of operating even its old charity hospital, Robert B. Green, in the center of San Antonio’s slums, much less the teaching hospital. To make matters worse, the property owners in the district last January rejected a proposal to allow the district to raise taxes. Under pressure from a regents’ ultimatum to get up the money to run the teaching hospital or lose the medical school, San Antonio civic leaders have made numerous suggestions. Gov . John Connally has offered his own formula, but it would require passage of a touchy piece of legislation and might be difficult to achieve, even for Connally. The governor’s plan would permit county commissioners to raise tax assessments for hospital district purposes in the state’s four largest ‘counties, including Bexar, without the riecessity of voter approval. This would fly in the face of the Jan. 14 election here in which an unexpectedly large turnout of votes rejected a raise in the hospital district’s assessment. The only alternative in view, at present, would be another election, whose chances would be dismal. H OW DID THE U.T. regents and hospital district get into this fix? The situation dates back to 1891, when several San Antonians first suggested that the city needed a medical school. Periodically, since, the suggestion has boiled to the surface. When it did so again in 1947 a group of seven men tried to bottle the amorphous idea. They began by setting up the San Antonio medical foundation. The foundation’s first attempt at bringing a state medical school to San Antonio was thwarted by Dallas, whose agents arrived at the Capitol in Austin with a concrete proposal, land, and money. John Rogers is a San Antonio native and has been on the staff of a daily newspaper in that city for eight years. John Rogers Having learned the Dallas lesson, the foundation members, in 1956, organized their own plan, acquired some land, and raised a little money. But there was a hooker. The land 200 acres came from four real estate developers, George Delavan, Sr., G. S. McCreless, Edgar Von Scheele, and Carl Gaskin Jr., all of whom were to go on to business prosperity. The 200-acre gift has been the nucleus around which a tenacious alliance was formed and is sustained. It was -ccimposed of the developers, the members of the Medical Foundation, the Express and News newspapers, and Dr. Merton Minter, who happened to be chairman of the U.T. board of regents. Talk, and that’s all it was, back in the late fifties was that the real bond in the alliance was land speculation. Regardless, this group for years fought San Antonio’s most powerful men, financier W. W. McAllister and contractor H. B. Zachry; a hundred downtown businessmen; the city’s most vociferous liberal, Albert Pena; the Catholic Church; the hospital board; the majority of the city’s doctors; all of San Antonio’s poor and won. “It was the smartest business deal anyone has pulled in a long time it was legitimate but it was very smart,” McAllister, an old wheeler-dealer himself, once said. The area around the donated land, a good golf shot from Oak Hills Country Club, is rapidly becoming the city’s most exclusive residential-commercial section. This development was spurred by the selection of the Oak Hills site for the state medical school. Lots cost $8,000 on land that in 1961 sold for $3,000 an acre and, not many years before, brought $250 an acre, one real estate man says. However, placing the medical school on the Oak Hills site, ten miles from the heart of San Antonio, instead of near an expanded and modernized Green Hospital in the downtown area, is probably the real reason that the school may not open this year or ever. If it had been located in the Green area, a second hospital wouldn’t have had to be built; San Antonio can support one hospital, but two would appear, more and more, to be a needless luxury. E IGHT YEARS AGO there were plenty of protests about the proposed Oak Hills location for the medical school, all to no avail. Pena, in 1959, said, “The Green site is the only logical place for a medical school.” A hospital consultant, Ross Garrett of Chicago, stated: “Physicians’ offices are downtown. The city’s other major hospitals are downtown. And the need is downtown.” Archbishop Robert Lucey reminded: “A charity hospital is a temple of mercy. It ought to be where the poor, the needy, and the afflicted can find it.” But the medical foundation offered the U.T. regents the land free and the regents accepted. The hospital district board protested, saying it preferred to modernize the Green and find land for the medical school in a 242-acre urban renewal tract that surrounded the existing hospital. The Downtowners Association, a merchants group, as well as Pena, Zachry, the archbishop, and seven of the nine members of the City Council, backed the hospital district’s objection. There were those who foresaw the dangers of the hospital district’s trying to operate two major hospitals. R.L.B. Tobin, then 25 and chairman of the hospital board, said, “You can’t spend what you legally don’t have.” Tax collector-elect Charles Davis advised that to operate both would require an increase in property tax assessments. Finally Pena warned: “The maintenance costs of the teaching hospital have not been adequately explained.” Such remarks brought the dispute to a boil. At a meeting Ed Ray, then the editor of the Express-News, told Pena, “If you don’t stop the hospital talk I’m going to run you out of town.” But as it happened, shortly thereafter, Ray himself left town. In Austin, however, things were going rather smoothly. The regents asked and received from the legislature, first, a planning grant for the medical school and, two years later, funds for construction. In the meantime the medical foundation had persuaded the hospital district’s board and the county commissioners that San Antonio’s need for a medical school overshadowed all other considerations. To make this proposition more palatable even to the loudest critics, the foundation, and the regents, stopped talking about the Oak Hills site and said no decision had been reached on selection of a site. A $6.5 million bond election was called to finance construction of the teaching hospital and expansion of the old Green. It passed 6 1/2-to-1. Six weeks later, the UT regents again announced that the Oak Hills site had been selected. “We’ve been doublecrossed,” the Catholic Spanish-language weekly, La Voz, editorialized. AND AGAIN pressure mounted. The Downtowners Association asked the regents to reconsider and raised $1 million to buy land on a site near the existing Green Hospital. The regents again backed away. But the medical foundation returned with its own million dollar promise to buy additional land at the Oak Hills site. In all, 540 acres now make up what the foundation hopes will one day be a medical center. Presently on the land is the modern, new Methodist ,Hospital complete with a nuclear attack shelter, several March 3, 1967 7
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