State Rep. Tommy Merritt, House Appropriations Chairman Warren Chisum, State Rep. Leo Berman tour UT Health Science Center campus

Thursday, September 20, 2007

State Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, was one of two East Texas legislators escorting Texas House Appropriations Chairman Warren Chisum on a tour Wednesday, Sept. 19, of the research, medical, and educational facilities at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler.

"The UT Health Science Center is a tremendous asset to the East Texas area for its medical research and training. It is very important for Chairman Chisum to see first hand the outstanding work conducted by the scientists at UTHSCT and understand the great need for this medical center,” Rep. Merritt said.

As chairman of the appropriations committee, Rep. Chisum was in charge of crafting the state’s 2008-2009 budget during the 80th Texas Legislature held this past spring. Rep. Chisum had not previously visited UT Health Science Center.

Rep. Chisum also toured the other UT System institution in East Texas, The University of Texas at Tyler. State Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, accompanied Reps. Chisum and Merritt on the tours.

The tour showcased the academic medical center’s state-of-the-art research facilities, where 32 scientists explore the mysteries of lung diseases, lung injury, and cancer.

Currently, scientists at UTHSCT are funded by 45 active federal research grants that total $43 million and pump tens of millions of dollars into the East Texas economy each year, said UTHSCT President Dr. Kirk A. Calhoun, who led the tour.

“UTHSCT is proud of its commitment to innovative research, excellent patient care and comprehensive medical education. As an academic medical center, our scientists strive to understand the causes of disease, our physicians work to provide the best care for patients, and, through our medical residency programs, we endeavor to ensure that East Texans continue to have access to well-trained and knowledgeable doctors,” he said.

Rep. Chisum also toured UTHSCT’s remodeled and expanded emergency room and the Public Health Lab of East Texas, a joint effort between UTHSCT and the Texas Department of State Health Services.

In addition, he visited the headquarters of the Northeast Texas Consortium, a group of 15 higher education institutions in the region. It operates NETnet, a high-speed wireless data network to the colleges, and supports collaborative teaching efforts and combined programs among the schools. NETnet is located on the UTHSCT campus.

During a roundtable discussion at the end of the tour, top UTHSCT administrators briefed Rep. Chisum about UTHSCT’s Family Medicine Residency Program.

They also talked about how UT Health Science Center is working with local nursing schools to address the chronic shortage of nurses.

Rep. Chisum said the tour enabled him to acquire information that will help his committee to decide appropriations in the next legislative session in 2009.

After his tour, Rep. Chisum asked his staff to study the state’s funding formula for UTHSCT.

The funding formula is designed for colleges and universities, and potentially underfunds academic medical centers such as UTHSCT that have medical residency programs, he said.

His committee will study that issue and see how the formula can be changed to better fit the medical residency programs.

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