San Antonio Medical Foundation played key role in city’s history
SAN ANTONIO — It’s hard to believe there was ever a San Antonio without a South Texas Medical Center — no medical school and far fewer hospitals, research facilities or doctors’ offices, and farm fields instead of all these facilities and the residential areas and businesses that serve them.
It’s arguably harder still to assign an official birthday to the medical center, since its principal early components, such as what’s now the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio, the Audie L. Murphy Memorial VA Hospital and Methodist Hospital, developed slowly and separately.
So why not celebrate the 75th anniversary of the chartering of the most significant nonprofit organization many San Antonians have never heard of — the San Antonio Medical Foundation?
As the first major civic engine behind the push for a medical school and more hospitals to serve the city’s growing postwar population, the foundation raised funds and lobbied for the medical center. It grew out of a committee of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce that was formed in 1944 and first known as the Committee for the Removal of the Texas University Medical School from Galveston to San Antonio.
More SA medical history: Much like COVID-19, polio shut down schools, public places in 1946; officials urged hand washing and social distancing
This sentiment foreshadowed a 1945 resolution before the Texas Legislature to relocate the University of Texas Medical Branch, or UTMB, at Galveston, arguing that the medical school should be in a city with more hospitals and more patients — such as San Antonio’s population of 253,854, by 1940 US census figures, as compared with Galveston’s 81,173.
After four years of legislative wrangling, the University of Texas Board of Regents “decided to put its dollars into Dallas … to take over the privately held Southwestern Medical School and make it a part of the UT system,” says a 75th anniversary history, ” San Antonio Medical Foundation: Our Dynamic Past, Our Collaborative Future,” based on an earlier history by Wilbur L. Matthews.
Meanwhile, San Antonians bent on medical development were laying the groundwork for progress here.
The medical school at what’s now UT Health San Antonio was completed in 1968, after more than two decades of private and public interests working toward its establishment as a key component of the South Texas Medical Center.
San Antonio Medical Foundation
With a name change to the Medical Foundation Committee, Dr. VC Tucker, president of the Bexar County Medical Association, was named as its first member, signifying that the association endorsed the chamber’s goals for such a foundation. As quoted in the San Antonio Light, March 10, 1946, they were to improve the city’s capacity for care of the sick, medical training of doctors and other health professionals, centralized facilities including a new county hospital and support of medical research.
More from Paula Allen on SA medical scene: Medical Arts Building now landmark hotel
“The idea is not to compete with (existing) hospitals, but to supplement their facilities,” said an unnamed doctor quoted in the Light.
The foundation’s board of trustees was to be “composed chiefly of laymen — men of high prestige and fine individual reputations who are known to work for the good of the community. Wealthy men wishing to give to the community would then feel assured that their money was used for the good of the patients.” Charter members included chamber medical committee Chair and attorney AJ “Jack” Lewis, banker John M. Bennett Jr. of the Standard Trust Co., Melrose Holmgreen of Alamo Iron Works, oilman/philanthropist Tom Slick, local businessman Albert Steves III, philanthropist and UT Regent Margaret Batts Tobin and Col. WB Tuttle, chairman of the Public Service Board.
Shown here under construction, the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans’ Hospital was completed in 1971 to bring in- and outpatient care to area veterans. The hospital is affiliated with the schools that make up UT Health San Antonio.
San Antonio Medical Foundation
After the 1948 legislative disappointment that saw the next UT medical school going to Dallas, these civic worthies and others turned their attention to fundraising for medical training at Bexar County’s Robert B. Green Hospital, with modest results.
Paula Allen on downtown medical history: Nix Hospital was promoted as a modern facility
By the mid-1950s, a new Chamber of Commerce hospital committee convinced the Southwest Texas Conference of the Methodist Church to start a new hospital here — as long as the people of San Antonio would provide 25 acres of land and preliminary financing of $1.5 million, says the foundation history.
Two sites for the new Methodist Hospital were presented, one near downtown and Robert B. Green and one north of the Oak Hills Country Club with more room to grow. After some conflict with downtown business interests as well as some internal struggles and restructuring, the foundation accepted the donation of the Oak Hills site with the owners’ stipulation that a medical school be built nearby.
Chartered in 1955, the hospital was built on former dairy and ranch land. After years spent securing grants and donations, it opened in 1963 as the first hospital constructed to withstand nuclear disaster, with two underground shelter floors ( mentioned here Jan. 29).
More from Paula Allen on South Texas Medical Center: Cold War’s fallout shelter boom burned out almost in San Antonio
The medical school got its next big boost in 1959 when Gov. Price Daniel signed a bill authorizing the creation of a South Texas medical school, thanks in part to lobbying efforts with the state’s Commission on Higher Education by the chamber and a revitalized San Antonio Medical Foundation.
gov. Price Daniel signs a 1959 bill authorizing the creation of a South Texas Medical School, the culmination of years of lobbying efforts by the San Antonio Medical Foundation.
San Antonio Medical Foundation
It was dedicated in 1968 as the University of Texas Medical School of San Antonio, along with its allied Bexar County Teaching Hospital (now University Health). Its nursing school got its own building in 1970, as did the dental school in 1973.
All the UT Health San Antonio schools are affiliated with another important public component of the South Texas Medical Center, the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans’ Hospital, which combines patient care with research studies.
Paula Allen on longtime medical institution: Saenz Clinic, downtown and later on the West Side, served San Antonians for decades
As the medical center has grown, it has become one of the city’s major economic generators.
The San Antonio Medical Foundation has remained active, acquiring nearly 750 acres of land with about 220 acres remaining for further development. From 2016 through 2021, the foundation has provided $3.7 million in grants for projects that address aging, COVID-19, diabetes, heart ailments, stroke and trauma.
At an anniversary presentation held Thursday at the Southwest School of Art, state Sen. José Menéndez read a proclamation congratulating the foundation for its leadership in furthering the development of the South Texas Medical Center, which has “grown to include 75 medically related institutions, more than 45 clinics, 12 major hospitals and countless small practices, offices and nonmedical businesses.”
[email protected]| Twitter: @sahistorycolumn| Facebook: San Antonio history column