County Hospital District, along with the Downtown Merchants and Property Owners Association, wanted the school built downtown. Others pushed for the 200-acre Oak Hills pastureland, which had an abundance of open space for future growth.
The Oak Hills site ultimately won out and the Legislature passed House Bill 9 in January 1959, authorizing creation of the school. A Dallas senator, perhaps hoping to slow or stop the project, inserted a last-minute amendment requiring a teaching hospital to be located within a mile of the school.
Bexar County voters overwhelmingly approved a $5 million bond issue to build the new hospital, supplemented by a $10 million federal grant. Ground was broken in the spring of 1966. Even though construction had started, there was no plan to fund the hospital’s operation – estimated to be $15 million for the first year. Commissioners went back to the voters. This time, the measure failed. Without operating funds, the hospital couldn’t open. It was Bexar County Judge Blair Reeves who cast the deciding vote on moving forward with the tax increase that had been rejected by voters – paving the way for the Bexar County Hospital and the medical school to open as planned two years later.
There was confidence this venture would spur the economy of South Texas. The first leaders of the hospital and school also agreed the most important outcome would be a new dedication to the ideals of healing, teaching and research that would lead to better care for the sick and injured of this community. They also predicted that revolutionary new medical theories and practices developed in this center would impact the lives of people in the city, state, nation, and maybe even the world.
For the past five decades, the partnership between the organizations known today as University Health System and UT Health San Antonio has done exactly what was predicted and more. Together, we have healed the sick and injured, led initiatives to improve the overall health of the community, educated tens of thousands of physicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals, and developed new and better treatments through science and discovery.
The pastureland of 50 years ago is now the bustling South Texas Medical Center — an economic powerhouse for the Bexar County community.
In 1968, Dr. Pannill knew it would be the start of something big. “I think it’s safe to predict that five years from now, the medical school alone will be pouring from $8 million to $10 million a year into the San Antonio economy.”
Today, the health and biosciences industry provides more than one in six local jobs, and pumps about $40 billion a year into the local economy.