Colleagues on UTMB president's abrupt exit: 'We can call it a resignation, but nobody in Galveston buys that'

Colleagues of Ben Raimer, MD, former president of the University of Texas Medical Branch, are left with questions after the leader abruptly resigned Aug. 22 after four decades with the academic health system. 

Dr. Raimer, 75, submitted his resignation as head of the Galveston-based health system two weeks after he was placed on administrative leave for undisclosed reasons. UTMB did not disclose the reason for his departure. 

When Dr. Raimer was placed on administrative leave Aug. 8, the system only said the move was not "in any way connected to the operations at UTMB or the Galveston National Lab." The lab has drawn scrutiny over agreements with three Chinese research labs, including the Wuhan Institute of Virology. 

"Nobody can fathom that this person who has devoted his life to the well being of kids and the well being of Galveston and the well being of UTMB could have possibly done something that warranted whatever we want to call this," Matthew Hay, MD, professor of pediatrics at UTMB who worked closely with Dr. Raimer, told The Houston Chronicle. "We can call it a resignation, but nobody in Galveston buys that he left of his free will."

Dr. Raimer began his tenure with UTMB as a student, earning his master's in human genetics from the UTMB Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and his medical degree from UTMB School of Medicine. Clinically, much of Dr. Raimer's practice has been devoted to the evaluation and treatment of children and adolescents with behavioral disorders and learning disabilities.

He went on to hold numerous academic and administrative positions at the system over the past four decades, including roles as tenured professor in the departments of pediatrics, family medicine and community health and senior vice president for the Office of Health Policy and Legislative Affairs. He was appointed interim president of UTMB in 2019, assuming the role permanently in 2021, becoming UTMB's sixth president. 

Nathan Lee, MD, a pathologist in Alabama, came to know Dr. Raimer in his time as a student at UTMB. Dr. Raimer and his wife were faculty advisors to a student-run medical mission group that provided free care to marginalized communities on the Texas-Mexico border. 

"He was always very generous with his time and his skills," Dr. Lee told The Houston Chronicle. "Hearing him go on administrative leave and then step down is just really weird. Usually that's associated with people who have less-than-upstanding moral character, and I believe, knowing him for four years, that he is above reproach. I don't understand why this would happen."

Texas' oldest newspaper seeks answers to the questions colleagues posed, and is facing resistance from the UT system in its pursuit of more information on Dr. Raimer's leave and resignation.

Galveston-based The Daily News submitted an open records request Aug. 9 for all documents related to Dr. Raimer's placement on leave, including any complaints that may have been filed against him. 

The UT system responded to the request Aug. 23, appealing it to the Texas Attorney General's Office. The system wrote that it anticipates "all responsive documents have applicable exceptions to disclosure," The Daily News reports. The system didn't specify why it is seeking open records exceptions.

Find The Houston Chronicle report in full here

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