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  • Writer's pictureAri Betof

World’s Richest Restauranteur Focuses on Primary Health Care in Texas

Tilman Fertitta, president and CEO of Fertitta Entertainment, has pledged $50 million to the University of Houston’s College of Medicine. Henceforth, the school will be known as the Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine.

Fertitta attended UH and is chairman of the university’s Board of Regents. His previous donations to the institution include a $20 million contribution to redesigning its basketball arena, which now also bears his name.

The World’s Richest Restauranteur

A native Texan, Tilman Fertitta was born in Galveston, where he founded the construction company responsible for building the Key Largo Hotel in the 1980s. Often referred to as “the world’s richest restauranteur,” he was an owner of the first Landry’s Restaurant, becoming the sole owner of the group in 1988. He retained a majority holding when taking the company public in 1993 and bought back all outstanding stock again in 2010.

In addition to Landry’s restaurants, Fertitta’s portfolio includes the Golden Nugget casinos and hotels, numerous other successful restaurant chains, and the NBA’s Houston Rockets. He is also known for his television performance as the star of the reality TV show Billion Dollar Buyer, which premiered on CNBC in 2016. The series featured him testing innovative products for use in his businesses.

Fertitta was elected to the Texas Business Hall of Fame in 2004, and Forbes estimates his net worth at $5.4 billion. He has been married to Paige Fertitta since 1991, and they have four children together.

Newest Medical School to Address Critical Shortage of Primary Care Physicians

The Fertitta family’s gift comes just three years after the opening of the UH’s College of Medicine in 2019—the only new medical school in Houston in almost half a century. It was founded to address inequities in Texan healthcare, which can result in substantial regional health disparities. For example, there can be as much as a 19-year difference in life expectancy at birth between different zip codes in the state.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, Texas will face a widespread shortage of over 3,000 primary care doctors by the next decade. The College aims to improve healthcare in underserved urban and rural communities by training primary care physicians, many of whom will come from these same communities. It targets a minimum of 50 percent of graduates focused on primary care, compared to the national average of around 20 percent.

It also intends to achieve above-average diversity in its student body. Of the 60 students in the school’s first two classes, almost 70 percent came from population groups underrepresented in the medical field. More than 50 percent came from communities whose residents tend to be of lower socioeconomic status. Within this decade, the school hopes to reach its maximum capacity of just under 500 students.

How The $50 Million Gift Will Be Used

UH will use the Fertitta gift to focus on health care innovation; community engagement; and research emphasizing population, social, and behavioral health. The funds will be split as follows:

- $10 million towards establishing five new endowments to attract and fill chairs with faculty who are leaders in fields related to health care innovation. These funds will be matched by the university’s “$100 Million Challenge” for chairs and professorships, bringing the total endowment to $20 million.

- $10 million to form an endowed scholarship fund for medical graduates’ research stipends and fellowships.

- $10 million to provide initial funds for research activities, including facilities and equipment, stipends, fellowships, and other program costs.

- $20 million for creating the Fertitta Dean’s Endowed Fund for research-enhancing studies and related activities.

Although medical institutions are always capable of extending programs and research through philanthropic support, University of Houston President Renu Khator describes the Fertitta family’s generosity as sufficient to secure the longevity of the medical school for generations to come. He adds that, in doing so, it will have a lasting positive impact on the city of Houston and the world generally.

UH’s $100 Million Challenge

In 2019, thanks to an anonymous donor, UH launched its $100 Million Challenge, an initiative set to transform the institute’s academic enterprise to new levels of distinction. The Challenge encourages the university community to contribute to future research and scholarship with a one-to-one match for eligible gifts up to $50 million (for a total of $100 million) from the anonymous donor.

The initiative enables UH to significantly increase its number of endowed chairs and professorships in fields that address societal challenges. When combined with anonymous donor funds and state-based matching programs like the Texas Research Incentive Program (TRIP) and the Governor’s University Research Initiative (GURI), a single donation of $2 million could result in more than $10 million in actual funds raised.

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