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Let’s Rethink Decision on UConn Med School

Hartford Business Journal Editorial

May 30, 2011

Film has long been a barometer of American culture but few lines have had the staying power of one from the 1967 hit ‘Cool Hand Luke.’

‘What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate’ pops up twice in the film, once as the brutal prison warden is trying to break the will of convict Luke Jackson, played by Connecticut’s Paul Newman, and again as Jackson faces down a posse of lawmen who would ultimately shoot him to death.

Against the backdrop of 1967 America, with the Vietnam war and civil rights issues dividing the nation, it seemed everybody could own a piece of that line.

It seems a lot of people in Connecticut government could own a piece of that line today. Consider some recent failures to communicate:

• The governor and legislature are taking bows over passage of a plan that will allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at state colleges and universities. Meanwhile, over at the Department of Education, officials are exploring various ways to cap enrollment in the face of budget cuts, effectively ending generations of open-door admissions.

• Governor Malloy announces a bold $900 million investment in the UConn Health Center in Farmington and jams the plan through a legislative committee in a matter of hours. Meanwhile, Hartford’s medical community, Hartford’s mayor and a number of economists who all had advocated an investment in creation of a Hartford-based medical corridor are left wondering what happened.

• When General Electric decided it was ending its Edgelab program at UConn, it took weeks for that news to reach UConn’s interim president and state officials who might have been able to step in and mediate a better resolution.

Yes, it appears what we’ve got in all these cases is a failure to communicate.

Now, to be fair, it takes two sides to communicate. And a breakdown can occur at either end. Without being a fly on the wall, it’s impossible to know what was said to whom and when in these cases.

What is clear is that the results aren’t in the best interests of the state. Two seem done deals but there’s still time to salvage the investment in the UConn Health Center.

In making the announcement, Malloy stressed the immediate boost in construction jobs, the same case he made earlier in approving the New Britain busway.

We’re all for construction jobs. It’s an important sector that’s been hit hard by The Great Recession. But those jobs aren’t site specific. It’s hard to fathom the longer-term implications of the decision to build in Farmington as an afterthought.

Farmington is a strong and growing suburb and certainly is a worthy place for any major investment. The conclusion that John Dempsey Hospital has reached the end of its useful life is unfortunate but a reality. And a community the size of Farmington needs an up-to-date hospital. That’s one issue.

Another is what to do with the UConn medical school and the research facilities. When faced with a construction opportunity, why not take advantage of a siting option that will pay dividends in synergies from other like investments?

The UConn medical center shouldn’t operate in a vacuum. There is a significant critical mass of medical infrastructure already on the ground in Hartford — places like Hartford Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Connecticut, St. Francis Hospital and all the medical office space around them.

Moving the UConn pieces into Hartford makes too much sense not to get a full airing. So, ‘Cool Hand Dannel,’ let’s try communicating before we decide this important issue.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Business Journal. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Business Journal Archives at http://www.hartfordbusiness.com/archives.php.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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