UConn Officials Urge $342 Million 'Renewal' For Dempsey Hospital
ARIELLE LEVIN BECKER
February 12, 2010
The University of Connecticut's president and medical school dean have recommended that UConn update John Dempsey Hospital — at a cost of up to $342 million — and develop a "downtown" academic campus that would include collaboration with other area hospitals.
The recommendations, detailed in a Tuesday letter from university President Michael Hogan and Vice President for Health Affairs Cato Laurencin, have not been discussed by the UConn Health Center's board of directors or the university's board of trustees. Hogan on Thursday characterized the letter as "a partial set of talking points" and said it would be premature to comment on the contents or any other recommendations because the boards had not discussed it.
But the recommendations offer a hint at the direction university leaders may pursue in their latest attempt at a long-term solution for the Farmington hospital. UConn officials have said Dempsey, which faced multimillion-dollar deficits in recent years, is too small and outdated to be financially viable.
Two recent efforts to resolve the situation have failed. One, a 2007 proposal to build a 352-bed hospital to replace the 224-bed Dempsey, drew opposition from other area hospitals.
A proposal last year called for the health center to merge with Hartford Hospital and for the state to fund a new, $475 million hospital with about 250 beds. That plan, too, drew opposition from other hospitals, as well as from the unions representing health center workers and from Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who said it was too costly. University leaders scrapped the plan in November after determining it could not win enough support.
In their letter, Hogan and Laurencin wrote that they spent January considering options for moving ahead, following a "listening tour" members of the board of trustees conducted in December.
Among their recommendations:
•Plan a "renewal" of Dempsey — updates to the existing building and new clinical space — that would result in a hospital with 250 to 267 beds. According to the letter, the university would need $25 million over the next two years to plan it and the eventual capital investment would cost "in the range of" $332 million to $342 million.
•Create a "Downtown UConn Academic Health Center Campus," which would include collaboration with other area hospitals. The plan does not say where "downtown" would be. It also would require $25 million for planning and collaboration efforts over the next two years.
•Negotiate with Connecticut Children's Medical Center to transfer Dempsey's neonatal intensive care unit operations to the children's hospital.
•Increase the size of the medical school class and dental residency programs. Consider larger increases in the future, depending on state funding for new educational facilities.
Hogan said that the letter was "not the whole story" and that it was up to the boards to sort through the options.
The health center board of directors was scheduled to discuss the recommendations in executive session today, but the meeting was canceled Thursday afternoon.
It was not clear Thursday whether the price tag would win support from Rell. She said in November that a new hospital would create jobs and elevate the medical school's ranking, but that any plan must be "affordable."
There is a chance the federal government could help with the cost — if the Senate health reform bill is adopted. A provision of the bill, added at the request of U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd, would provide $100 million toward the renovation or construction of a hospital.
In arguing for the new hospital last year, UConn officials touted a study by the university's Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis, which projected that a new hospital and increased medical and dental school enrollment could result in 4,557 additional jobs by 2040 and hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue to the state.
St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford opposed the Hartford Hospital plan and more recently weighed in with its own vision, centered on strengthening research to help the medical school and health center. One idea St. Francis floated was developing a biotech district in Hartford, using vacant sites in the city for research space.
In a written statement Thursday, St. Francis President and CEO Christopher Dadlez said: "We had a productive meeting with President Hogan and Dean Laurencin on Tuesday, Feb. 9. We discussed the UConn Health Center vision in terms of plans for John Dempsey Hospital as well as new academic initiatives that involve the major teaching hospitals in the area. We look forward to receiving more detail after President Hogan and Dean Laurencin have presented the plan to the UCHC and University boards."
A statement from Hartford Hospital said: "Hartford Hospital is pleased the University of Connecticut Health Center is working on alternatives to pursue its future strategic direction. As its major academic affiliate, we are eager to work together to find ways to improve access to high-quality health care for people across Connecticut."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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