UConn Health Center Plan Draws Concerns About Cost, Lack Of Options
ARIELLE LEVIN BECKER
March 06, 2009
As lawmakers considered a plan that could transform the area's hospital landscape and cost the state $605 million over 10 years, state Rep. Patricia Dillon on Thursday took a moment to question how the plan has been presented.
Rather than being given options for the future of the UConn Health Center and a potential merger with Hartford Hospital, lawmakers have been asked to approve an agreement that has largely been formulated, she said, in an atmosphere where it seems that "you're sort of unpatriotic if you question any piece of it."
Dillon, a New Haven Democrat, expressed her reservations during a public hearing on the proposed partnership between Hartford Hospital and the financially troubled Health Center.
The plan before lawmakers calls for building a $475 million hospital to replace the outdated John Dempsey Hospital and creating a "University Hospital" with campuses in Hartford and Farmington. Hartford Hospital would take responsibility for any future deficits the Health Center runs, but the state would pay the bonding costs of a new hospital and an estimated $13 million a year in labor costs.
Leaders of UConn and Hartford Hospital said the plan is the best way to advance health care and medical research in the area, improve UConn's medical and dental schools and foster collaboration between hospitals in the region. UConn President Michael Hogan said that without such a plan, Dempsey Hospital could be forced to close within a decade.
Some lawmakers expressed excitement at the concept and emphasized the proposal's potential for spurring economic growth in the area, highlighted in a UConn impact study that estimated that it could generate thousands of jobs.
But others who testified Thursday echoed Dillon's concern about the nature of the proposal and questioned whether it was the only solution to the Health Center's problems.
Senate Republican leader John McKinney of Fairfield said he objected to the idea that the proposal was the only way to go forward. That proposal is unaffordable, McKinney said, but there are other ways to maintain a hospital in Farmington and protect the medical and dental schools.
"At some point we have to be able to say no, we can't afford it, there is another way to do this," he said.
McKinney asked why only $300 million of the more than $2 billion in the UConn 2000 construction program went to the Health Center, and suggested that some of the $800 million left from that project be used for Dempsey.
Hogan said the remaining money has already been committed.
Jean Morningstar, president of University Health Professionals AFT Local 3837, which represents approximately 2,500 Health Center employees, offered another vision, arguing that more state support could allow the Health Center to be viable without merging with a private hospital.
The merger plan calls for the state to pay the difference between the cost of fringe benefits for Health Center employees and those in the private sector, estimated at $13 million a year. If the state paid that to the Health Center now, Morningstar noted, the Health Center's projected $17 million deficit for the current fiscal year would be considerably smaller.
Hogan said the proposal was the result of 15 months of discussions with other area hospitals and followed a process begun by the legislature nearly two years ago. For all the criticism, Hogan said he heard no alternative plans.
"We were the only one that actually presented a plan that would move us forward rather than backwards," Hogan said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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