UConn Health Center Unveils $352M Improvement Plan
Arielle Levin Becker
March 10, 2010
Gov. M. Jodi Rell unveiled a $352 million plan on Tuesday for massive improvements at the University of Connecticut Health Center, but the proposal depends on legislative approval and $100 million from the federal government.
With jubilant physicians and medical students looking on, Rell and UConn President Michael Hogan said the project will help put the 50-year-old Farmington facility on firm financial footing, boost the reputation of the UConn medical and dental schools, create thousands of jobs and transform how health care is delivered in the state.
"I know it's an ambitious vision, but it's a unified vision," said Rell, referring to a proposed partnership between UConn and area hospitals. As part of the proposed collaboration, various health services and medical training will be offered, including a cancer center, primary care institute, a simulation training center for medical professionals, and a clinical trials institute at the different area facilities.
The announcement was the latest in a series of efforts to help the financially strapped state-owned health center, which also houses John Dempsey Hospital. Last fall, UConn scrapped a plan to merge the health center with Hartford Hospital because its trustees concluded they could not win legislative approval for a new 250-bed, $475 million facility given the state's budget deficit problems and opposition from area hospitals and unions.
Rell said this latest plan is less expensive and will require $227 million in state borrowing. State lawmakers, Rell said, will be asked to pass legislation in the coming weeks to spend $25 million originally earmarked for UConn improvements on design and planning of the health center renovations.
The governor said she also wants the General Assembly to authorize the borrowing, in hopes of boosting the state's chances for the federal money. She said other projects awaiting bond funds will have to be nixed to make room under the state's cap on bonding.
But it remains unclear whether the state can count on the federal funding it needs for the project.
In December, U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd inserted $100 million for the construction of a university hospital in the Senate health care reform bill. The legislation left it up to the Health and Human Services Department to decide where the money should be spent, but Dodd's spokesman said in December that the senator hoped to claim the money for UConn.
Since December, however, such line items inserted in the 383-page health care bill by individual lawmakers have drawn heavy criticism and it's uncertain whether the hospital funding will ultimately find its way into the final legislation.
"Connecticut is one of several states that would be eligible for a hospital construction grant that Senator Dodd included as part of the Senate health care bill. And, he will continue to work to retain that funding in the final version of the health care bill," said Dodd spokesman Bryan DeAngelis.
Legislative Democrats, who control the General Assembly, reacted positively to Rell's plan. House Majority Leader Denise Merrill, D-Mansfield, a strong UConn backer, said Rell's support will be helpful in persuading lawmakers to vote for the project.
The initiative, which also includes a new patient tower at John Dempsey Hospital and increased classroom and lab space for medical and dental students, comes as the state's two-year, $37.6 billion budget is estimated to be about $1.2 billion in deficit. Future deficits are projected in the coming years.
Joan McDonald, the state's economic development commissioner, said despite the state's troubling fiscal situation, such a large investment in the health care industry makes sense now for Connecticut.
"We have to make intelligent, targeted investments on job creation," she said. "We have always said that the bioscience and the medical, health, IT (information technology) sector is a real growth sector."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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