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Malloy Calls For Expanding Medical, Dental Schools At UConn Health Center

Major Transformation Proposed To Foster More Research, Add Jobs

Christopher Keating

May 17, 2011

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Tuesday announced a major transformation of the University of Connecticut Health Center, including adding 100 students to the medical school, 48 students to the dental school and 3,000 construction jobs in Farmington.

The $864 million plan includes the construction of a new $318 million patient tower, which would be used to treat patients, and a parking garage. The current tower would be renovated for $163 million and would be used for research, Malloy said. A new ambulatory care center would cost $203 million, while another $155 million would be spent to renovate the existing research facilities on the Farmington campus.

Dr. Cato Laurencin, dean of the medical school, said Tuesday that the governor's proposal will strengthen the medical school and help to ensure that the school does not slip in national rankings. He said the school is now ranked about 27th or 28th among public university medical schools. Part of that ranking is based on the research dollars coming into the school. Malloy's proposal is expected to bring in much more research money.

Malloy is taking the $362 million proposal that was already approved last year by the state legislature under Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell and is more than doubling it.

"I was underwhelmed by the approach that the prior administration took,'' Malloy told The Courant Monday. "It ignored the job-creating potential of that institution. It's a multipronged approach.''

Although the Malloy plan is both larger and more expensive than the Rell proposal, it includes $338 million in bonds that have already been approved. As such, the latest plan calls for $254 million in new bonding, $203 million in private financing and $69 million from the health center including private fundraising, according to Malloy's outline of the proposal.

A key change from the Rell plan is that the state lost its high-profile quest to obtain $100 million in federal money for a public hospital that had been inserted into a bill by then-U.S. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd. Many insiders believed that Connecticut would receive the money because Dodd inserted the language into the landmark health care bill at the eleventh hour, but the measure was a competitive grant that was won by The Ohio State University's medical school.

Although he is not ruling out the possibility of receiving federal money in the future, Malloy noted that no federal funds are anticipated for the new plan.

Susan Herbst, UConn's incoming president, said that the loss of the $1 million federal grant caused "some soul-searching" for the university "about not only how to preserve what's good in the hospital, but how to move forward boldly."

She said that then the governor became involved and "really demanded that we think boldly and that we think longer."

She said that many governors in other states have been pulling back on the investment in higher education and life sciences. "We are on the other end of the continuum with our governor," Herbst said. He is taking the action needed to make the state a contender in the worldwide competition for medical advancement.

The proposal would need approval by the Democratic-controlled legislature, but Malloy did not set an immediate timeframe as the General Assembly is rushing to complete its work by the deadline of June 8.

"It could be done by the end of the session. It could be done in a special session,'' Malloy said. "There's lots of different ways to do it.''

Senate Republican leader John McKinney said Monday night that he questions the cost at a time when the state is financially strapped.

"It seems the governor said to the University of Connecticut, 'Tell me everything you want,' and they got it,'' said McKinney, a UConn law school graduate who has been briefed on the plan. "My concern is we're spending too much and borrowing too much. I'm not convinced that an $800 million or $900 million hospital is better than a $438 million hospital.''

In addition to the health center, the state is considering spending millions of dollars on multiple projects, including the New Britain-to-Hartford busway and the rail line from New Haven to Massachusetts.

"The state has huge issues with respect to debt and unfunded liability,'' McKinney said. "At some point, we're borrowing too much money. The UConn people bristle when I say it, but Harvard does not have their own hospital, and Harvard, as far as I know, is world-renowned as the best there is.''

UConn is projecting that the improvements on the Farmington campus would generate an average of 3,000 construction jobs a year through 2018 and eventually create 16,400 new jobs over the next 25 years.

The plan, Malloy said, does not change any of the agreements with the other area hospitals that have proved to be crucial in getting approval for the UConn plans. Officials at several area hospitals could not be reached for comment late Monday.

The construction at the Farmington campus has a long history of stops and starts and failures in the legislature. Previous improvement plans were opposed by area hospitals because they believed that an increase in the number of beds at UConn's John Dempsey Hospital would pull patients away from their hospitals. But the latest plan that was approved under the Rell administration generated little opposition because it provided benefits for those hospitals. That included the creation of bioscience enterprise zones in Hartford, Farmington, Bristol and New Britain to attract researchers, along with improvements at Hartford Hospital and a primary care institute at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford, among others.

The legislature and the past two governors have bailed out the financially troubled center four times since 2000, but supporters have said that the improvements will put the hospital on better financial footing.

Although Democrats have generally supported the health center's expansion, Republicans have repeatedly questioned the need for an expensive, new tower saying that a new building with essentially the same number of beds as John Dempsey Hospital would do nothing to solve the center's chronic funding shortages.

McKinney made an impassioned speech on the Senate floor last year regarding Rell's plan, saying that the legislature had already been highly generous to UConn by providing more than $2 billion toward construction costs to transform the Storrs campus.

"When does it stop?'' asked McKinney, his voice rising. "$3 billion? $4 billion? $5 billion?''

The proposal forecasts a $4.6 billion increase in personal income by 2037, as well as an increase in net tax revenues to Connecticut of $823 million.

The Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis at UConn's Storrs campus did the analysis that reached those figures, using an economic model for the region.

Ann Taylor, senior vice president and general counsel for Connecticut Children's Medical Center, said the hospital did not know the details of the proposal, but, "As an institution we are supportive of the governor's efforts to stimulate the economic growth in the area."

"We represent the pediatrics department of the UConn medical school, so strengthening the school and research, particularly, is really critical to our mission," Taylor said. "We share the governor's vision and the opportunity that it presents for the state and for Connecticut Children's."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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