His expertise is treating hearts. But in the past four years, Dr. Bruce Liang has made repeated trips to the state legislature with hopes of fixing something else.
Three times, Liang has testified for plans to shore up the future of UConn's financially troubled John Dempsey Hospital. The first two proposals failed. In March, Liang testified for a third plan.
"I thought it was three strikes and you're out, or third time is a charm," said Liang, chief of UConn's cardiology division.
This time was a charm - a point punctuated Friday as Liang and scores of his colleagues watched Gov. M. Jodi Rell sign into law a $362 million initiative that includes expanding and renovating Dempsey and funding programs involving other area hospitals.
Rell signed the bill in the same UConn Health Center lobby where she announced the plan less than three months ago, setting in motion the latest effort to address a problem that has vexed state officials and hospital leaders for years.
Unlike in previous efforts, this plan had the support of other area hospitals and won legislative approval. As Rell and UConn leaders described it Friday, it will create thousands of jobs, enhance patient care, foster cooperation among hospitals, help capture millions of dollars in research grants and encourage young doctors and dentists to practice in Connecticut.
"Money's tight, there's no getting around it, but we saw that this vision had to come to fruition even in these difficult economic times, that this is an investment that we simply could not pass up this time," Rell told a standing-room-only crowd.
There is still one key piece that must fall into place: $100 million in federal or other outside funding, which would supplement $237 million in state bonding funds and $25 million already allocated to UConn. The law that Rell signed prohibits the state bonds from being issued until the $100 million is secured.
Officials are hoping for a $100 million federal hospital grant, which U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd had inserted into the federal health reform law. The state must apply for the funds and might have to compete with other states for it.
"I have every confidence that we're going to reach that $100 million mark," Rell said during a ceremony full of thank-yous - to state lawmakers, UConn officials and health center employees.
The plan calls for a new $236 million patient tower at Dempsey and $96 million in renovations for the existing teaching and research space. The hospital is considered too small and outdated to be financially viable now.
Connecticut Children's Medical Center will take over operations of Dempsey's neonatal intensive care unit, which typically loses money, allowing Dempsey to devote more beds to profitable services.
In addition, the plan calls for creating a "UConn Health Network" of area hospitals, and funds $30 million in programs, including several centered on teaching and research. They include an institute devoted to studying and teaching primary care at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center, a simulation center to train health care workers in technology at Hartford Hospital, a clinical trials unit at The Hospital of Central Connecticut and cancer treatment center in New Britain, and institutes devoted to nursing, eliminating health disparities and translating research from the lab to clinical trials. The money also will pay for renovations to patient rooms at Bristol Hospital.
The law also establishes a bioscience enterprise zone in Hartford, Farmington, New Britain and Bristol, which would give state tax breaks to private companies that create jobs and work with hospitals in the UConn network.
WHERE THE MONEY GOES
The $362 million UConn Health Center plan includes:
A $236 million new patient tower for John Dempsey Hospital
$96 million in renovations for teaching and research space at the health center
$30 million in initiatives involving other area hospitals
The initiatives include:
Simulation center at Hartford Hospital
Primary care institute at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center
Clinical trials unit at The Hospital of Central Connecticut
Renovations to patient rooms at Bristol Hospital
Institute on health disparities in Hartford
Institute for nursing on Storrs campus
Regional cancer center with national designation
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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