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A Third Alternative

Health Center: Consider Splitting It Between Farmington And Hartford

Hartford Courant Editorial

June 05, 2011

The question of whether to expand the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington or move it to Hartford has been, to the extent it was discussed at all, presented as an either/or - all in Farmington or all in Hartford.

Framing the issue that way, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy could rightly conclude that it would be too expensive to move the whole thing to Hartford.

But there is a possible third option, one that would use both Hartford and Farmington and get the biggest bang for the nearly $1 billion buck investment.

A proposal, Plan C, is being circulated among policy leaders. The ideas are worth serious consideration.

The proposal rightly observes that building the UConn Health Center in Farmington decades ago rendered Hartford a "clinical backwater." The choice now is whether to reinforce that mistake or leverage the investment into a bigger vision.

So the key is not just how to upgrade the Health Center. It is how the investment in the Health Center can be used to the state's best economic advantage.

The state has a number of bioscience strengths that could be better connected. UConn and Yale bring in over $700 million in federal grants for biomedical research each year. The state has an international reputation in stem cell research. There is a strong base of medical device companies in the state plus a large number of small precision aerospace manufacturers who could expand their portfolios to include medical devices. The biomedical engineering program at UConn in Storrs produces 125 engineers each spring.

Plus, the state is making a $1 billion investment in the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield rail corridor.

So, think of the rail corridor as the connective tissue in a "medi-tech corridor" of hospitals, biomedical research and manufacturing facilities, and medical schools. Commit to biomedical devices as a major part of the state's economic development, and create development districts around train stations so workers can get to jobs quickly.

Next, build on the success of the stem cell research program by identifying other areas of research with commercial potential. Create incentives for the institutions to work together.


Finally, move the UConn medical and dental schools, and some of the research activity of the health center, into Hartford. The whole facility in Farmington, not just Dempsey Hospital, is in need of serious upgrade. But for the same $900 million the governor proposes to invest, Plan C says it would be possible to build new educational and research centers in Hartford that would allow for larger classes than are proposed in Farmington - and to build new facilities in Farmington as well.

The city's hospitals would be the teaching hospitals, as Boston's are for Harvard, and the staff could be members of the faculty (as many are now). This design would allow a closer working relationship between the medical school and the hospitals. The combined size of these institutions could allow them to compete for clinical trials that are currently not available in Greater Hartford, and connect the research centers in New Haven and Hartford by a 30-minute train ride.


Does this leave Farmington in the lurch? Not at all. Plan C suggests turning Dempsey into a new 120-bed community hospital, with an emergency room, ICU unit and medical/surgical beds The campus also would include the ambulatory surgery center, a new medical office building and a research "center of excellence," such as orthopedics.

Hartford needs this economic activity. The city has the state's largest rate of unemployment, 16.2 percent, and a downtown office vacancy rate of more than 30 percent. Most jobs are in mature insurance and defense companies that aren't expanding here. It's good to have them, but a vigorous new employment sector would be a godsend.

Also, the city's public health statistics are poor. A larger medical presence could only help.

Gov. Malloy and new UConn president Susan Herbst - both of whom understand the dynamics of cities - should take a close look at Plan C, which makes a strong case for using both sites to their best advantage.

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.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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