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UConn Hospital Merger: An Unhealthy Alliance

MARIE KIRKLEY-BEY

September 13, 2009

Hospitals in Central Connecticut are at risk. Advocates of the proposed merger between the University of Connecticut Health Center and Hartford Hospital continue to talk with legislators about a partnership arrangement that could end up seriously harming Hartford, New Britain and Bristol by directing more than $1 billion of state funds to a private enterprise. As a state legislator representing Hartford, my main concern beyond the cost is that a new hospital in Farmington will reduce jobs and diminish health care services for residents of the city.

Hartford Hospital, Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center and the Connecticut Children's Medical Center are major economic engines for our capital city. All three institutions have admirable commitments to their communities and to UConn. It seems clear to me that by subsidizing a new arm of Hartford Hospital in the Farmington Valley, the state could encourage a dramatic shift in private-pay patients away from our urban and other community hospitals, compromising their economic viability.

Certainly, nothing should be decided until an independent study is done to assess this potential damage to the system and loss of services to those citizens who need them most.

What's more, the proposed partnership between Hartford Hospital and UConn begs the question that the two "university" hospitals could receive a Medicaid reimbursement rate as good as or greater than the current rate at John Dempsey Hospital. If such an increase in Medicaid funding occurred, it would create a large and very troubling disparity between Hartford Hospital/UConn and the state's 27 other hospitals, many of which serve large indigent populations. In a difficult economy, with Medicaid already stretched too thin, this is absolutely the wrong time to risk further increasing disparities.

The Hartford region is blessed to have leading-edge teaching hospitals that collaborate to provide UConn's medical students with excellent training. There are other cities around the country that have met the same challenges we now face by developing models that are collaborative in nature models that have proved to be tremendously effective and efficient by building on current resources. As we develop a path forward, these models should be studied and best practices adopted.

We need a plan that benefits the entire region and the state.

Make no mistake; strengthening the UConn School of Medicine is a top priority for us all. All the more reason, given everything at stake, we should proceed in a way that makes the most sense. From my perspective, going down a path that favors one hospital while threatening the survival of others is a move in the wrong direction, one that risks shredding Hartford's fragile health care safety net.

I want to see all of us lawmakers, educators, doctors, hospital administrators, business leaders and advocates immediately begin to work together to reach an agreement that best serves the medical and academic needs of our state and our communities.

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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