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UConn Hospital Plan Demands Reconsideration

Rick Green

April 17, 2009

Flat-lining a few weeks ago, an ambitious plan for a proposed $475 million new University of Connecticut research hospital was revived Thursday by a legislative committee.

It's about time. Few state leaders besides UConn President Michael Hogan are talking specifics about how we will create new jobs in response to the thousands that disappear every month.

The vote by the General Assembly's finance committee approving an initial $50 million toward the UConn Health Center sets up a clash with Gov. Rell, who says we can't afford the new hospital. Legislators are correct in asking what Rell's long-term economic development strategy is.

"Doing nothing," finance committee co-chairman Cam Staples said, "is not necessarily an appropriate response."

The recession will end. Will we be ready?

The long-term reality is that we cannot afford not to build the hospital. The state must start investing in future economic development now.

Manufacturing is fleeing the state did you see the story about Stanadyne of Windsor dumping 250 jobs this week? Financial services and insurance companies will not provide the well-paying jobs we need. The Department of Labor reported Thursday that 7,100 jobs evaporated in March, a total of nearly 60,000 jobs lost in the past year.

State demographers report that the day is not far off when there will be as many people not working as there are working in some towns. By 2030, the number of dependent children and elderly will dramatically rise, from about 64 to 82 for every 100 people working. You cannot build an economy on these numbers.

An expanded research hospital and a UConn- Hartford Hospital collaboration will create jobs, attracting and retaining young, educated workers at a time when Connecticut leads the nation in the loss of this valuable commodity.

The hospital can be a reality, if everybody compromises, including most notably UConn, which must postpone some of its ambitious and already approved state-funded construction scheduled for the Storrs campus in return for taxpayer financing of a new facility where John Dempsey Hospital in Farmington now stands.

Questions about who will be in charge under the "collaboration" with Hartford Hospital also must be sorted out. Employee unions, who don't lose any jobs under the plan, should be included.

Hogan told me this week that UConn and Hartford Hospital will re-examine their plan. It's going to take far more, however, than the $35 million from other approved campus projects he said UConn would be willing to trade in order to win approval for the costly hospital.

Legislators and the governor should also consider backing off on some of the hundreds of millions in planned new school construction. We need schools, but parents with jobs are equally important.

Earlier this week, Hogan spoke to the Greater Hartford Metro Alliance, the regional business group that has been largely silent about the UConn plan. This is odd, because I don't hear about any other plans that could bring thousands of well-paying jobs to the Hartford area in coming decades.

Hogan told the group that the question is "not whether the national economy recovers. It's whether Connecticut is prepared to participate in that recovery."

If UConn can jump from its anemic ranking of 63rd among research hospitals receiving federal funds into the top tier a reasonable goal Hogan said that will generate 3,500 new jobs.

"We can be the source of the region's next wave of economic growth and development," Hogan said.

Staples said he hopes that the governor, UConn, Hartford Hospital and legislators can reach a compromise in coming weeks.

"The health care field is one of the booming areas for future job growth and development," he said. "It's very short-sighted to see this as purely a UConn issue. It's about creating economic development for the Greater Hartford region."

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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