As reported by the Simsbury Post, February 22, 2007.

Health Center Faces More Hurdles Before Gaining $500M Expansion Approval

By Lisa Backus

FARMINGTON - The plan sounds simple enough. If you build a new 352-bed hospital at the University of Connecticut Health Center, patients from all over Farmington Valley, Hartford County and even the entire state will come. And the deal will make John Dempsey, Connecticut's only state-run hospital, profitable and a first-rate medical and dental teaching school in the process.

But, in reality, local legislators and officials from UConn said they understand they are facing a complicated process that includes heavy opposition from nearly every other privately-run hospital in the state.

"Right now, the noise is very loud in the Hartford area," conceded health center Chief of Staff Bruce Carlson. "There is going to be a lot of scrutiny of this project and legislators who have hospitals in their own districts aren't necessarily going to be in favor of it. But you have to look at health care in the state as a whole; we will need more beds in the state in the near future."

Since health center officials announced days ago that they would be seeking approval from the state to add a $500 million expansion that would include a larger hospital and expanded medical training facility in Farmington, other area hospitals have decried the move, citing concerns that the new hospital - which ups the number of beds from the current 224 to 352 - will siphon higher-end consumers with well-paying insurance or deep pockets from other facilities such as Bristol Hospital or the Hospital of Central Connecticut at New Britain General or Bradley Memorial in Southington.

Critics have also said that the plan could force the other hospitals to spend millions upgrading to compete and that would, in turn, drive up the cost of health care in the state.

But Dr. Peter Deckers, the executive vice president of the health center told Farmington Town Council members last week, the expansion is vital to the well-being of the institution.

"As a physician, I can tell you, our operating rooms are too small for modern technology, our current hospital space is insufficient to maintain our expenses," Deckers said. "This will enable us to attract good physicians and good teachers; our whole system is dependent on the well being of the medical school."

The $500 expansion plan would include a new six-story, 546,000-square foot building that would house new operating suites, neonatal care units, an emergency room and 128 more beds than the current facility.

Health center officials said the new facility would attract and retain some of the best physicians and health care professionals in the state which would in turn strengthen the quality of the UConn medical and dental schools at the site and meet the area's growing demand for specialty care.

Carlson said the expansion would not be funded with state money - but the health center does need approval from the state, including enabling legislation just to get to the point where the regulatory Office of Health Care Access could even look at the plan, let alone make their recommendation.

Deckers said the health center will raise between $20 - $100 million in private funding to get the project off the ground. But, Deckers and Carlson also said the health center needs the state to agree to reallocate $45 million in funds designated for research to the building project and they need the state to agree to back about $400 million in bonds to get a better interest rate.

"We are asking for the state to back up the bonding, but we would be paying the mortgage just like everyone else," Carlson said. "It would allow us to get a better interest rate. We are working with the state treasurer's office to find other ways to do this but we have to get financing in place before we can even have a discussion with the Office of Health Care Access which would oversee what we're doing."

Farmington state Rep. Demetrios Giannaros, D-21, said the entire process does face hurdles at every stage but it will all boil down to whether or not legislators agree that more hospital beds in the area are needed.

"The General Assembly has to agree to reallocate the $45 million and must agree to the bonding and then it still has to be approved by the governor," Giannaros said. "It's not impossible, but people have to be realistic. It's all going to be about getting people to agree that UConn needs a new hospital and then they'll either support it or vote it down."