As reported by The Hartford Courant, January 31, 2007.

UConn Hospital Plan OK'd

By Grace E. Merritt

STORRS -- The University of Connecticut trustees overwhelmingly approved a proposal Tuesday to build a significantly larger, $495 million hospital in Farmington to replace John Dempsey Hospital.

The six-story, 354-bed hospital would be financed by the sale of bonds, private contributions and, if approved by the state legislature, $45 million already earmarked for the UConn Health Center renovations under the UConn 2000 program. Regional hospitals concerned about competition for privately insured patients have vowed to oppose the project in the legislature.

The new hospital would help attract top-flight faculty and turn around the hospital's ailing financial health, said Peter J. Deckers, head of the health center.

The 546,000-square-foot hospital on the health center's Farmington campus would arch out in front of the existing hospital, which has never been renovated since it was built 32 years ago. The old hospital would be converted into a research center.

Deckers told the trustees the project is crucial to the continued success of the center, its medical school and dental school.

"I need a university hospital of sufficient size and sufficient capability if I am going to have a first-class medical school," he said.

Although the hospital has 224 beds, 116 are very specialized for neonatal, prisoners, psychiatry and maternity, leaving only 108 beds to serve the region's general health care needs. The existing hospital originally was to have 400 beds, but the second 200-bed tower was never built.

"It's a small hospital, with small rooms. The operating rooms are too small. The corridors are too narrow," Deckers said.

Deckers said the health center is currently facing an $11.3 million deficit halfway through the fiscal year, partly because of the loss it takes with Medicaid patients. The federal program reimburses hospitals 68 cents for every $1 spent, he said.

The hospital also must pay state fringe benefits to employees and cover the cost of running its medical and dental schools.

Without a financially healthy hospital to support research and the medical school, the entire mission of the health center is in jeopardy, Deckers said.

"We've hit the wall with the ability to use hospital funds to fill the academic gap," Deckers said.

The board of trustees overwhelmingly approved the plan, with trustees Dr. Gerard N. Burrow and Dr. Lenworth W. Jacobs abstaining.

UConn President Philip E. Austin said the new hospital is necessary to continue a robust health center.

"This is a necessary act to continue to provide the citizens of Connecticut with the very best academic education," Austin said.

Rowe pointed out that the proposal does not request any new state funding not already earmarked for UConn. The revenue stream from the hospital would be used to pay back the portion financed through bonds.

During the meeting, some trustees said they hoped that the medical and dental schools would be expanded as part of the program. Deckers said he would like to expand, but it is not currently part of the plan.

Regional hospitals are concerned that an expanded suburban facility will lure away profitable, privately insured patients, hurting their already tenuous bottom lines.

"The impact on us will be incredibly dramatic," said Laurence Tanner, president and CEO of New-Britain-based Hospital of Central Connecticut.

Officials at Hospital of Central Connecticut, St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center and Hartford Hospital have pledged to oppose the project in the state legislature, said Kevin Kinsella, vice president of Hartford Hospital. Several other hospitals are also considering joining the opposition, he said

The health center's board of directors approved the plan last week after spending months evaluating the age of the facility, the growing marketplace and the fact that the hospital is approaching capacity, board of trustees Chairman John W. Rowe said.

The new hospital would feature operating suites, neonatal intensive care units, maternity care, an emergency department and a radiology unit.
It would create more than 300 new jobs and meet the growing demand of an aging population with its signature program areas of cancer, musculoskeletal, cardiology and public health, UConn officials said.

Courant Staff Writer William Hathaway contributed to this story.