As reported by the Danbury News-Times, March 23, 2007.

UConn Officials Seek New Hospital

State's Help Needed With $495 Million Proposal

By Eileen FitzGerald

A replacement for the University of Connecticut's John Dempsey Hospital in Farmington would not just bring a new state-of-the-art facility to the region but ensure top faculty and researchers, draw more educated workers to the region, and in the end, could help the nearby hospitals that now protest the plan, UConn president Philip Austin told members of The News-Times editorial board Thursday afternoon.

The proposal to build a new facility would not require more state funding, but it does require the state's help to secure lower loan rates than possible without the state's backing, Austin said.

"This makes good sense. This is an issue that can't be avoided,'' Austin said. "This is not about hospital beds. This is about the role of this academic medical school to prepare the dentists and doctors who will serve the state."

The new hospital, estimated to cost $495 million plus financing costs, would be a 546,000-square-foot, six-story facility with 352 beds -- 128 more than the current facility has.

The new facility would be built in the parking area in front of the health center's main entrance. The vacated space would be renovated into research laboratories, and there would be some renovations and expansion to existing outpatient spaces, such as the cardiology center, the cancer center and the cafeteria.

The UConn Medical School trains students in three areas and has 320 students, the dental school has 160 students, and the graduate school in bio-medical science has 380 students.

Of the graduates, 38 percent of the doctors and 45 percent of the dentists will practice in Connecticut. The school also receives more than $90 million a year for research and has 600 resident doctors who are trained in hospitals throughout the state.

The medical school now uses John Dempsey Hospital, which was built in 1975. It has 224 beds, of which 116 are dedicated to specialized services -- neo-natal care, high-risk maternity care, psychiatry, and prisoner care -- that can't be used for other needs.

The John Dempsey Hospital emergency room and patient rooms are too small to hold new technology and the facility is too small to make a profit, said Peter Deckers, M.D., executive vice president for health affairs at UConn Health Center and dean of the medical school.

"It has to be large enough and modern enough to recruit the best faculty," Deckers said. "I don't have a chance to recruit the best. That's really dangerous, because when I can't recruit high-quality faculty I won't get high-quality students."

That Dempsey can't make a profit, Deckers said, could change with the increase in the number of beds.

Income is presently supressed because one floor of the hospital provides Department of Corrections inpatient services, the hospital has a higher percentage of inpatient psychiatry beds than most, and it provides dental services for the Department of Mental Retardation.

It also serves as many Medicaid patients as the top five hospitals in the state, and must pay benefits to its employees based on the state's fringe-benefits rates, which are 38 percent higher than other hospitals rates. That difference alone is worth about $10.5 million this year.

Dr. Brian Riordan, a physiatrist at Danbury Hospital, graduated from the UConn Medical School in 2002 and understands the arguments for a new facility.

"I think Dempsey provided limited clinical experience. A lot of it was done at Hartford and St. Francis hospitals, and that probably will continue anyway," he said.

"I think they are moving to make this a world-class medical school and see the need to have a world-class facility. Dempsey is a relatively small hospital for a university medical center,'' Riordan said, and a new facility would ensure the school could attract the best teaching doctors and researchers.

The new hospital, opposed by the five hospitals in the middle of the state near Dempsey in Farmington, can be the future of other hospitals as well," said Lorry Aronson, UConn's vice president and chief financial officer.

"They need doctors and interns. They can't grow without research that the UConn Medical Center provides," Aronson said.

"What's happening here is the next logical step to reinforce the state land grant college's commitment to every taxpayer in the state, not just those who come to us for teaching," Austin said. "We're talking about Connecticut's future."