As reported by the Journal Inquirer, September 25, 2007.

Deal Reached on John Dempsey Hospital Study

By Keith M. Phaneuf

A compromise has been reached that will allow both state hospital regulators and a nonprofit think-tank to study whether the University of Connecticut should be allowed to expand the John Dempsey Hospital in Farmington.

The state legislature, while in special session last week to consider a new state bond package, also approved an omnibus bill drafted to make technical repairs to numerous statutes.

One of those changes directs the state Office of Health Care Access to work with the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering to assess the UConn proposal.

When the legislature authorized the study in June, some lawmakers questioned whether OHCA's involvement could amount to a conflict of interest. That's because this agency also is charged with deciding whether to issue the certificate of need that's required before any hospital, public or private, can expand or add major new services.

OHCA originally was left out of the picture, but Sen. Joan V. Hartley, D-Waterbury, co-chairwoman of the legislature's Higher Education Committee, said OHCA has crucial expertise that other groups, public or private, cannot provide.

CASE is a Hartford-based nonprofit public-service institution patterned after the National Academy of Sciences. It "identifies and studies issues and technological advances that are or should be of concern to the people of Connecticut, and provides unbiased, expert advice on science- and technology-related issues to state government and other Connecticut institutions," according to its Web site.

"I think it was a grave omission," Hartley said of not including OHCA, adding she feared OHCA was excluded by lawmakers who want the expansion blocked to protect other Hartford-area hospitals - and who fear OHCA won't take their political concerns into account. "We need to make sure this study happens correctly and thoroughly."

Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, supported the technical repair bill enacted last week, but said he is concerned that a different conclusion - that UConn must expand - already has been decided by some lawmakers.

"I'm worried that some people want to pre-ordain the outcome of this study," he said, adding that any proposal for Dempsey hospital must be weighed against the effect it would have on Hartford Hospital and on the St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford.

"These two hospitals provide more than quality health care," he said. "They are major stabilizers within the city of Hartford and they provide thousands of jobs." The study must be completed by next June, though a preliminary report is due to lawmakers in March.

The UConn Board of Trustees voted in January to endorse a proposal to replace the existing Dempsey hospital with a new 546,000-square-foot, 352-bed facility, also on the UConn Health Center campus in Farmington. The existing Dempsey facility would be converted to a medical research center. The total project is expected to cost $495 million.

UConn officials said that if it is to maintain the quality of its medical and dental schools, it needs a world-class hospital to support it.

The new facility also would provide 124 additional hospital beds, and would provide much needed revenue for the university, they say.

Though the center includes both the academic programs and the hospital, only the schools receive state support. And since 2001, UConn officials have watched the annual state block grant grow, on average, by less than one-half of 1 percent.

Meanwhile, the self-funded hospital, which has operated in the black over that period, increasingly has had to funnel more of its revenue into the schools to cover what UConn officials call the "academic gap."

The center finished with a deficit of more than $22 million in 2006-07 fiscal year, but the legislature approved an additional appropriation to close that gap.