As published as an editorial in the New London Day, August 7, 2008.

Hospital Cooperation, Not Conflict

Dr. Michael J. Hogan, the new president of the University of Connecticut, has shown strong leadership in bringing central Connecticut hospitals together to seek cost-savings cooperation.

The proposal by UConn to work cohesively with hospitals in the Hartford capital region would have two immediate advantages: better care and lower costs.

The issue immediately at hand involves basic hospital care and costs. But a vibrant partnership could be extended in the future to embrace medical research and advanced treatment so that Hartford becomes a nationally recognized center of excellence. And that, in turn, could drive a new economic engine for the state, much as the medical skills concentrated at a variety of hospitals in Boston have done.

Five different hospitals have submitted proposals to UConn for joint ventures. They are St. Francis, Hartford, Hospital of Central Connecticut, Connecticut Children's Medical Center and Bristol.

”The idea of hospitals racing to keep up with (the) competition is an expensive proposition,” Dr. Hogan said. “We would like to harness all that energy for cooperative purposes... not by having them going tooth and nail as angry suitors for our hand, but working collaboratively.”

State Rep. Denise Merrill, who represents Storrs and is a UConn graduate, echoed Dr. Hogan's point of view: “No hospital's going to propose something that will injure its own institution. We need all the hospitals, but we might need them in a different configuration.”

Prior to Dr. Hogan's arrival at UConn, the university's medical center at Farmington was advocating a large, new hospital to replace the aging, 224-bed John Dempsey Hospital. As a result, Hartford Hospital, St. Francis and Hospital of Central Connecticut were opposing the UConn hospital expansion.

Dr. Hogan correctly saw that an adversarial relationship among the hospitals would damage all of them, produce redundancy in equipment and services and raise the cost for patients and taxpayers.

Throughout its history since 1960, the UConn Health Center has had financial troubles. It has faced increased challenges in recent years and the prospect of greater financial burdens in the future. Three times since 2000, legislators had to bail the facility out of financial messes. The latest was a $22 million supplemental appropriation this year.

State Sen. Mary Ann Handley, co-chairman of the legislature's Public Health Committee praised the regional initiative and asked, “Do we have to have the same expensive machines in hospitals 20 miles apart? ...I'm very hopeful that out of these discussions will come some really good planning for the future, not just for Dempsey hospital, but for other parts of the state where other hospitals are offering overlapping services.”

Dr. Hogan's efforts could, in fact, lead to a model for other regions so that individual hospitals are not isolated fiefdoms limited in quality and scope of services, but rather parts of a comprehensive regional or even statewide effort.

The notion of regional cooperation across a spate of issues comes hard to Connecticut, but as taxes increase and the need for services rises, cooperation, not competition, must rule the day.