As reported by The Hartford Courant, August 5, 2008.

UConn Health Care Center Has Five Suitors

By Daniela Altimari and Matt Negrin

Five local hospitals — including the region's two health care heavyweights — have stepped up as potential saviors of the cash-strapped University of Connecticut Health Center.

Hartford Hospital, which made a joint proposal with the Hospital of Central Connecticut, and St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center are among the institutions vying for a partnership with UConn.

Bristol Hospital and Connecticut Children's Medical Center each made a pitch, as well.

For the Farmington-based health center, which includes medical and dental schools, a multimillion-dollar research laboratory and the 224-bed John Dempsey Hospital, the stakes couldn't be higher.

The hospital has struggled financially since it opened in the 1960s. The legislature appropriated $22 million for the health center this year, the third time since 2000 that the state had to bail out the facility.

UConn announced the partnership proposals Monday, but provided no specifics. The health center will choose a plan by the end of the year, according to Michael J. Hogan, UConn's new president.

Hogan declined to say which partner he favors. But he predicted a "new era" of cooperation among the region's health care providers, one that will lead to lower costs and better service for consumers.

"The idea of hospitals racing to keep up with [the] competition is an expensive proposition," Hogan said Monday. "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."

Rep. Denise Merrill, D-Storrs, co-chairwoman of the legislature's appropriations committee, said a partnership could end more than a decade of uncertainty for the UConn Health Center.

These latest changes are indicative of "a painful process, but it has to happen," Merrill said. "The system is changing, and everyone knows it."

The "hospitals wars," the intense competition among the region's health care providers for patients and doctors, cannot be sustained, Hogan said. "I'm prepared to take a fresh look at things, and I think so are the others," he said.

And although the fact that four of the region's health care providers submitted their own plans for UConn might be seen as a reflection that those wars continue to rage, Merrill said there may ultimately be a role for all of UConn's suitors.

"No hospital's going to propose something that will injure its own institution," Merrill said. "We need all the hospitals, but we might need them in a different configuration."

The old strategy that had hospitals competing vigorously to win patients is simply not sustainable in an era of spiraling health care costs, said Sen. Mary Ann Handley, co-chairwoman of the legislature's public health committee. "Do we have to have the same expensive machines in hospitals 20 miles apart?" she asked.

"One of the good things that's coming out of this is we're beginning to look at the regional provision of services," Handley said. "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."

Hartford Hospital issued a press release Monday outlining its vision for UConn. The proposal, developed with The Hospital of Central Connecticut, would create a new "university hospital" with campuses in Farmington and Hartford.

The plan calls for strengthening the educational relationship among UConn and Hartford, St. Francis and Children's hospitals and The Hospital of Central Connecticut.

It's an approach that Elliot Joseph, Hartford Hospital's new CEO and president, knows well. Before coming to Connecticut in April, Joseph presided over the transformation of a loosely knit group of seven hospitals and 125 outpatient centers in Michigan into a coordinated system of care.

The proposal St. Francis submitted also envisions a stronger relationship between UConn and other local hospitals, according to a statement issued by President and CEO Christopher M. Dadlez.

"Our proposal has been submitted, with a focus on measures that we believe will strengthen the academic collaboration between the University of Connecticut Health Center and our area hospitals," Dadlez said. "We look forward to working further with President Hogan and the local hospital community to enhance what is already a highly regarded academic and research institution."

Bristol Hospital views a partnership with UConn as a way to rein in medical costs, said its president, Kurt Barwis.

"We don't want to be in a competitive situation where it's going to affect the future, the viability of Bristol Hospital," Barwis said. "We don't want to see whatever happens on that campus to cause Bristol Hospital to not exist in the future."

If Bristol does not emerge as a UConn partner, Barwis said, he will look for other joint ventures. "It's a very important part of what community hospitals have to do to be very successful in the future," he said.

Martin Gavin, president of the Connecticut Children's Medical Center, was unavailable for comment Monday.