As reported by the Hartford Business Journal, December 22, 2008.

UConn Plans $475M Hospital

250-bed Facility Would Replace Dempsey in Farmington

By Jason Millman

The University of Connecticut Health Center and Hartford Hospital are preparing to seek legislative approval next month for a $475 million, 250-bed hospital to replace UConn’s struggling John Dempsey Hospital in Farmington, according to Michael Hogan, UConn president.

When UConn and Hartford Hospital announced merger plans last month, they said they would either renovate or replace the aging Dempsey facility. Construction of the new hospital, like the merger itself, would require legislative approval.

Hogan told the Hartford Business Journal that the latest plan calls for about 250 beds, slightly more than Dempsey’s 224. It follows a hotly debated proposal last year for a new $495 million, 352-bed facility, which some feared would dominate the competition by snatching up valuable, privately insured patients.

The scaled-down hospital would pose less of a competitive threat, Hogan said in an interview.

“We wouldn’t really be expanding the bed capacity by any substantial amount, so it would be less threatening to other regional hospitals,” Hogan said.

Rep. Betsy Ritter, incoming co-chair of the House Public Health Committee, said a 250-bed hospital would likely be more palatable to competing hospitals, but said “the devil is in the details.”

UConn selected Hartford Hospital last month from several candidates to help rescue the health center, which has survived in recent years only because of repeated infusions of emergency state funding. Dempsey faces a $12 million deficit this year.

Both sides had expected to have a formal proposal by now, but Hogan said negotiations have gone “a little off schedule.” Details regarding bond funding, employee benefits and the involement of area hospitals still need to be hammered out, he said.

The new target date for an agreement is the first week of January, just in time for the start of the legislative session. In the meantime, Hogan said legislators have been “non-committal” and are waiting for a detailed proposal.

Without a finalized proposal to present to the Legislature early into the session, Hogan said he fears any consideration of a merger could fall by the wayside.

“If we don’t get it to the Legislature in time, we might as well put it back,” Hogan said. “I don’t know what that means going forward.”

“Hesitating is only going to cost us,” said Ritter, a Waterford Democrat.

Hartford Hospital President and CEO Elliot Joseph said a lot of work still remains to be done on the merger, but the hospital is committed to finding an agreement that is also agreeable for surrounding hospitals.

“We are continuing to perform due diligence and remain optimistic that we can make this partnership work, and significantly enhance health care for the people of Connecticut,” Joseph said in a statement.

Still unresolved is a suitable agreement that will satisfy unionized state workers and non-unionized private employees. These negotiations tend to be very sensitive.

“This effort adds a significant layer of complexity and potential expense to the entire merger process,” said Claire Miley, a Tennessee-based health care attorney with experience in hospital mergers.