As reported by The Hartford Courant, January 19, 2008.

A New Diagnosis

UConn's Regional Hospital Proposal Could Avoid Clash

By William Hathaway and Grace E. Merritt

In a move that may avert a contentious showdown between area hospitals, University of Connecticut President Michael J. Hogan has proposed a regional partnership as an alternative to building a new and expanded $495 million hospital at the UConn Health Center in Farmington.

Urban competitors of UConn's John Dempsey Hospital bitterly oppose a plan announced last February to create a new 352-bed hospital in the Farmington Valley. They say such a facility would draw away profitable insured patients from their hospitals, leaving them with the financial burden of caring for the region's poor.

Hogan, who became UConn president in September, is not shutting the door on a new hospital.

However, he is offering a more modest proposal to renovate Dempsey's 224-bed hospital and enter a partnership with Hartford Hospital, St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center, the Hospital of Central Connecticut in New Britain and Connecticut Children's Medical Center as a way to meet the region's health care needs.

"It's more sensible and cheaper for everybody all the way around if we can find a good working partnership with our affiliates," Hogan said in an interview this week.

Hogan said he has had some preliminary talks with local hospital leaders, but no details have been worked out yet. He said similar collaborations have worked in other states.

Such talks have occurred in Connecticut before. In 2006, leaders from the major hospitals wanted to develop a plan that would allow them to upgrade their facilities, share patients in profitable specialty practices such as cardiology and orthopedics and share the cost of caring for the poor.

However, talks broke off when UConn decided a year ago that financial viability of John Dempsey — and the Health Center with the medical and dental schools and research efforts — could only be guaranteed with an expanded, state-of-the-art hospital.

The proposal prompted intense opposition from officials of local hospitals, who viewed the expansion as potentially devastating to their already fragile bottom lines.

State lawmakers retained the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering to analyze the UConn hospital plan and its impact on nearby hospitals. The report is due in March.

The potential of a state-mediated solution to the dispute has helped regenerate interest in negotiations, said Laurence Tanner, president and chief executive officer of the Hospital of Central Connecticut.

"The report may go to the left or go to the right, but we may go right down the middle," Tanner said. "We all thought it would be better to come up with our own solutions, rather than having it mandated by an outside panel."

The UConn Health Center's financial woes have not subsided. Officials say the Health Center is currently running a deficit of $9.7 million.

"We are hoping the parties can come up with something that has not been brought up or discussed before," said Jim Walter, a spokesman for the Health Center.

Hogan said a partnership might enable researchers to gather clinical data from all hospitals. In addition, the medical school might be able to expand, providing more doctors for the region.

"I would love to see it hammered out. It would be a progressive step and solve so many problems for the region," he said.

There is some common ground. For instance, the financial health of the medical school is not only of great concern to the university but to local hospitals, which depend on medical residents educated at UConn to supplement care at the hospitals.

"We are willing and interested in finding a community solution in regards to the medical school, whose future viability is very important to the region," said John Meehan, president and CEO of Hartford Hospital.

Hogan acknowledged negotiating a workable partnership would be extremely complicated.

"It will not be quick, and it will not be easy," Hogan said.