As reported as an editorial in The Hartford Courant, March 28, 2008.

A Cure for Deficit-itis

Predictably, the bleeding continues at the University of Connecticut's Health Center's John Dempsey Hospital. Legislators again are being asked to stop it — this time with a $22 million transfusion.

This is the third time the state has been asked to plug a big hole in the Farmington hospital's operating budget. As they have the previous times, legislators have little choice but to render emergency aid.

The teaching hospital that trains doctors and dentists and where cutting-edge research takes place is an asset the state must protect even at this high price. Not only is an established, top-notch medical school a point of pride and a magnet for top talent, it is a crucible for medical excellence that benefits the region's other hospitals as well.

Dempsey Hospital is too small to sustain itself financially. It hasn't been updated since it was built in 1975. Its plight is fueled by unique challenges, such as low federal reimbursement rates for key programs that don't perform as well as generous public employee benefits. Its financial woes will continue until a long-term solution is found.

A credible independent study on what to do about Dempsey, commissioned by legislators, concluded that the status quo was unacceptable, but stopped short of endorsing a proposal to build a new 352-bed replacement hospital on the Farmington site. From a statewide perspective, the addition of 128 acute-care beds might destabilize health care in the region, according to the report by the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering. That also is a concern of the region's competing hospitals who have opposed the new hospital.

We applaud a suggestion in the report, paralleling a proposal by UConn President Michael J. Hogan, that it would be sensible and cheaper for UConn to form clinical partnerships with those hospitals with which the health center shares a symbiotic relationship.

To that end, hospital leaders have been meeting to come up with a regional solution that would include collaboration rather than competition.

No matter who ends up running it, though, Dempsey Hospital should be renovated. There will be a need for clinical facilities at the medical school no matter who operates them, and they should be up to date.

There is no quick or painless cure for the UConn hospital's troubles. Complications are inevitable in any private-public merger, and attempts to reach agreement in the past have failed. But as Dr. Myron Genel, chairman of the study committee, pointed out recently on The Courant's op-ed page, this is an opportunity to create a new model of health care that reflects the current delivery system.

Let's get it done.