As published as an editorial in the New London Day, March 21, 2008.

Helping Health Care

Sometimes clearer heads do prevail. And they have in the case of the University of Connecticut Health Center's John Dempsey Hospital, which is too small and outdated but must remain viable to sustain the university's stellar medical and dental schools.

UConn first lobbied to build a new $495 million expansion of the Dempsey teaching hospital, but soon realized the obstacles it would face in winning approval for the project from competing medical centers in the Greater Hartford region, most notably Hartford Hospital and St. Francis Hospital.

There are just not enough paying customers to keep all the hospitals viable. But a medical school needs a place to train its students and to help attract and keep physicians in the state, and the current 224-bed Dempsey facility just doesn't fill those needs. It doesn't have enough paying beds to pay the bills, and the building itself is in dire need of renovations.

But rather than battle to build a Dempsey expansion and most certainly raise the ire of nearby hospitals, the state's General Assembly turned to the independent Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering (CASE) last August and asked it to weigh in on the dilemma: How to improve Dempsey and keep it viable without undermining competing hospitals.

On Tuesday, CASE issued its much-anticipated report. In short, it suggests the current Dempsey facility be closed and UConn team up with one or more of the other hospitals — which also include Connecticut Children's Medical Center and the Hospital of Central Connecticut — to come up with a plan to build a new, shared medical center on the UConn grounds.

What a great idea. Not only does it make sense, but also it puts the onus on the competitors to figure out how such collaboration might work. Will one hospital take on the challenge, or will they unite as a team to work with UConn on creating a new Dempsey? There are many possibilities.

For years, the Hartford-area hospitals have been warring over paying patients, which they all clearly need to sustain themselves. At the same time, Dempsey has co-existed as a training ground for new doctors, many of whom go to work later at the competing hospitals.

Having a vibrant teaching hospital in Connecticut is important. It not only trains new doctors, it attracts other physicians who want to be nearby. And the idea of collaboration to rejuvenate Dempsey takes that thinking to another step.

The CASE report leaves the arrangement up to the participants. And it also makes clear that there has to be a new order of thinking.

“Continuing the status quo with no change in existing relationships and no change in the existing facility is not in the best interest of the state of Connecticut,” said Dr. Myron Genel, a retired Yale University pediatrician who headed up the study committee.

He is correct. The report should be a starting point for renewed vigor in the discussions. UConn President Michael J. Hogan has already been meeting with administrators of the competing hospitals to try to forge a new direction. Cooperation, not competition, should be the philosophy that guides them.

It is not going to be easy to find a resolution. It will require give and take on both sides. But if a seed grows, and a new collaborative hospital is created, all of Connecticut will benefit.