As published as an OpEd in the New Britain Herald, February 17, 2009.

The Right Plan at the Right Time

By Laurence A. Tanner, president and chief executive officer at The Hospital of Central Connecticut

Despite the current economic problems in our state, the residents of Connecticut have a timely opportunity. Through an unprecedented partnership between the University of Connecticut and area hospitals, we have a unique chance to significantly enhance our healthcare education and delivery system, and to once and for all, overcome the 30-year-old controversy surrounding UConn’s John Dempsey Hospital.

Under the plan, a new University Hospital would be created on two campuses, Farmington and Hartford. A state-of-art-the hospital would be built in Farmington to replace the aging and ailing John Dempsey Hospital, which unfortunately was constructed in a way that makes renovations unfeasible. There would also be renovations at Hartford Hospital, but the total number of beds at Farmington would remain unchanged.

This would create a facility of just the right size for our region—neither too large, nor too small. There is substantial financial benefit to the state in this approach, because the result would be an 1,100-bed hospital 21st century teaching hospital for half the cost to the state as replacing the 250-bed Dempsey facility. The Hartford plan also offers a solution to the ongoing problem with Dempsey’s burgeoning deficit, because Hartford Hospital would assume financial risk exposure, capping the state’s exposure and easing the burden on taxpayers.

In addition, it would bring stability to the University’s School of Medicine. The uncertainty surrounding Dempsey’s future poses difficulties in recruitment and retention of top-notch faculty at the school. We cannot let indecision erode the quality of our state’s medical education facility.

The plan also gives Connecticut a chance to reinforce its position as “the place” to practice medicine. Despite our long, proud history in this regard, other areas of the country are luring away young physicians and researchers, in part, due to attractive lifestyles and lower costs of living and doing business. However, we know that physicians who receive their medical training here-- including internships, residencies and exposure to physicians who practice here---are more likely to stay. This is critical because it helps to ensure an adequate supply of physicians for our state residents in the future.

The option of renovating the existing physical facility at Dempsey has been explored, but rejected because it is simply unfeasible and extremely costly. And closing Dempsey without a replacement hospital is not a good option. The surrounding area hospitals have some of the highest occupancy rates in the nation, and just do not have the bed capacity to absorb Dempsey patients without capital costs to build or recapture beds.

Five area hospitals, including our own Hospital of Central Connecticut, are an integral part of the plan’s proposed education and research collaborative, which is expected to bring in tens of millions of dollars in new research grants, tripling the research funding UConn’s Health Center now receives.

In addition, consider the potential for creation of thousands of new jobs coming from research and construction of the replacement hospital. It would truly stimulate our economy.

The proposal offers the right solutions, at a critical time, for problems that have plagued our healthcare delivery system for decades. It give us the potential to establish a nationally recognized biomedical research hub right here in Central Connecticut. The collaboration and cooperation between area hospitals will also be unprecedented, resulting in better healthcare for the people of our region.