As reported by the New Britain Herald, February 20, 2009.

President: Help Now or Risk Loss of Hospital

By Scott Whipple

Michael Hogan, president of the University of Connecticut, admitted Wednesday that tough economic times have made the future of John Dempsey Hospital an emotional issue. Still, he believes the proposed partnership between the UConn Health Center and Hartford Hospital — now being debated by the state legislature — would produce an operating cost savings to the state of $11 million over the two years after construction.

He acknowledged there has been disagreement about the consequences of spending an estimated $475 million to replace John Dempsey Hospital, the 34-year-old university teaching hospital in Farmington.

“But there are also consequences of doing nothing, and they’re even more serious,” Hogan said. “We may have to stop providing services at Dempsey that are not making money — they’re loss leaders. We run a persistent deficit over there because we don’t make enough money on the profitable parts of our operation to offset parts that lose money. So, overall, we lose more than we gain.”

That would include such things as serving the prison population and two floors of psychiatry. While these are not “technically state-mandated services by law, it’s always been assumed by the General Assembly that the university should be providing these kinds of services,” he said.

But the community would gain tremendously with a new facility, he said.

The university’s board of trustees has endorsed a Hospital Integration Agreement proposal including a major academic medical center with 1,100 beds overseen by the health center, its School of Medicine and School of Dental Medicine.

Some members of the General Assembly who have read the proposal say they are still not convinced of the necessity of the project, but Hogan plans to ask them to review it.

The academic medical center would be a major force in moving the School of Medicine to “top tier” status, proponents say. The proposal paints the center as serving as the flagship hospital of a larger unified health care delivery system operated by the Hartford Health Care Corp. and instrumental in shaping the Hartford region into a nationally recognized health care destination and a biomedical research leader.

Hogan said the 224-bed academic hospital can be transformed into a 1,100-bed top tier university hospital. He believes this will elevate the standing and visibility of UConn’s School of Medicine, and generate research dollars in Greater Hartford, leading ultimately to more jobs, a bigger tax base and training for more doctors and dentists in the state.

“For every dollar the state puts into this partnership, Hartford Hospital will be putting in 70 cents,” he said. “It’s almost a dollar-for-dollar match.”

Though Elliot Joseph, president and chief executive of Hartford Hospital, has been sidelined by his struggle with leukemia, Hogan believes his absence will not derail the merger.

“It has the full support of Elliot’s board,” he said.

According to Hogan, the university is working on a break-even point, at least for the short term.

“We’d wobble by,” he said. “But in the long term we’ll go back to the deficit situation because the Dempsey Hospital is just too old, and it doesn’t meet modern health care standards. We’re not there yet, but we’re bound to get to a point where [Dempsey] will no longer be competitive. So the hospital will just close. Some people think that’s fine — just take those services and distribute them elsewhere.”

Hogan believes this would be a mistake.

“We don’t have a surplus of beds in the area,” he said. “Area hospitals don’t have the funding and they couldn’t build additions in the Farmington Valley. So patients will be going to New York and Boston for their medical care, and the cost of that to the state would be pretty substantial.”

Hogan says he has made his case for the partnership. The future of Dempsey is now up to the General Assembly.

State Sen. Don DeFronzo, D-6th District, has been following the merger discussion closely.

“I don’t think it’s going to fly,” he said. “It’s difficult for me to think that this proposal would be implemented as it currently stands. The problems have to do with total privatization of the system. It doesn’t have enough public control.”

Critics of the proposed hospital partnership such as Fred Hyde, a Ridgefield doctor, note that public-private combinations of academic organizations don’t work, especially when combining an academic hospital with a community hospital.

Hyde is an adviser to six unions representing more than 3,000 employees at the University of Connecticut Health Center. He asks in “The 4 Word,” the Voice of Council 4 AFSCME Connecticut, “will the resulting facility be a teaching institution? Will it give primacy to advancing knowledge, to training the next generation, to the conduct of clinical research? Or will that primacy be sacrificed in the service of the private medical practitioner, the mainstay of the Hartford Hospital medical staff?”

The legislature may get some answers when it holds hearings on the hospital partnership March 5.