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As published as an editorial in The Hartford Courant, November 6, 2009.

Old Foe Could Boost New UConn Hospital

By Peter J. Deckers

Just maybe, the decades-old hospital war that has weakened the reputation of Hartford medicine for so long might finally be coming to an end. As a longtime observer and past participant, it was refreshing to read recently that St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center appears to be backing away from its long-standing, well-known call for the closure of John Dempsey Hospital.

That position, thankfully, fell on deaf ears for many good reasons. Access to quality health care in the Farmington Valley and beyond would have been sacrificed. Many residents of the valley are very appreciative that immediate, skilled, emergency and urgent care has been available nearby in their time of personal or family crisis.

A further direct consequence of closing the University of Connecticut Health Center hospital as a full-fledged acute care hospital would be an inevitable, significant decline in the academic productivity and reputation of UConn's schools of medicine, dentistry and graduate biomedical science.

All are major, incontestable assets to the community and the state, and directly enhance the caliber of the clinical staffs of the other hospitals in the area. Without Dempsey, the potential of the schools to find the resources and highly skilled people to grow our clinical and basic science research and educational position would have been eliminated. Further, such a move would have caused significant job loss and economic pain in Farmington and in several nearby communities.

I say good riddance, finally, to any plan that would eliminate a legitimate university hospital from the health care landscape.

It is encouraging that St. Francis better late than never now wants to be at the table and play a part in building a strong health care future for the Hartford region. The foundation of that future, the proposed partnership between the health center and Hartford Hospital, stands ready to make that happen.

The essential element of this partnership is one visionary, fully integrated university hospital system to be located on two campuses, one in Hartford and the other on the health center's campus in Farmington. Under the plan, the existing John Dempsey Hospital would immediately be reconfigured for today's in-patient and ambulatory medicine. It would eventually be replaced by a much-needed, probably uniquely different facility that is in tune with future health care initiatives and technologies, as well as academic necessities.

Dempsey, after 35 years, although still safe and highly efficient, has become outdated; a new hospital is required. It has never been inexpensive to build a hospital, less so today, but the need to build one soon in Farmington is real.

The proposed health center/Hartford Hospital partnership would strengthen the university's medical and dental schools, enhance the delivery of health care throughout our region and serve as an economic stimulus for decades. Its failure to gain sufficient traction with elected officials is more a comment on our state's current economic woes than any disinterest on their part in improving the delivery of health care, health education or biomedical research. Timing is everything. To this point, it has been dismal.

All that could change quickly if St. Francis is genuine in its interest to participate in the proposed partnership. Such intent should be embraced by all and St. Francis should be given the opportunity to collaborate with the UConn/Hartford Hospital partnership in important clinical research projects and in new teaching initiatives. Faculty members at St. Francis have for decades contributed immensely to the teaching of our students and residents in specialty training. We are most pleased that they now want to work collaboratively to significantly augment their involvement.

Alignment across all three health care institutionsis a major step that should allow this initiative to gain essential legislative and gubernatorial support. It is time for vision and courage if we are to build our long-overdue, but still bright, biomedical future.