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As reported by The Hartford Courant, May 8, 2010.

Funding Approved for UConn Health Center's Upgrade

By Arielle Levin Becker

The University of Connecticut scored a victory this week when legislators approved a $362 million plan to revamp and expand the UConn Health Center and fund health initiatives involving other area hospitals.

On Friday, officials from three hospitals and legislators from New Britain and Bristol touted the benefits the plan promises to bring - a new patient tower for UConn's John Dempsey Hospital, a cancer center at the Hospital of Central Connecticut, renovated patient rooms at Bristol Hospital, a teaching and research network involving all the area hospitals, and other programs that they said could enhance UConn's medical and dental schools, create jobs and make the Hartford area a destination for health care.

But before it can happen, one key piece must to fall into place. The plan hinges on $100 million that has not yet been secured.

UConn officials are optimistic about their chances of capturing a $100 million grant included in the health reform law, although more than a dozen other states also could qualify for the funds.

If the grant does not come through, officials will look to other sources, including philanthropy, said Dr. Cato Laurencin, UConn's medical school dean and vice president for health affairs.

The $100 million serves as a trigger for funding the rest of the project - a $236 million patient tower and $96 million renovation for Dempsey Hospital and $30 million for the so-called UConn Health Network, a series of teaching and research initiatives involving other area hospitals. If the $100 million is not secured by June 30, 2015, plans for the Dempsey construction and health network initiatives will terminate under the legislation, which Gov. M. Jodi Rell is expected to sign.

In the meantime, UConn will move ahead with plans and design work for the Dempsey renovation and construction, a process Laurencin said will take 18 months to two years.

Work is also moving forward on other parts of the plan, some of which are not contingent on the UConn plan's getting funding.

Part of the $30 million in UConn Health Network money will support a regional primary care institute being developed at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford.

The center will focus on training primary care doctors and researching what methods of delivering primary care work best, and it will exist whether or not the state funds come through, said Gregory Makoul, chief academic officer at St. Francis. The hospital is working with UConn to develop the center, with plans to begin recruiting soon and to potentially launch it this year.

"We're moving forward. We're not going to stop now and wait to see if that $100 million comes through or wait until it does," Makoul said.

Similarly, construction on a regional simulation center at Hartford Hospital, another program that would be included in the UConn Health Network program, is underway.

The center, which was planned before the health network plan was created, is expected to open in September and will allow doctors and other health professionals to practice techniques that use advanced technology, like surgical robots.

State money from the UConn plan would allow the center to speed up plans to expand and add more equipment that could be more specialized, said Jeffrey Flaks, the hospital's executive vice president and chief operating officer.

The Hospital of Central Connecticut is also moving ahead with plans for its cancer program, and UConn officials are working on plans for a regional cancer program and a center aimed at studying and eliminating health disparities.

Another part of the plan, a bioscience enterprise zone aimed at attracting businesses to the area, will begin July 1 of this year. It includes Hartford and parts of Farmington, Bristol and New Britain.

On Friday, state Sen. Donald DeFronzo, D-New Britain, noted that the zone includes the now-vacant Pinnacle Heights housing project.