As published as an opinion by Foothills Media Group, July 18, 2011.

What the UConn Health Center Does for You

By Dr. Peter Albertsen

Many Connecticut residents have little understanding what the UConn Health Center provides to the citizens of our state. Those with private physicians sometimes complain that the Health Center is just another redundant state agency. But consider the following:

The UConn Health Center admits 80 new medical students and 40 new dental students each year. Over 80 percent of these students were raised in Connecticut and plan to raise their families here. This is our future supply of health care providers. We are lucky to have them. Many other areas of the country, including many parts of New England, are facing severe physician shortages that will worsen during the next decade. Many of these students are likely to practice in Connecticut.

The UConn Health Center is the academic hub for 20 residency programs, ranging from primary care to specialty services like urology. Through these programs, approximately 600 residents help provide care in the large area hospitals including Hartford, St. Francis, Hospital of Central Connecticut (New Britain), the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and John Dempsey Hospital. Residents provide an extraordinary amount of care to all hospitalized patients, and allow these hospitals to be the centers of excellence that Connecticut residents depend on. Without the academic support provided by the Health Center, most of these residencies would be closed by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. Without the residents, most of the area hospitals would need to sharply curtail the many specialized surgical and medical services that thrive only in this environment. Furthermore, many of these residents become employees of area hospitals or join the regional private practices. Without residencies, the area hospitals and practices would have a much more difficult time attracting the quality physicians Connecticut residents have come to expect.

The UConn Health Center provides unique services provided by no one else in the region. We provide all the inpatient health care for the prison population, at a cost considerably below the private sector.

We are frequently the only provider of Medicaid services, including dental services, for citizens throughout the state. Unfortunately this has recently included an increasing number of residents of traditionally affluent communities including Simsbury. Without the Health Center, patients lacking private health insurance would have nowhere to turn to have their kidney stone treated.

An emergency room is only required to “stabilize” a patient, which usually means controlling their pain. The Health Center accepts patients who are routinely turned away by virtually all the private urologists in the state.

The UConn Health Center provides other important services. We staff the poison control center to help frantic parents and others who call after they have swallowed some toxic substance or strange pill. We provide unique genetic diagnostic and counseling services, and we care for patients with orphan diseases such as Huntington’s chorea.

All these services are provided in addition to the $100,000,000 Health Center researchers attract to the state each year. These dollars provide vital support for the local economy.

I applaud Linda Schofield’s and Kevin Witkos’ support for Gov. Malloy‘s recent proposal to develop a Bio-Science Center in the Farmington valley. This initiative will bring important economic benefits to the state, but I also want to remind state residents that the UConn Health Center is much more than a research institute.

It provides critical medical and dental services to many state residents, and is an essential part of the health care delivery system that allows other regional hospitals to be as good as they are.

Dr. Peter Albertsen is a Simsbury resident, and Chief of the Urology Department at the UConn Health Center.