As reported by The Hartford Courant, March 17, 2010.

$352 Million UConn Health Center Plan Gets Early "Yes" Vote

By Arielle Levin Becker

A $352 million proposal for the UConn Health Center cleared its first legislative committee Tuesday.

The higher education and employment advancement committee approved a "concept bill" rather than the wording that would become law if the proposal makes it through the legislature. Tuesday was the committee's deadline to move bills forward, and the proposal, which Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced last Tuesday, has not yet been written into final form.

The bill must still go through at least two more legislative committees.

The plan described by Rell and University of Connecticut leaders calls for a new $236 million patient tower for UConn's John Dempsey Hospital, $96 million in renovations to existing health center space and $20 million in teaching and research programs involving other area hospitals.

It is intended to bring financial stability to the health center, which has run several deficits in the past decade, address concerns that Dempsey is too small and outdated to be financially viable, raise the profile and size of the medical school, and create jobs in the region.

Committee co-Chairwoman Rep. Roberta Willis, D-Salisbury, noted that this is the third health center plan lawmakers have seen in the past four years. Unlike previous proposals, this one has support from the other Hartford-area hospitals.

"I think we've come a long way in terms of this issue evolving and feeling as though we're finally getting a plan that seems to work, not just for the health center but for all the stakeholders in the Hartford region," Willis said.

State Sen. Dan Debicella, R-Shelton, voted against the proposal, saying he supported the idea of hospitals working together but not the cost of new facilities.

"If you look at this, it is something the state of Connecticut cannot afford right now," he said.

He also criticized the plan's reliance on $100 million in funding that has not yet been secured, calling it "phantom money." UConn leaders are hoping for a $100 million hospital grant U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd had inserted into the Senate health reform bill.

Willis said she also had concerns about the $100 million and said if it does not come from the federal government, the university would need to seek other revenue sources, such as private donations or grants.

The remaining cost would be paid for with $227 million in state bonding and $25 million already allocated to UConn.