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  May 8, 2000

Health Center to Receive
$20 Million Over Two Years

In a strong show of support for the Health Center, the General Assembly ended its 2000 session with the House and Senate each voting unanimously for a state budget that included a $20 million infusion to help the Health Center overcome its deficit and invest in research. A separate piece of legislation establishes a legislative review committee to look at a number of financial, operational and programmatic issues at the Health Center.

The money is spread out over two fiscal years through June 30, 2001, and consists of $12.5 million this fiscal year and $4.4 million next fiscal year to meet a projected deficit. The remaining $3.1 million is for support of the Health Center's strategic plan for research.

"Clearly on balance this was a relatively successful session for the University," said President Philip E. Austin. "We were particularly gratified by the General Assembly's response to the Health Center's needs, which we take as a strong statement of support for the Health Center's role as a center of teaching, research and service to the greater Hartford community and the state.

"In most other respects, too, the Legislature responded positively to the University's needs," Austin said. "A million dollars is being provided to augment Storrs-based academic programs and I am also delighted that we can now look forward to becoming a member of the Big East football conference and playing in a new football stadium."

Peter J. Deckers, dean of the medical school, welcomed the support for the Health Center.

"We're very pleased that the Legislature committed to help us through our financial difficulty," he said. "This financial help does not solve all of our problems, however. We must continue to cooperate and work together to meet the challenges that all academic medical centers face and to ensure the quality and vitality of our clinical, educational and research programs."

The review committee will consist of 12 legislators, including the co-chairs and ranking members of the appropriations, public health and education committees. The most important responsibilities of the committee include:

  • reviewing Health Center financial and clinical data;

  • reviewing and monitoring efficiency, revenue enhancement, restructuring, and strategic plans;

  • reviewing operational results;

  • evaluating the future of the Dempsey Hospital and the medical and dental schools;

  • and recommending whether the Dempsey Hospital should have a board of directors who would report to the UConn Trustees.

Although the legislation requires a number of additional reporting and oversight measures, it specifically states that nothing alters the governance, fiscal authority or operating responsibilities of the Board of Trustees.

"We're delighted that the General Assembly expressed its confidence in the Health Center by allocating money to address the operating shortfall," said Lorraine Aronson, vice president for financial planning and management. "We see the work of the legislative review committee as an opportunity for us to establish a level of understanding and interaction with the members of the Legislature who hold the key to the Health Center's future."

The Health Center, like other academic health centers nationwide, experienced financial problems caused by reduced payments from managed care companies and drastic reductions

in Medicare reimbursements due to the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. A number of initiatives, including workforce reductions, were undertaken by the Health Center's management to reduce the institution's costs and

improve revenues. But it was apparent that legislative help in the form of additional appropriations was necessary.

"This legislation shows that the General Assembly understands the Health Center's financial needs and recognizes the value the Health Center offers to the state," said Thomas Q. Callahan, associate vice president for governmental relations.

The Health Center's review committee will also:

  • evaluate medical education, research and health care delivery at the institution;

  • review medical and dental student tuition and fee levels;

  • review and monitor compensation, benefits and contracts;

  • make recommendations concerning the UConn Foundation and other fund-raising efforts.

The legislation also addresses the bigger health care picture in the state: it establishes a commission on the future of hospital care in Connecticut. The commission will assess the state of health care and make a report to the Legislature by the end of 2001.

The bill approved by the Senate and House was offered by Sens. Kevin Sullivan, D-West Hartford; Toni Harp, D-New Haven; Joseph Crisco, D-New Haven; and Thomas Graffey, D-Meriden; and Reps. Moira Lyons, D-Stamford; and Mary Eberle, D-Bloomfield.

Pat Keefe