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  December 3, 2001

Health Center Column

The changes of the past two years have stabilized the Health Center, but more changes lie ahead.

Time does fly. It has now been two years since I was charged by President Austin with the responsibility of leading the Health Center; first on an interim basis, then as executive vice president for health affairs.

Image: Peter J. Deckers
Peter J. Deckers

In assessing what has transpired over the past 24 months and where we are today, I find myself asking a very basic question: Is the Health Center in a better, more stable position now than in November 1999?

The short answer is yes, we most certainly are. And the reason, to me, is quite clear. We are better off today because we made several fundamental, essential changes.

Some might say we changed because we recognized it was the only way to deal with the problems at hand and become a stronger, healthier organization. Others may believe we changed because academic medical centers throughout the country were doing so and it was therefore inevitable. Still others might suggest we changed because we were told to. So which of these perspectives is correct?

In my view, they all are. It was quite apparent in November 1999 that standing still was not a viable option for the Health Center. We needed to begin doing things differently and we needed to start immediately. The fact that change is a natural, ongoing phenomenon within organizations is obvious. What was not necessarily obvious was just how sweeping the changes here needed to be. Did those who oversee the Health Center direct us to change? Of course they did, but only after they arrived at the same conclusions anyone in their position would have come to.

I will not use this space to rehash the widespread actions we have taken during the past 24 months to bring added stability to the Health Center. Suffice it to say they have been thoughtfully implemented, have touched nearly everything we do, and, due to the untiring efforts of our faculty and staff, have led to some very impressive results.

We ended fiscal year 1999 confronted with a deficit of $13.5 million and had a projected deficit of at least $22 million for the following year. It took the assistance of state government in the form of a special, one-time appropriation over two years,

FY 2000 and 2001, to see us clear for the short term. But since then we have successfully enhanced revenues and reduced costs to eliminate the deficit.

Today, in a highly fragile environment characterized by inadequate federal reimbursements for health care services and a weakening economy that has led to state mandated cuts to our operating budget, we are holding our own - so far.

At the time our fiscal woes came to light much of the "blame" was directed at our clinical operations. Make no mistake, the federal reimbursement problem was - and still is - the major cause of our financial plight. Nonetheless, it was clear that we needed to help ourselves by becoming more aggressive in filling our hospital beds, growing our ambulatory medical and surgical care, and expanding the UConn Medical Group's patient volume. And we have.

In November 1999, the John Dempsey Hospital's average daily census was hovering in the mid-120s. Now our year-to-date average is just shy of 150 and all indications are we're heading for even higher ground. With just a few days remaining in the month, November was tracking well into the 150s, one of our best months in recent memory. For the year ending June 30, 2001, volume for UConn Medical Group was up 5 percent compared to the previous year. More impressive is the volume growth achieved thus far in the current fiscal year. Through the first quarter,

UConn Medical Group volume is up 14.5 percent compared to the same period last year.

Not to be overlooked is the fiscal growth we continue to experience in our research activities. Through the first quarter of this year, research revenues are up 14.8 percent compared to the same period a year ago. And, in the past two years, funded educational and research grants and contracts grew almost $22 million. Given the competitive nature of attaining such grants, this revenue growth is a clear indication of the overall quality of our research endeavors.

Does the Health Center's more stable financial status enable me to sleep better at night? Maybe just a little. The truth is, we do not have the luxury of resting on these accomplishments.

More challenges await us at every turn. Money will remain tight and we must continue to implement new and better ways of working. Traditional models will be scrutinized and questioned. We can never go back to doing business the old way. Creative approaches will receive attention and support as never before.

In short, we should all expect to contribute to, and participate in, even more change going forward than we experienced over the past two years. There is just no way around it.

I'll be the first to acknowledge that change of the magnitude of which I speak is not easy or comfortable. But the past two years, difficult as they may have been, showed that we are certainly capable of such change. We have seen that, by changing, we not only survive but create fresh, innovative ways to fulfill our mission of providing outstanding health care education in an environment of exemplary patient care, research and public service.

Be peaceful.

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