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The Health Center is central to the University's Educational mission. The challenges it faces are cause for concern for us all.

I have written often in the Advance about the University's ongoing transformation. The signs of progress are all around us: the phenomenally successful implementation of UConn 2000 at Storrs and at several regional campuses, other equally successful building and renovation projects, growth in the size and strength of our student applicant pool, recruitment of outstanding additions to an already strong faculty, a vast increase in private support.

The challenges we confront - and they are many - are in large part functions of our success. Only a successful university needs to cope with problems of insufficient residence hall capacity or to live through the general problems attendant on new construction.

Philip Austin
President Philip Austin

The Health Center has been a full participant in our progress. Last April we opened a new, $37.9 million Academic Research Building, one of the finest facilities in the nation dedicated to medical research. The prospect of that new building, coupled with the general quality of our program, has enabled us to recruit several internationally recognized faculty over the past few years.

Private philanthropy has allowed the creation of several endowed chairs. Research grants exceeded $35 million in 1998-99 and are projected to be substantially higher than that in the current year; indeed, the volume of funded research at the Health Center is essential to the maintenance of the University's Carnegie Research I classification. The academic ranking of programs in our School of Medicine and School of Dental Medicine is among the highest in the nation and our graduates play a vital role as health care providers in every community in the State.

John Dempsey Hospital is an essential component of the Health Center's academic program, a major site for clinical training for students in the School of Medicine and School of Dental Medicine. It is, moreover, one of the leading hospitals in the state and plays a particularly vital role in the Farmington Valley area; last year alone more than 60,000 people were served on an inpatient or outpatient basis at John Dempsey.

Equally important, maintaining a major hospital adjacent to our teaching and research facility is essential to the recruitment and retention of outstanding faculty and students, for whom the presence of a clinical facility at the site of the education and research program is a key attraction. There should be no doubt of the relationship between John Dempsey Hospital and the overall excellence of our School of Medicine and School of Dental Medicine.

As most readers of these pages know, the Health Center and, particularly, John Dempsey Hospital, confront significant challenges that must be met in the next weeks and months. Like academic health centers and hospitals across the nation, they have been caught in the buzz-saw created by federal Medicare cutbacks and the aggressive implementation of managed care policies by private insurers. The quality of patient care has not been and will not be compromised.

But in maintaining a high level of service we have faced fiscal shortfalls that will equal approximately $21 million this year. These shortfalls did not result from inefficiency; indeed, last year John Dempsey Hospital was cited by the state Office of Health Care Access as the most cost-effective hospital in Connecticut. Nevertheless, our fiscal challenges must be met if we are to maintain the integrity and viability of our program.

We are fulfilling our responsibility to do that. Following an exhaustive evaluation of all operations, the Health Center's leadership has implemented a program that will yield major savings over the course of the next year. Opportunities for revenue enhancement are also being implemented. For the current fiscal year, we believe we can achieve approximately $8.6 million to offset some of the $21 million operating deficit. Our goal is to have a budget in balance by the 2001-02 academic year.

There is, however, a compelling need for more fundamental measures to protect this vital University and state asset. In the short run, we are requesting an increase in state support of $12.4 million to guide us through the next year. The Health Center is also requesting $2.2 million for the last installment of a strategic plan for medical and dental research and education approved in 1993 but not fully funded, as well as start-up money for a new strategic plan approved last year.

We are also exploring ways in which we can work to generate new efficiencies in health care delivery in the greater Hartford area and strengthen the Health Center's capacity to play its unique role.

This is going to be a difficult struggle, not because of the merits of our case but because of the politics that surround health care issues here in Connecticut. No one disputes the importance or the quality of our academic and research programs, and no impartial analyst disputes John Dempsey Hospital's essential role as a medical service provider or as a center of medical education.

But for reasons that apparently have more to do with protection of turf than with the promotion of quality medical care, the Office of Health Care Access, the same agency that rated our hospital as the most cost-effective in the State, has positioned itself as the Health Center's adversary. OHCA is utilizing many of the conventional weapons of bureaucratic warfare: rhetoric presented in the guise of analysis, unfounded allegations, press leaks filled with partial information - and the list goes on.

In a hostile context largely shaped by OHCA, other area hospitals are behaving precisely as major institutions do in periods of resource scarcity - which is to say that they view us (I believe incorrectly) not as an ally but as a competitor. We have met repeatedly with legislative leaders and with members of the General Assembly Committee on Public Health and I have been gratified by the wide support that exists there for the Health Center and John Dempsey Hospital.

Appropriately, however, legislators request that we respond to difficult questions before they will sign on to increased state support as we move toward a more stable fiscal posture. We welcome these questions because they give us an opportunity to make a compelling case not just for the Health Center or the University, but for the state as a whole, and to do so in a climate of open

debate rather than back-alley innuendo.

While the Health Center is in some respects a special entity and its budget challenges have no direct impact on other UConn programs, the fiscal challenges in Farmington should be a source of concern for everyone affiliated with this institution. We are one University composed of many parts. Our national stature and our standing in the state stem from the perceived strength of our programs on every UConn campus and in every corner of the state. Over the past 30 years, the Health Center has contributed mightily to our general reputation as a center of quality.

It is important to the entire UConn community that the Health Center meets the problems that it shares with similar institutions across the nation and that it continues to be a center of excellence in teaching, research and service to the state.

The University's administration is committed to that goal.