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Governor Recommends $20m for Health Center
February 14, 2000

University officials are pleased that Gov. John G. Rowland's new budget provides $20 million to address the current budget shortfall at the UConn Health Center.

Rowland in his State of the State address Wednesday at the Capitol Building in Hartford said the money for the Health Center would come from the projected state surplus of $241 million.

"A variety of economic pressures are putting a strain on the John Dempsey Hospital," Rowland told legislators Wednesday. "The hospital has long been part of the Farmington Valley community. It is an essential state asset that must be protected."

President Philip E. Austin said he welcomed the governor's recognition of the hospital's importance and his commitment to provide the necessary support. "In return for this additional assistance," he said, "the University must be accountable to our elected officials and the state's taxpayers. The form that accountability will take will be discussed and determined over the course of the legislative session."

Lorraine Aronson, vice president for financial planning and management, said the University needs to make sure "that every one of these dollars is well spent.

"The $20 million will help a lot, as will our current efforts at cost containment and revenue enhancement," she said, "but it will not change the continuing deterioration of the larger health care environment in which John Dempsey and the Health Center operate."

Aronson said the team at the Health Center, including the president and the Board of Trustees, is developing a clear mission and a long-term strategic plan for the Health Center.

"The $20 million will play a significant role in stabilizing our finances this year and next year, but we're also working for the longer term," she said.

"Dempsey will never be a big hospital," she added, "but it will always have a distinctive mission as part of an academic health center, and as such it will always be a unique public entity. Significant state investment and support will continue to be required to achieve our goals."

Aronson said there are "a range of options still on the table for John Dempsey Hospital that include both independent operation and partnering with other institutions in the region."

Rowland noted that the state's $40 million investment in the expansion of the health center facility three years ago already is "paying off by attracting researchers from across the country and spinning off new businesses."

He said to help relieve pressure on Connecticut's other hospitals he proposes eliminating the hospital gross receipts tax, which would save hospitals $75 million a year and help offset the loss of federal aid. Dempsey Hospital was exempted by the General Assembly from the gross receipts tax last year.

Although he did not elaborate on it in his speech, Rowland's Health Center proposal appropriates the $20 million to the Office of Policy and Management and calls for legislation to create a University of Connecticut Health Center Oversight Board to review financial and clinical data of the Health Center and John Dempsey Hospital; review and monitor all cost reduction and revenue improvement plans; evaluate the future role of Dempsey, the UConn Medical and Dental Schools, and UConn's delivery of the Correctional Managed Care Program; review student tuition and fee levels; review and monitor administrative, faculty, physician and professional salaries; and have the authority to call meetings with staff and trustees of the University.

Release of the funds to the University would require the prior approval of the oversight board.

The board would submit an interim report to the governor and General Assembly by Nov. 15, with recommendations for the role of Dempsey within the Health Center. Board membership would include the secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, commissioner of the Office of Health Care Access, commissioner of the Department of Higher Education, executive director of the Connecticut Health and Educational Facilities Authority, Speaker of the House, President Pro-Tem of the Senate, minority leader of the House, minority leader of the Senate, and president of the University.

Other items from the proposed budget that affect UConn include:

  • $20 million to build a new downtown campus in Waterbury; and

  • $1 million in additional funding to expand regional campus degree programs, including Avery Point's marine sciences program, Stamford's CITI and business programs, and Waterbury's liberal arts and undergraduate business programs.

Ken Ross