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  September 18, 2000

Revision Proposed for Top Health Center Post

A University by-law change is now pending before the Board of Trustees that would replace the position of chancellor and provost for health affairs with the position of executive vice president for health affairs, Peter J. Deckers, medical school dean and interim chancellor, told those attending two employee update meetings held Sept. 13. The executive vice president for health affairs would also serve as dean of the School of Medicine.

Nothing is going to happen until the Trustees take the matter up in November, Deckers said, but this is public information and I wanted you to know.

Leadership, Health Center finances and the future were some of the subjects covered at the two meetings. Employee update meetings are held regularly at the Health Center but have taken on new importance in the last year, as the institution works though a number of challenges.

Just where the institution is financially was recounted by Deckers: Last year was as ugly as it could be, he said. Expense reduction translated into layoffs and reorganization and it was ugly and hurtful, filled with trials and tribulations and concerns and worry.

But, he said, the financial problem was really a crisis of identity and credibility, as well as a political problem.

He pointed out that the Health Center s $12.5 million deficit was small compared to the deficits of some other academic health centers. As an example, he cited Johns Hopkins as recently cutting $20 million in expenses from its health system budget.

Deckers added that, at the same time the Health Center was working to obtain an additional two-year, $20 million subsidy from the General Assembly earlier this year, the issues of credibility and political support were addressed: Our work in Hartford has caused many who did not know us to understand us better. He said the Health Center s messages were now being delivered more effectively throughout state government.

But Deckers warned that more work remained: When you look at all the things we did to make us whole and you look at things going forward, we need additional subsidy, we need funding of the strategic plan and we need to cause improvement in workplace efficiencies.

He emphasized the importance of revenue enhancements and cost reductions both now and in the future.

He said the Health Center received about $100 million about 22 percent of its operating budget from the state. He said that a further $15 million was a realistic figure and arriving at an appropriate subsidy figure was one of his personal goals for this year.

Going forward we need to ask what is the right subsidy. The old model of medical school finances where clinical enterprises subsidized academics is no longer realistic, he said. We need to better define the issue, but I don t think 22 percent of the operating budget is the right figure.

Deckers reiterated that the Health Center s clinical initiatives remain under financial pressure. He said the institution and its leadership are committed to the charge from the state s political leadership that the Health Center remain market-independent. By concentrating on and promoting certain Health Center programmatic strengths, the clinical enterprises could be enhanced.

Deckers named initiatives in cancer, the brain and human behavior, bone and connective tissue and Connecticut health as the institution s signature programs. He said they represent unique opportunities for the institution to tie established research programs with top-flight clinical initiatives.

This is a marriage of strong academics with research strengths and clinical skills, he said. It is an attempt to integrate research with clinical care. The business plans from the signature programs will drive program marketing and faculty recruitment and we are committed to making them work.

Deckers said the work of Bruce Carlson, special assistant to the president, Lorraine Aronson, vice president for financial planning and management, and Thomas Callahan, associate vice president for governmental relations, were key to helping the Health Center hold sway with the General Assembly during the past year.

Daniel Upton, the Health Center s chief financial officer, Susan Whetstone, chief administrative officer, Steven Strongwater, chief operating officer, clinical affairs, and Gloria Opirhory, John Dempsey Hospital director, also offered brief remarks.

Pat Keefe