Could VA Be Partner For UConn Health Center?
By DAVID BARAM and TIMOTHY LARSON
December 6, 2009
With the announcement that the University of Connecticut Health Center will not pursue a proposed partnership with Hartford Hospital, there is an opportunity for the General Assembly to consider other options — such as a partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
UConn President Michael Hogan acknowledged that there was not sufficient support among legislative leaders or from the governor's office for the partnership with Hartford Hospital. The proposal would have cost Connecticut $475 million plus estimated annual labor subsidies of $13 million. The partnership was criticized for its price tag and for favoring Hartford Hospital over St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center and other, smaller hospitals. At a time of record state budget deficits, the proposal faced a contentious debate on its cost alone.
Certainly, keeping UConn's medical school viable and reputable, and offering hospital services in the Farmington Valley, requires our immediate attention. Without a solution, the health center's yearly deficits are expected to continue and the legislature will be called upon to rescue it for years to come.
As this debate was simmering, we began researching other alternatives in the event the partnership proposal failed. We believe that the time is right to explore another possible way to strengthen the UConn medical school and the John Dempsey Hospital, while helping many people in need of high-quality health care. We are encouraging the legislature's Public Health Committee to study and consider the viability of working with the VA.
The VA has been affiliated with various academic medical centers for 63 years. The Office of Legislative Research reports that "107 of the nation's 125 medical schools, including the UConn Health Center, have affiliation agreements with VA hospitals. These primarily involve medical students and residents training in VA facilities."
Specifically, some VA hospitals and academic medical centers have ventured into joint clinical programs and facilities. VA hospitals in South Carolina and Texas operate research facilities with state medical schools. The VA hospital in New Orleans and the Louisiana State University Medical Center of New Orleans have teamed up to construct adjacent facilities joined by a common building housing shared services.
Both hospitals were damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. As part of the joint endeavor, Congress approved $75 million for planning and designing the VA hospital, and an additional allocation of $550 million is being recommended for construction.
In 2006, the VA appointed a commission to identify ways to promote such affiliations. The commission's report is due by year's end.
There are several other examples of VA partnerships with medical centers. In Charleston, S.C., although a proposal to jointly build a shared hospital failed, a collaboration involving doctor training, shared faculty and a joint research facility have succeeded.
In 2003, the Texas A&M Health Sciences Center, the VA and a hospital affiliated with the college dedicated an $11.5 million cardiovascular research institute located on the VA campus. The VA paid for construction, the hospital contributed start-up funding, and the university pays faculty salaries.
With this history of VA collaborations in mind and with the VA's blue-ribbon commission about to report on opportunities for more joint ventures, we believe that Connecticut is well poised to take advantage of a VA and UConn health center partnership. The potential of VA funding and federal stimulus funds could significantly reduce the financial burden for the state's taxpayers. Using Connecticut's political clout in Washington, we believe that Connecticut could spearhead a national model of VA-state cooperation, which could create a combined hospital and state medical school of unparalleled quality.
A VA-Connecticut collaboration would allow the VA to construct a first-rate hospital that would benefit our state veterans without sending them to other medical centers throughout New England. Facing a period of increased world tensions, our veterans returning from war zones in Iraq, Afghanistan and other deployments deserve the very best medical care.
At the same time, the state has an opportunity to preserve the John Dempsey Hospital and maintain our highly regarded medical school. Such a merger would require more study, but it is sufficiently promising to pursue.
•Rep. David Baram, D-Bloomfield, represents the 15th Assembly District, which includes Bloomfield and Windsor. Rep. Timothy Larson, D- East Hartford, represents the 11th Assembly District, which includes East Hartford and South Windsor.
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