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House Bill to Create Healthcare Jobs in Connecticut

Posted on May 2, 2010

The House of Representatives have approved a plan to bail out the financially troubled University of Connecticut Healthcare Center, a bill that could potentially create or save hundreds of healthcare jobs in Connecticut (click here).

The new plan could improve the center’s 35-year-old John Dempsey Hospital.

According to the Hartford Courant.com, after three hours of debate that ended shortly before 9 p.m., the House voted 109-34 for the measure. There was bipartisan support, though some Republicans and fiscally conservative Democrats voted against the plan after questioning whether an expensive new patient tower is needed at the hospital campus in Farmington.

The bill now moves to the Senate, which could take it up as early as Monday.

The money-losing health center has been bailed out multiple times by the legislature since 2000 because it could not meet its financial obligations without a state infusion of cash near the end of the fiscal year.

In addition to changes at Dempsey, the multi-pronged plan includes creation of a simulation center at Hartford Hospital; a primary care institute at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford; a center for health disparities; a state-created network that will involve area hospitals regarding cancer care; and improvements at the Hospital of Central Connecticut.

The overall number of licensed beds at Dempsey would rise from 230 to 234, lawmakers said.

“This proposal will provide needed renovation and expansion” of the health center, said Rep. Roberta Willis, co-chairwoman of the higher education committee. She called the improvements “long overdue.”

The idea is contingent on $237 million in state bonding and $100 million in federal funding that was secured by U.S. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd. But an estimated 13 states can compete for the federal money, which is not guaranteed to Connecticut.

“The intent here is if the $100 million did not come through, that the University of Connecticut would have the ability to try to go out and raise the money, and they need to accomplish that by 2015 or the project here would cease … if the grant doesn’t come through,” Willis said.

Besides the Dempsey hospital, the health center includes UConn’s medical and dental schools and its graduate research program.

UConn projects that the overall program would create 6,800 new jobs by 2030 and 7,400 new jobs by 2040 by attracting researchers and entrepreneurs at new start-up businesses in the bio-science field.

But some Republicans were skeptical. Senate Republican leader John McKinney of Fairfield said the improvements were too expensive as the state faces its worst fiscal crisis in decades.

“It’s $237 million of new bonding at a time when we can least afford it,” McKinney said Saturday.

A key part of the plan involves creating bio-science enterprise zones around the hospitals to attract researchers.

“I don’t quite understand how UConn is going to be able to differentiate itself from Yale,” said Rep. Jason Perillo, a Shelton Republican. “Why can’t we do it without the creation of another bed tower?”

“Because the [existing] building will not support it,” Willis said. “You can only push this out so long and the day of reckoning is going to come. … The hospital, the way it was designed 35 years ago, was not built to handle these changes.”

Prillo said: “I don’t understand why we need to spend this money to create another tower. … I think we’re just throwing money at a problem.”

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