(Updated 5 p.m.) Previous attempts have failed, but Gov. M. Jodi Rell and University of Connecticut President Michael Hogan are hoping their latest attempt to increase the size of John Dempsey Hospital in Farmington will succeed.
The new hospital and expanded partnership with five area hospitals boasts increased classroom and lab space for both medical and dental students and a new state-of-the-art cancer center. It’s estimated to cost $352 million and create 5,000 new jobs.
“This is a much lower state price tag than the $450 million original projection, with a far more robust network and partnership and far greater job and economic development opportunities,” Rell said Tuesday.
Previous plans included only a partnership with Hartford Hospital. The new plan includes a partnership between Hartford Hospital, Saint Francis Hospital, Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, Hospital of Central Connecticut, and Bristol Hospital.
“This points to the happy conclusion of more than two years of hard work and complicated negotiations on an important and challenging issue,” Hogan said Tuesday.
The new hospital will be paid for with $100 million in federal funds, $25 million from already approved UConn 21st Century funding; and $227 million in state bonding.
“This pathway promises to solve the chronic budgetary challenges at the UConn Health Center and establish, for the first time in years, a stable fiscal foundation,” Hogan said.
But skeptics of the hospital expansion, including some lawmakers aren’t completely sold yet on the new plan, which was unveiled for the first time Tuesday.
Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, questioned the state’s ability to obtain the $100 million in federal funds through a competitive grant that U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd slipped into the health care reform bill passed on Christmas Eve. That bill has since been partially scrapped by Congress and it’s unclear if any of that money would be available in the latest version, which is still being negotiated.
“I don’t think it’s wise of us to propose a solution contingent upon getting $100 million in federal funds through the health care bill,” McKinney said in a phone interview Tuesday. “It just doesn’t seem realistic.”
He wondered what will happen if the $100 million in federal funds doesn’t come to fruition.
Rell’s office said the project is contingent on federal funds. “She has made that clear publicly and privately and in fact called Senator Dodd this morning before the announcement to fill him in on the plans,” a spokesman said.
“Connecticut is one of several states that would be eligible for a hospital construction grant that Senator Dodd included as part of the Senate health care bill. And, he will continue to work to retain that funding in the final version of the health care bill.” Dodd’s spokesman Bryan DeAngelis said Tuesday evening.
House Speaker Chris Donovan sent out a statement Tuesday saying there are “many good aspects to the Governor’s proposal.” He said it’s one more reason for Congress to get health care reform passed.
“Clearly, as the project is predicated on receipt of $100 million from the federal government, it is imperative that President Obama’s health care reform package that includes Senator Dodd’s provision for those funds gets passed by the Congress,” Donovan said.
Senate President Donald Williams echoed Donovan’s remarks saying, “This gives us another reason in Connecticut to support President Obama’s health care plan because it includes $100 million that the governor is relying on to help fund her proposal.”
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said he has concerns and questions about the proposal. But perhaps the most perplexing thing about it, is its reliance on passage of the federal health care reform bill.
Does that mean Rell is suddenly for President Obama’s health care bill, which would in turn trigger the state’s new public option under the SustiNet plan? Cafero said since Rell vetoed the SustiNet plan he would assume she’s against it, but was confused by her advocacy of the $100 million in the federal package.
And reauthorizing previously approved bond projects to come up with the $227 million will be no easy task, Cafero warned in a phone interview Tuesday.
As for the state bonding, McKinney said he’s okay with it as long as the state cancels other bonding projects. He said the state should continue looking at the UConn 21st Century funds for completion of the project.
Rell’s office said state bonding will need to be canceled to pursue this project and will work with the legislature in identifying previously approved bonding projects for this exact purpose.
An informational meeting on the new hospital proposal will be held 11 a.m. Thursday in Room 2E of the Legislative Office Building.