Despite claims the bill had been “rail-roaded” through the legislative process, the House gave final passage early Wednesday morning to a measure that approves more borrowing to renovate the University of Connecticut Health Center. It passed 97-45.
The plan, backed and heavily pushed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, adds about $254 million in bonding to the $362 million already approved by the legislature last year for expansion of John Dempsey Hospital on the University of Connecticut Health Center‘s Farmington campus. The remaining $203 million will be raised from private donations.
During the several hour debate, lawmakers tried to nail down some of the project’s details and get answers to questions they said they hadn’t yet had the opportunity to ask.
Rep. Steven Mikutel , D-Griswold, had memories of unsuccessful efforts like Adriaen’s Landing and the proposed New England Patriots stadium in mind as he said he would like to find a reason to support the health center renovations.
He said he has higher hopes for this proposal because of the industry it would affect.
“There’s something here about the bioscience field that is real. Because people want to live healthier lives they want to live longer lives. Bioscience offers the real hope of improving the human condition. So I don’t think it’s a pipe dream,” he said.
He said the state desperately needs to create jobs for its population of educated young people. He said many young people, like his daughters, have left the state after graduating college because of a lack of jobs.
“I’m trying to convince myself this proposal will give them a reason to come back,” he said.
Mikutel said he wasn’t sure whether he would be supporting the proposal.
Rep. Timothy LeGeyt, R-Canton, was also unsure whether he’d vote to pass the bill.
“Clearly bioscience could be the next moneymaker, bread winner for our state and I realize that infusion of capital needs to happen,” he said.
But he said he too had concerns over the proposal and how it has been handled. The measure has moved through the process at full speed, he said, leaving lawmakers uncomfortable being asked to pass a measure they haven’t had a chance to fully understand.
The project also shows a disconnect between the health center and the Hartford area and the other hospitals in the area, he said.
Rep. Jason Perillo, R-Shelton, said the cost of providing care at the medical center is much higher than the cost of care at nearby hospitals, he said.
He also questioned predictions that the project would generate 16,400 by 2037.
“That’s quite a prediction. I’m not sure bioscience is even going to be bioscience 26 years from now,” Perillo said.
Perillo questioned also a provision of the project that calls for the construction of a new tower at the hospital and additional hospital bed. He said studies have shown that more and more people aren’t staying in hospitals; those who do aren’t staying as long. He said he didn’t understand the logic of increasing the number of beds at a high cost in light of those studies.
Rep. Roberta Willis, D-Lakeville, Co-Chairwoman of the Higher Education Committee, said that a study commissioned by the legislature in 2007 recommended expanding the facility to make it financially stable. At that time the facility was 35 years out of date, now it’s closer to 45 years, she said.
“I’m not sure we need the new tower. I’m not sure we need this hospital at all, to be perfectly frank,” Perillo said, adding he wouldn’t be supporting the measure. “At best this is wishful thinking, at worst it is careless thinking.”
But Gov. Dannel P. Malloy who unveiled the proposal late in the legislative passage believes the project is necessary.
“This is about creating new jobs, sustained economic development, and staking out the ground that will again make Connecticut a leader in an emerging industry. In my opinion, it’s a win-win,” Malloy said in a statement after the vote. “More than that, it sends a clear message and plants a very firm flag in terms of Connecticut’s commitment to being a leader in the bioscience industry. The state’s flagship public university and its Health Center must be looked at as more than just a school or just a hospital – we need to view them as economic drivers and ways in which we can leverage our education system into long-term, sustained economic growth. I look forward to signing this bill into law and embarking upon this new project to help put people back to work.”