Rell pitches $352 million plan to rebuild UConn Health Center

FARMINGTON — Gov. M. Jodi Rell and a coalition of regional hospitals announced today they are backing a $236 million investment in a new hospital at the financially troubled University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington.

Key to the plan is a new healthcare network involving former critics of efforts to rebuild the state’s flagship medical and dental school, including Hartford Hospital, St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center and Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.

The new hospital would be the largest piece of a $352 million plan that also would include $96 million for renovations to academic and research facilities and $20 million for additional development at UConn and other network partners.

Rell and hospital officials pitched the plan as an engine for economic development, saying it would create more than 5,000 new jobs and allow for larger class sizes at UConn’s medical and dental schools.

“Together, we will help lift the UConn schools of medicine into the top tier of academics and research and create thousands of healthcare jobs for our economy,” Rell said.

But the plan’s success relies on the ability of two politicians not seeking re-election, Rell and U.S. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, to wrangle state and federal dollars as the clock is running out on their public careers.

It depends on $100 million in federal funds that is now part of a Senate health-care reform bill, whose passage is hardly guaranteed, and the ability of Rell and legislators to redirect state bonding dollars into the project.

Other funding would come from $227 million in state bonding and $25 million for design and planning from the already approved UConn

The plan would create a new hospital tower of at least 230 beds on the Farmington campus and connect the Hartford region’s major hospitals, including the Hospital of Central Connecticut in New Britain.

The network would seek designation by the National Institutes of Health of UConn as comprehensive cancer center, which would expand opportunities for the university to seek research funding and conduct clinical trials.

The region’s neonatal intensive care unit would remain at Farmington, but operations would be transferred to the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center as part of a regional children’s health system.

Hartford Hospital would host a regional simulation center that would allow training for up to 2,000 medical professionals annually. St. Francis would host a regional primary care institute.

House Majority Leader Denise W. Merrill, D-Mansfield, whose district includes the main UConn campus in Storrs, said she would seek legislative support to redirect existing bond funding to the project.

“It’ll be a challenge,” she said. “There are 187 people you have to convince.”

Some will have to be convinced that their own pet projects should wait while the state designates the new UConn Health Network as the state’s major economic-development goal in an era of tight money, she said.