Would the Captain please return to the bridge immediately!

You certainly can’t say that Governor Malloy is preoccupied with the minutia of running the state of Connecticut.

In fact, it is probably more accurate to say that it appears that he finds the day-to-day administrative duties of serving as Connecticut’s Chief Executive Officer boring, annoying or, at the very least, a waste of his time.

Many observers and commentators have already noted that Malloy has spent more time out-of-state than any other governor in recent history.  His recent “West Coast” fundraising trip, the one that he won’t discuss, is just one more example.

It certainly seems accurate to say, except in the face of an immediate natural disaster or crisis when the television cameras are running, Governor Malloy is pretty disinterested in rolling up his sleeves and attending to the actual administrative duties of managing a $20 billion dollar enterprise.

That said, when it comes to attending ground breakings or handing out taxpayer funds he is a master.

One of the most serious examples of this “hands-off” approach can be seen at the State Department of Education where Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, has been allowed to systematically dismantle the professional capabilities of the agency.

While jobs go unfilled, key administrative functions go uncompleted.

And it when tasks must actually be performed, it seems the Malloy administration is more it is comfortable with out-sourcing the work to expensive, out-of-state consultants.

The impact of this approach can be easily seen with the State Department of Education’s Alliance District Program where at least eight communities ARE STILL WAITING for approval of their Year 2 Funding plans despite the fact that the fiscal year started 120 days ago and the school years is more than two months old.

The Malloy administration is quick to wrap itself in corporate education reform rhetoric but can’t seem to even review and approve the grants needed to implement its own corporate education reform program.  (Although it should be noted that checks are flowing for MassInsight, the out-of-state education reform consultants who were brought in to run the failing program).

Today we now hear about yet another example of the downside of having an Administration that is either unwilling or unable to handle the day-to-day responsibilities of running a complex organization like the government of the State of Connecticut.

A recent state audit provided a devastating assessment of the failures at the State Department of Public Health.

The situation is summarized in a press release that was sent out by the House Republicans entitled, “House Leader Cafero Blasts Health Department Over Audit Faulty Background Checks on Day Care Personnel, Missing Drugs, No Oversight.”

I use the House Republican’s verbiage, word for word, because it should send a shockwave through the entire Democratic Party and especially the Democrats who make up the Connecticut State Senate and Connecticut House of Representatives.

A consistent refrain here at Wait, What? has been to raise the question, what would “we Democrats” be saying if the table were turned and it was a Republican governor doing the things that  Malloy has been doing.

“We Democrats” would be calling that Governor out on those issues and demanding immediate action.

It may be painful for Democrats to hear, but Connecticut Democrats should paying far closer attention to press releases like this one.

The Connecticut House Republicans write:

“HARTFORD – House Republican Leader Larry Cafero today criticized the state Department of Health over an audit that shows holes in background check for daycare providers, missing drugs, lack of staff oversight and numerous other findings that raise questions over agency management.

“These troubling findings by the auditors raise serious questions about how this department is being run and whether it takes seriously its core mission to function as the State of Connecticut’s premier health agency,’’ Cafero said.  “These violations need to be addressed immediately.’’

One of the most troublesome cites concerned faults in background checks for child care facilities. The auditors called into question whether the department’s procedures may not turn up people not suited to working in the child care facilities due to lack of monitoring and follow-through in checking records.

“Child care providers and their employees may be operating without the required completed background checks. As a result, children in licensed child care facilities are at an increased risk of coming into contact with unsuitable individuals,’’ the report released today states.

The department agreed with the finding. The auditors came up with 17 recommendations that need to be addressed including:

  • DPH has not established a process to properly track prescription drug distribution and drugs, including those used to treat pain, have gone unaccounted for;
  • EMS providers have failed to submit required tracking and activity reports;
  • DPH should overhaul its contractor oversight procedures to ensure that the work is being performed and invoices are processed correctly;
  • Travel vouchers for employees have not been authenticated;
  • Compensation time for employees lacks oversight and questions arose over allowing employees to return to work following lengthy sick leaves.

Cafero said nine of the 17 citations are repeats of a previous audit and questioned why they had not been corrected.

“Some of these findings appear relatively benign but overall the picture being painted is a general lack of oversight on the part of management that needs to be fixed,’’ he said.”

In truth, the failure of leadership at the State Department of Education and the State Department of Health are the most visible parts of a much bigger iceberg.

Democrats need to take heed before it is too late to get the captain on to the bridge.

Do I need to stop the car and come back there?

Let’s just say it wasn’t one of Connecticut Legislature’s finest moments.

As two news stories today make pretty clear, a “he said/he said” situation has put $127 million in early childhood funding in jeopardy.

The CT Mirror’s article is entitled Childcare providers worry their money held hostage by politics, while CTNewsjunkie’ s story is called Did Early Childhood Bill Fall Victim To Sunday Bow Hunting?

Here’s the PROBLEM (as reported by CTMirror):    

“The state budget shifts $127 million in funding from various state agencies into a new Office of Early Childhood Education… But the office was never statutorily created because the bill that did so was never approved by the state House of Representatives or Senate.”

According to the CT Mirror, “Early childcare providers are concerned the money they currently receive from the state to care for thousands of children is going to stop flowing in three weeks –- because the state budget legislators approved transfers money to an office that doesn’t exist.”

The article goes on to report, “And officials at the State Department of Education are just as perplexed…’We are trying to figure out what it means,’ Brian Mahoney, the agency’s budget chief, said during an interview Thursday.”

Now that is a problem.

So what happened?

The President Pro Tempore of the Connecticut State Senate, Democrat Donald E. Williams Jr. explained that the Republicans held the early childhood bill “hostage” in order to force the State Senate to approve a bill allowing the bow hunting of deer on Sundays.

As William’s explained, “It was reported to me Republicans were holding it hostage for a completely unrelated and obscure issue: Sunday hunting,”

The Republican Leader of the Connecticut House of Representatives, Lawrence Cafero Jr., told the CT Mirror, “I wasn’t going to stop the early childhood bill…To fingerpoint to my side is an absolute joke.”

Meanwhile, CTNewsjunkie wrote, “Cafero claimed that, ‘you can’t boil the issue down to one bill or another. He said the Democrats wasted time on the last day by trying to sneak language into a bill that moved up the date of when undocumented immigrants could apply for their driver’s licenses. That language was eventually removed, but in the meantime Republicans slowed down debate on the floor…”

But have no fear, Malloy and legislators are already thinking about how to proceed.  As the CTNewsjunkie explained, “Williams said they are currently exploring their options and determining whether they can use an executive order and appropriate the funds through one of the existing state agencies. There’s also the option of returning for a special session, or if Malloy vetoes any legislation, a veto session. But Williams said that would be a last resort.”

Good to know that our elected officials can handle the stresses associated with the last few days of the legislative session.

Here are links to the two articles: http://www.ctmirror.org/story/childcare-providers-worry-their-money-held-hostage-politics and http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/did_early_childhood_bill_fall_victim_to_sunday_bow_hunting/

Now that’s funny: “Malloy Signs Bill Shifting Power to Pick Regents Chief From His Office To Board”

AKA:  The ongoing saga known as the Connecticut Board of Regents

Earlier this month, at the request of Governor Malloy’s Chief of Staff, the Chairman of the Board of Regents informed that Board that it would be sending the Governor the names of the three finalists.  In that way, the Governor and not the Board would be selecting the next president of the Board of Regents.

Wait, What? readers may recall the two posts entitled “News Flash: What the Hell is going on…Malloy snubs nose at Connecticut law” and “Whoa there…Let’s try telling the truth…

As the CTMirror reported at the time, the Chairman of the Board of Regent explained that the Board forwarded three names for Governor Malloy to pick from following “a request from the governor’s chief of staff to do so.”  The news story quoted Board of Regents Chairman Lewis Robinson as saying, “Which ever one he chooses, we have a fine leader…I think all three are outstanding. I am excited.”

All this despite the fact that the letter and spirit of the law was stunningly clear.  The Board of Regents was to conduct interviews, select a candidate and the Governor would technically make the appointment.  In that way, the selection process would be done at arm’s-length from the politics of the Capitol.

But alas, despite that clear intent of the law, Governor Malloy and his staff couldn’t help themselves.  They wanted to determine which of the three finalists were most likely to recognize their supreme authority.

In response to all of this, the Connecticut General Assembly acted with amazing courage and speed and actually fast-tracked legislation “clarifying” the law by taking away Governor Malloy’s authority to even make the appointment.  The new bill put the duty to appoint in the hands of the Board of Regents, tracking the approach that exists with the University of Connecticut’s Board of Trustees.

When the dust settled, there was no bill signing on this one.  No smiling faces crowded around the Governor waiting for their copy of the pen that signed the legislation into law.

Instead, as the Hartford Courant noted in their story, “According to a statement from the governor’s office, Malloy ‘signed legislation he proposed in collaboration with state lawmakers’ and said ‘the change will help the next leader institute a long-term vision that increases stability and academic growth for the students at the state’s colleges and universities.’”

Malloy’s statement went on to read, “’I want to thank the members of the House and the Senate, including the chairs of the Higher Education Committee, for working with my administration on introducing this bill and acting quickly on its passage,’ Malloy said, according to the statement.”

So there you go — it turns out that it was all one big misunderstanding and Governor Malloy was actually the one who wanted the new law that made it clear that it was the Board’s responsibility and not his to make the appointment of the next president of the CSU and Community Colleges system.

Thank goodness that was clarified before the governor was forced to personally choose the next president.

You can read more about this story in the follow CTMirror article: http://ctmirror.org/story/19758/after-controversies-general-assembly-votes-remove-governors-authority-naming-college-pre

The most important week so far in Connecticut’s “Year of Education Reform”

This week, the Connecticut Legislature will be holding hearings on Governor Malloy’s “Education Reform” proposals.

Connecticut is engaged in the wrong debate, at the wrong time and in the wrong way.  Requiring that college students have higher grade point averages in order to become teachers, eliminating teacher tenure and linking a teacher’s evaluation and their job status to statistical changes in Connecticut’s standardized tests is not Education Reform – nor are the expanding efforts to “privatize” our Constitutionally mandated public education system.

What it is – is moving the chairs around on the deck of the Titanic while blaming and demonizing teachers and the teaching profession.

It is counter-productive and it is wrong.

The elements of reform are not difficult to understand or even to design, develop and implement.  The answer is actually relatively simple.

Continue reading “The most important week so far in Connecticut’s “Year of Education Reform””

When Will Consumers Learn – It’s not all about them!

Today’s leading Wait. What? story comes via CTNewsjunkie who cover the news that despite repeated requests from Connecticut healthcare advocates to make sure consumers are represented on the new and
powerful Health Insurance Exchange Board, neither the Governor nor legislative leaders saw fit to appoint even one consumer representative on the new 14 member board.

As required by federal health care reform (aka the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or ObamaCare) each state must set up a Health Insurance Exchange Board to coordinate the development of that state’s healthcare exchanges which are the mechanism to expand access to health care insurance starting in 2014.

As CTNewsjunkie explained “All of the 14 individuals are either members of Malloy’s administration, former insurance company executives, or individuals with political connections, none, aside from the non-voting state Healthcare Advocate, are consumer advocates.”

The fact that Connecticut’s elected officials included insurance industry executives but failed to put on a single voting healthcare advocate is particularly bizarre since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act expressly requires consumer representation and prohibits the appointment of exchange members who are affiliated with the insurance industry.

Governor Malloy had two appointments to the new exchange board and put on Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and Mary Fox (a retired Aetna executive).

Democratic Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams appointed Cece Woods, the former Deputy Chief of Staff and Research Director for the Senate Democrats.

Democratic Speaker of the House Chris Donovan appointed Bob Tessier, a former union organizer for SEIU-1199 and presently the director of the Connecticut Coalition of Taft-Hartley Funds which oversees health funds for unionized workers.

Senate Democratic Majority Leader Martin Looney appointed Dr. Robert Scalettar, who recently retired as medial director for Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield and House Democratic Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey appointed Dr. Grant Ritter (an academic healthcare researcher who is also the spouse of State
Representative Betsy Ritter).

Republican Senate Leader John McKinney appointed Mickey Herbert, the retired president and CEO of ConnectiCare and Republican House Leader Larry Cafero appointed Michael Devine, CEO of Earth Energy Alliance (Perhaps Cafero thought it was the Energy Exchange Board he was making the appointment to and not the group responsible for developing a major piece of Connecticut’s healthcare reform effort).

Automatic members of the new board are Ben Barnes (OPM). Jewell Mullen (Commissioner of Public Health), Roderick Bremby (Commissioner of Social Services).

Non-voting members include Thomas Leonardi (Commissioner of Insurance), Vicky Veltri (Healthcare Advocate) and Jeannette DeJesus (Deputy Commissioner of Public Health and Malloy’s Healthcare reform Advisor).

While healthcare advocates expressed shock, anger and frustration the best quotes (or non-quotes) of the day came from those who made the appointments.

Jeannette DeJesus, Malloy’s point person on healthcare reform defended the governor saying that “he filled his positions based on the legislative requirements…He stuck to the letter of the law.”

In addition, according to the legislation, “McKinney was supposed to appoint an expert in health care access issues faced by self-employed individuals, and Cafero was to appoint an expert in barriers to individual health care coverage. Donovan was responsible for appointing a health care benefits plan administrations expert, while Looney was to appoint an expert in health care delivery systems. Sharkey was to appoint a health care economics expert and Williams was to appoint a health care finance expert.”

But when CTNewsjunkie looked for an explanation of how appointments could have been made that were so different from what was required “neither lawmakers or the administration were willing to comment.”

Meanwhile, one of Connecticut’s leading consumer healthcare advocates, Jennifer Jaff,  was quoted as saying “I am appalled that nobody thought to appoint someone who would represent consumers’ interests, especially in light of the express language in the federal regulations” adding that it is “Another example of Connecticut consumers getting the shaft when it comes to health insurance issues.”

Well said Jennifer.

Just The Facts Please: Connecticut’s Budget Crisis as of Monday Morning June 27th

(Cross-posted from Pelto’s Point at the New Haven Advocate)

“You don’t lead by hitting people over the head – that’s  assault, not leadership. ”  – Dwight D. Eisenhower

The Monday Morning Update:

Governor Malloy continues to say he will lay off 7,500 state employees starting this week.

Malloy has ruled out any discussions about modifying the Malloy/SEBAC agreement to get the necessary support to pass it

Asked about solutions such as a re-vote or other attempt to work with the unions,  Malloy’s response was “Not my job…We’re going full steam ahead. … I don’t have the liberty of time.”

What Malloy has proposed is that the Democratically controlled General Assembly give him the authority to cut up to 10% of the state budget (including municipal aid) without legislative approval.  A Governor presently only has the authority to cut up to 5% of any line item and certain expenditures such as municipal aid can not be cut unilaterally.

The General Assembly will meet in special session on Thursday to consider Malloy’s request (demand).

The Governor continues to claim that the budget is $1.6 billion out of balance due to the rejection of the SEBAC Agreement.  Actually a majority of state employees voted for the SEBAC agreement but adoption required a special super majority and that number was not met.

Meanwhile, as to the $1.6 billion figure remember that the legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis said it could only confirm 40 percent of the projected savings from the Malloy/SEBAC agreement.

The issue becomes more complicated because Malloy and the Democrats have built a surplus into the bi-annual budget – in fact – Connecticut  could end the coming year with a surplus in the hundreds of millions.

According to Keith Phaneuf of CTMirror.org, in addition to the $150 million projected surpluses that is already built into the budget, tax revenues are running significantly higher than expected and that will mean the surplus for both FY12 and FY13 will be growing.  Finally, certain line items, such as the account to pay health care premiums for retirees are artificially high and when those funds aren’t spent the budget surplus will grow even larger.

However, the problem with using the surplus is that counting the purported $1.6 billion savings from the SEBAC agreement, the budget that was approved by the Democrats and signed into law by Governor Malloy is $1 million below the State Spending Cap in FY12 and $278 million
below in FY13.

So Malloy will argue that he won’t use the surplus to balance the state budget because he pledged not to exceed the spending cap and that even if he wanted to, the legislature would have to vote to exceed the spending cap which would require a 60% super majority.  That would mean the Democrats would have to come up with at least 22 votes in the State Senate and 91 votes in the State House of Representatives.

Although the state of Connecticut regularly exceeded the spending cap under Governors Rowland and Rell, Malloy called that process a gimmick during his campaign for governor.  (Apparently saying the SEBAC agreement would have saved $1.6 billion when it would have really saved about half that amount is not counted as a gimmick).

As the day and week progresses, the main thing to watch is whether Legislative Democrats will grant Malloy the super-authority that he is seeking to cut the state budget or whether they will require him to proposed a $1.6 billion dollar plan to cut the budget which they would then have to adopt, reject or modify.

Malloy to Legislature: Give me the power, go home and I’ll take care of everything.

Cross-posted from Pelto’s Point at the New Haven Advocate)

“Gov. Dannel P. Malloy made it clear Friday that he wants the legislature to give him the authority to cut $1.6 billion from the two-year, $40.11 billion state budget.”  – CT Newsjunkie 6-24-2011

Yes – Connecticut state government is facing a crisis and action is needed.

Democrats adopted a new state budget before the Malloy/SEBAC agreement was voted on.  The concession package failed and now there is a problem.

Whether you agree or disagree with the results of the state employee’s vote on the concession package, it is now painfully clear that the budget that was adopted does not balance.

The fact is, the Legislative vote on the proposed state budget back in February was probably illegal (For that issue, read my Wait, What? post of 4/26 Democrats: An illegal budget vote or a vote for lay-offs and massive budget cuts).

But regardless, vote they did and their vote relied on the concession package passing.

Now, with a budget that does not balance the Governor and Legislature must return to the task of adopting a budget that does.

Despite the rhetoric from the Governor’s Office, the state of Connecticut actually have a wide range of options, but Governor Malloy wants to short-circuit those and is now asking the Legislature to give him the unprecedented and unique authority to cut the budget by $1.6 billion without any legislative approval.

To put the matter into perspective, the situation pits two completely opposing viewpoints.

Let us turn to Thomas Jefferson and Former Secretary of the State Al Haig and allow them to explain the two approaches.

First Mr. Jefferson:

“If the three powers maintain their mutual independence on each other our Government may last long, but not so if either can assume the authorities of the others.” – Thomas Jefferson

Now, Mr. Haig;

“As of now, I am in control here”  – Al Haig

Back on January 31, 2011, my column was about a story Brian Lockhart of the Stamford Advocate wrote concerning Proposed Bill No. 187 – An
Act Granting Power to the Governor to Balance the Budget .

The legislation was sponsored by four moderate Democratic state senators and sought to give the Governor more “budget authority” by allowing him to cut up to 10% of the approved state budget without legislative approval.  (The present law allows the Governor to cut up to 5%, except that it prohibits him from unilaterally cutting certain budget expenditures such as municipal aid).

At the time, Governor Malloy was quoted as saying that this legislation was not needed and I found myself applauding Malloy’s commitment to the appropriate separation of powers.

Then, two weeks later, the Malloy Administration actually proposed the same concept (go figure) but the Connecticut General Assembly wisely decided not to adopt his proposal.

Now, as the state faces some tough choices – that range from modifying the concession agreement so it will pass to laying of 7,500 state employees and destroying the safety net, the Governor is, once again, telling the legislature to give him extraordinary powers so that he – and he alone – can make cuts without legislative oversight or approval.

To grant any Governor that power would be wrong.

Some would say the issue is that Malloy was only elected with 49% of the vote and the 187 legislators were elected by true majorities.

However, that is not the reason to follow the law and require the Governor to propose a plan to the Legislature and require the General Assembly to approve, reject or modify that plan.

The reason that Governor Malloy’s plan is a bad one is that we have three distinct branches of government for a reason,  No executive – Democratic or Republican – should be given powers that rightfully belong to the Legislative Branch of Government.   The system of checks and balances is one of – if not the – most important element of a true representative democracy.

Malloy’s request is not only a bad one – it is a horrific proposal – and every single legislator (Democrat or Republican) should remember their solemn oath to the Constitution and their constituents.

Legislators have a job to do and now is the time they must do it.

Yet Again – Connecticut Is Working Toward Its New Motto: Penny Wise and Pound Foolish

Arielle Levin Becker of the CTMirror had a “must read” story last Friday about the end of the State Medical Assistance Program for Noncitizens.

As she reports, two years ago the Connecticut State Legislature eliminated the program that provides health care coverage for newer non-citizen state residents who are over age of 21.

A subsequent lawsuit led to a court order stopping the State from implementing the new law but earlier this year the State Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s ruling and Connecticut’s Department of Social Services is now ending health care coverage for almost 5,000 Connecticut residents.

You can almost hear some people saying “That will teach those non-citizens a lesson.”

But before people breakout the champagne, remember that ending basic low-cost health insurance for 5,000 people will lead to two things.  First, since emergency rooms must legally treat anyone who walks in, some of these newly uninsured will end up going to emergency rooms where what would be a $25 clinic visit becomes a $500 ER visit.  Secondly, since many of these people will end up postponing treatment, some will not only end up in the emergency room but will then have to be admitted meaning thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars in additional costs.

So, as a result of the state’s uncompensated care payments to hospitals and the cost shift that takes place for non-state compensated care, proposals like these often cost society as much, if not more, than it would have if the government simply allowed people to get the community based clinic care they need.

The Malloy Administration points out that anyone losing their health care insurance can attempt to get coverage under the Charter Oak Health Plan, which former Governor Rell championed, but the premiums as so high that it is hard to believe that many of these 5,000 people will be able to get coverage.

And to those who say, “Hey, times are tough, budget cuts are needed, we simply can’t afford to spend money on  providing some type of health care to non-documented immigrants (aka non-citizen state residents) and Connecticut is not alone in cutting off care for these types of people, well, it is true that Massachusetts is now looking to follow Connecticut’s lead on this issue, but Vermont went in exactly the other direction and included non-citizen residents in their landmark health care reform law because they were convinced that not only was it the right thing to do but it was the economically correct thing to do as well.

But here in Connecticut, where pennywise and pound foolish is becoming the norm, we can feel like we really showed those immigrants a thing or two, even if we end up having to pay more for our vengeance.

No Time for Facts – Legislature gives final approval to Malloy’s Health Center Plan

“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.” (CT Newsjunkie)

Another billion dollars… including a bizarre $203 million dollar special deal in which a private entity will build a new surgery center for UConn on state land and then UConn will be forced to lease the building…even though UConn already has a surgery center…even if UConn determines that another major surgery center is not economically feasible.  (Connecticut already has 143 surgery centers in the state).

At least Mark Twain said  “Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please”

But let’s face it… it takes time and effort to get the facts.

And who has the time for that?

You can read more about the debate on the Health Center bill, but – “Spoiler alert” – you won’t find any facts about how the project will really work.

Oh and in case you were wondering, no one raised the question about who is this bill for?  (Someone or some organization is going to make a whole lot of money on this one).

But at least Hartford areas hospitals will get $30 million in extra state funds – the price needed to buy them off and keep them quiet on the legislation.

As part of this project, $30 million of this money would be diverted to the UConn Health Network Initiatives to be used in part for (1) A simulation and conference center on the Hartford Hospital campus that uses new technologies and simulated care settings to educate and train healthcare professionals; (2) A Connecticut Institute for Primary Care at the Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center; (3) A new cancer treatment center to be built at the Hospital of Central Connecticut in New Britain and (4) Patient room renovations at Bristol Hospital.

Read more at:

CT Newsjunkie:  UConn Health Center Expansion Receives Final Passage:   http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/uconn_health_center_expansion_receives_final_passage/

CT Mirror:  Malloy’s UConn Health Center gets final approval on the fast track:  http://ctmirror.org/story/12865/malloy-uconn-health-center-house-vote

Hartford Courant:  House Approves UConn Health Center Expansion:   http://www.courant.com/news/politics/hc-uconn-health-center-house-0608-20110607,0,7414602.story

The rush to pass Malloy’s UConn Health Center and Bio-Science Initiative… Who’s Zooming who?

(Cross-posted from Pelto’s Point at the New Haven Advocate)


A new surgery center for UConn…when they already have one… ?

So who is it that is going to make a lot of money on Malloy’s Health Center Plan?

For the last two weeks, legislators have been complaining about the Malloy Administration’s demand that they adopt the Governor’s UConn Health Center Initiative without having the time to actually review and investigate the proposal.  When it went before the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee legislators were required to vote even before the legislature’s own Office of Fiscal Analysis could prepare a memo on the project’s fiscal impact.

Nonetheless, the State Senate has passed SB1152, Malloy’s $864 million mega proposal, pretty much along party lines and the House will follow suit in the next fifty eight hours (before the legislative sessions ends).

Senate passage came only 15 days after Governor Malloy released his plan to renovate and expand the University of Connecticut Health Center while turning Connecticut into one of America’s premier Bio-Science research centers.

According to Malloy, the project would create 3,000 construction jobs annually from 2012 through 2018 and 16,400 full time jobs once the project is complete, which in turn will generate a $4.6 billion increase in personal income by 2037.

While some legislators and others have raised concerns or at least questions about the project, proponents have sung its praises.

A Hartford Courant editorial called it a “bold stroke, one designed to carve out a bigger share of the growing bioscience business for Connecticut while stabilizing the University of Connecticut Health Center’s finances.”   Other newspapers have taken a similar approach.  The New Britain Herald, for example said “We like Malloy’s plan because of its broader vision.”

On the other hand, editorials in both the Journal Inquirer and New Haven Register have identified major problems with the plan and columnist Kevin Rennie had a must read column in Sunday’s Hartford Courant (link below)

Malloy’s nearly $1 billion initiative would be paid for with $254 million in new state bonding, which would come on top of the $338 million in bonding that the Legislature approved last year for the UConn Health Center.

UConn would be required to come up with an additional $69 million on its own and the final $203 million would come from a new, privately owned surgery center to be built at the Health Center.  UConn would be required to sign a long-term lease with the private entity thereby assuring them of the revenue stream to pay back their investment.

As part of this project, $30 million of this money would be diverted to the UConn Health Network Initiatives.  These dollars would be used to help protect other area hospitals from any competition that might develop from the enhancement of the UConn Health Center.

These taxpayer funds will be used in part for (1) A simulation and conference center on the Hartford Hospital campus that uses new technologies and simulated care settings to educate and train healthcare professionals; (2) A Connecticut Institute for Primary Care at the Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center; (3) A new cancer treatment center to be built at the Hospital of Central Connecticut in New Britain and (4) Patient room renovations at Bristol Hospital.

But that $30 million is “chump change” compared to the state funds that will flow to the private entity that is building the new ambulatory/surgery center.

The legislation requires the University of Connecticut to construct a “new ambulatory care center through debt or equity financing obtained from one or more private developers who contract with UConn to build the center.”

Let’s face it.  Someone out there is going to be making a lot of money on this deal.

The only question is who?

In return for putting up $203 million for a new building in Farmington, the private developer will have the ultimate tenant, the state of Connecticut, for life.

The law REQUIRES UConn to lease the building from the private developer (contract details to be worked out at a later date).

Even if the UConn Health Center decides it doesn’t want or need the space UConn will be on the hook.

Even if market factors beyond UConn’s control make a surgery center unprofitable, UConn will be on the hook.

And that means Connecticut taxpayers will be responsible for paying the private developer no matter what.

Talk about removing the risk from a private investment.

A public-private partnership where all the risk is carried by the public.

And to make the situation even more suspicious, the legislation is moving so quickly that legislators didn’t have the time to examine whether a new surgery center is really needed considering Connecticut already has 143 surgery centers including many in the Hartford area.

And more even more incredible is that legislators are voting on this plan without being aware that the UConn Health Center already has a surgery center that was created through a public-private joint venture back in 2002.

According to their own website “The Medical Arts and Research Building (MARB), which opened in 2005, added to the campus a four-story, 103,663 square-foot, facility… It is also home to the Farmington Surgery Center, a multispecialty outpatient surgery center.”

Back in 2002, the University of Connecticut Health Center applied and received permission from the Connecticut Office of Health Care Access to create the Farmington Surgery Center.

The Health Center and Health Resources International (HRI), a private surgery center company joined together to create the Farmington Surgery Center, LLC.  As part of their application to the state the partners committed $5.6 million to create the new surgery center.

While the Office of Health Care Access eventually approved the creation of the Farmington Surgery Center it blasted the applicants saying “The concept of a free-standing ambulatory surgery center is a sensible solution to JDH’s [John Dempsey Hospital’s] need for additional space and equipment in its surgical suite. However, none of the information related to control by the UCHCFC, [UConn Health Center Finance Corporation]  the impact on JDH, the continuity of care, the financial feasibility of the project itself had been developed. At the time of the application’s submission, critical agreements between the Applicants had not yet been executed. While the late file submissions have alleviated some of OHCA’s concerns, OHCA should not have needed to conduct 4 hearings and accept numerous late file submissions to have adequate information”.

Connecticut’s Office of Health Care Access went on to rule “the Certificate of Need application of the University of Connecticut Health Center Finance Corporation, on behalf of the John Dempsey Hospital, and Health Resources International, LLC, d/b/a Farmington Surgery Center, LLC is hereby approved with conditions.”

But just four years later, in 2006, the UConn Health Center went back to the Office of Health Care Access for permission to change the ownership structure of the Farmington Surgery Center.

Apparently, as a result of financial and operational problems, UConn moved to “consolidate its ownership of the Farmington Surgery Center (“FSC”) at a total capital expenditure of $1,892,500.”

At the time, just over 25% of the Farmington Surgery Center was owned by Health Resources International (HRI) and three physician groups.   UConn’s explanation about their decision to purchase back control of their surgery center was that it would allow the surgery center to “operate under the hospital’s acute care hospital license; bill third-party payers at a more favorable provider-based rates; and reduce the professional liability expenses and exposure as a result of the facility being covered under JDH’s self-insured medical malpractice plan.”

It turned out that UConn didn’t actually need state agency approval for this change so after paying out the $1.8 million, the UConn Health Center became the sole owner of the Farmington Surgery Center.

And now here we are 5 years later, as a result of Governor Malloy’s initiative UConn will be legally required to contract with yet another private entity to expand its surgery center but this time, instead of a $6 million public-private investment, it is a $203 million dollar private deal.

While legislators race to put Malloy’s Health Center plan into law, the question remains…

Someone is going to make a lot of money on this deal…

So who is this project for?

For more on Malloy’s initiative take Kevin Rennie’s piece in the Courant – UConn Health Center More Rash Than Bold