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October 2, 2013

Managing Through Tough Times

My aim has always been to be completely transparent in relating the state of our Health Center. The past year has taught me that we are a Health Center with remarkable capabilities and talent. However, we are not immune from challenges faced by health centers across the country. Like it or not, our financial health is a major driver of our ability to meet our goals of excellence in research, education and clinical care.

As many of you know, funding and reimbursement for health centers nationally has been challenging at all levels. Clinical reimbursements have declined, competition for philanthropic dollars is fierce as tough economic times continue, and research funding is at historic lows, even before the federal sequestration.

Our Health Center is not exempt from these national trends. For us, the next two years will be particularly challenging. I want you to know that I am taking the responsibility to shepherd the Health Center through these difficult financial times seriously.

Our Health Center is fortunate to receive state operating and capital support annually. We are grateful to the Governor and General Assembly for their investment in our mission. To maintain a forward trajectory and fully realize the vision championed by Governor Malloy and supported by the General Assembly through the creation of Bioscience Connecticut, we must improve our financial performance. To achieve this, we have developed a three-pronged approach that, with your help, will get us to where we want to be and where we must be: the New UConn Health Center.

Part One — Building our Business: Build our clinical volumes through targeted growth and improvements in health care delivery. Such growth will not only improve our bottom line, but will support our academic missions of research and teaching—as we better cover our fixed costs, we can reinvest in ourselves. We cannot simply save money—we must attract patients here and keep them here by great service and top-notch quality care. For example, we must answer our referring physician and patient calls quickly, with as little waiting time as possible. I have already announced that Joseph Spallina, the new Vice President of Strategy and Business Development, will lead our efforts directed at improving clinical volumes. Joe started September 4, and we look forward to his efforts in this critical initiative for the Health Center.

Part Two — Optimizing Revenue: Improve performance in all operating units of the Health Center. Through the work of dedicated staff, this Health Center has already realized cost reductions and revenue enhancements over the past decade. This effort will afford us the opportunity to push the bar even higher. We will look hard at our costs in clinical care, education and research. For example, do we bill and collect for clinical services effectively? Are we purchasing supplies in the most cost effective ways? These and other questions are the kind we must ask and answer in the coming months. To improve performance, we will adopt a strategy that has been remarkably successful at many major academic medical centers. We have contracted with an outside performance improvement firm, Berkeley Research Group (BRG), who will put a team on the ground to work closely with all of our faculty and staff in finding and implementing efficiencies throughout the Health Center. The work begins this month. These are not consultants who come and give advice. Instead, they are implementers who will join with us over the coming year to maximize our performance. They will work collaboratively with us to assess challenges and implement solutions. Employee input, direction and expertise will make this engagement successful.

Part Three — Telling our Story: Through new communications strategies, we must let our patients and our referring physicians know about the extraordinary improvements that are happening at the Health Center. They must be reminded of the great faculty, staff and students who are here. They must understand the new vision for the Health Center embodied in our strategic refresh, UConn Health 2020. However, we cannot market what we cannot deliver. Part of our strategy is to make patient satisfaction and easy access to the medical center and its health professionals a top priority. Thus, at the same time as we are improving clinical care, we will be improving our ability to market ourselves.

Sincerely,

Frank M. Torti
Executive Vice President for Health Affairs
Dean, UConn School of Medicine