Patient Care Bustling at UConn Health Thanks to Bioscience Connecticut

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It’s been seven years since the groundbreaking on UConn Health’s campus for Bioscience Connecticut, the state’s investment to catapult Connecticut and its only public academic medical center to the forefront of cutting-edge health care, medical and dental education, innovative biomedical research, and the bioscience industry.

UConn Health has just released its fifth and final biennial Bioscience Connecticut Report to the General Assembly. And the news is good.

Health care in Connecticut is on the rise, and patient care at UConn Health is bustling with clinical revenue up by nearly 60% since 2013.

U.S. News & World Report ranks Connecticut 3rd in the U.S. for its health care, and number one in the U.S. for health care access. In addition, Bloomberg News ranked the state 4th in the nation as one of the most innovative state economies based on its research and development intensity, productivity, clusters of companies in technology, “STEM� jobs, populace with degrees in science and engineering disciplines, and patent activity.

UConn Health has been part of Connecticut’s health care success, particularly because of the Bioscience Connecticut investments and the transformation of its campus with a new, spacious outpatient pavilion, hospital tower, and renovated patient care clinics to increase health care access for the citizens of the state. Plus, new and expanded academic areas were created to accommodate more medical and dental students, and renovated research laboratories and new space for biotech startup companies to fuel scientific discoveries.

Since 2013, UConn Health’s patient care volume has steadily risen by 7 to 9% per year and along with it clinical revenue has significantly grown. Impressively, clinical revenue from patient care now makes up 50% of UConn Health’s annual $1.2 billion budget. In 2013, clinical care revenue represented only 44.2% of UConn Health’s then annual $829 million budget. Current budget projections for 2020 are expecting clinical revenue to grow further by $25.2 million or 4.7%.

“Our clinical revenue growth is unprecedented,� says UConn Health’s CEO Dr. Andy Agwunobi. “Our clinical business is strong, and we have been continuously meeting our goals.�

Agwunobi added: “We are so proud of our talented health care providers and staff and the work that they do. They, in combination with Bioscience Connecticut’s investments in our facilities, have been successfully driving revenue in support of UConn Health’s growth and success.�

In addition to the transformation of the campus and facilities, strategic clinical service growth and targeted physician recruitment have been key to the successful boosting of patient care services and volume.

In fact, since 2013, UConn Health has hired more than 175 clinical faculty to care for patients and has strategically grown service lines through specific hiring of specialty physicians. Primary care has been expanded, as have the following areas: internal medicine, family medicine, obstetrics & gynecology, and emergency medicine, along with specialists in the fields of dermatology, neurology, neurosurgery, general surgery, plastic surgery, urology, orthopedic surgery, vascular surgery, and the ever-growing important field of psychiatry.

“Hiring new clinical faculty and proactively building their practices and setting very high standards has led to this success story,� says Anne Horbatuck, vice president of ambulatory services at UConn Health. “Bringing in all these new faculty and specialists have had a major impact on our growth.�

Promisingly, in fiscal year 2019 alone, outpatient visits were up by 7% compared to the prior year, with more than 800,000. Additionally, Emergency Department visits were more than 36,000 and hospital discharges were up 1.8%, with UConn John Dempsey Hospital caring for more than 10,000 inpatients during the year.

As a result of UConn Health’s efforts, surgical volume has been on the rise, reaching new heights in 2019 with more than 12,000 surgeries. Overall, surgeries were up by 10.4% in 2018, and 2019 surgery cases were up an additional 10.6% over the prior year.

“Our hospital is often at or near full capacity, as are our operating rooms,� says Agwunobi, who also oversees UConn John Dempsey Hospital. “These are two impressive signs of our clinical operational success.�

In addition, UConn Health’s seven satellite locations in the towns of Avon, Canton, East Hartford, Simsbury, Southington, Storrs, and West Hartford have helped increase patient health care access and drive business to UConn Health’s main campus. UConn Health also has two urgent care locations based in Canton and Storrs.

“The strides we have made in growing our services and clinical locations are benefiting the people of the state of Connecticut with increased access to advanced medical and dental experts, the latest technology, and state-of-the-art clinical facilities,� says Horbatuck. “Plus, our schools and research enterprise are providing Connecticut with tomorrow’s health care workforce and the breakthroughs our patients will need.�

Bioscience Connecticut’s promise was also to grow biomedical research activity

Fiscal year 2019 was a landmark year at UConn Health with its research grants and contracts exceeding $106 million in funding. In 2020 research spending is expected to increase by 3%.

Plus, UConn’s Technology Incubation Program (TIP), dedicated to developing promising biotechnology breakthroughs into businesses, now has 30 startup companies located at UConn Health. Last year, the companies employed 98 full-time and 39 part-time employees, and generated $15.8 million in revenue and grants, and $75 million in debt and equity.

This boost in research is, in part, due to Bioscience Connecticut’s investment in 200,000 square feet of renovated research laboratories, and an additional new 28,000 square feet in incubator lab space. In addition, The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine (JAX)  has called UConn Health’s campus home since 2014.  The presence of JAX on UConn Health’s campus has accelerated advances in genomics and translational research for greater personalized medicine in Connecticut.

UConn Health and JAX’s unique partnership and collaborations have been able to attract top research talent to Connecticut. Not only has JAX created more than 300 jobs under Bioscience CT, but also five world-class physician-scientists have already been recruited as joint-appointees. These UConn Health/JAX faculty include Dr. Reinhard Laubenbacher, Dr. Travis Hinson, Dr. Se-Jin Lee, Dr. Ching C. Lau, and Dr. Christine Beck, with other exceptional recruits expected to join in the coming years.

Building upon existing synergies, UConn Health has also been able to recruit jointly with our affiliate Connecticut Children’s to bring pioneering physician-scientists in the fields of pediatric disease research to fill critical gaps in clinical care and to work to identify much needed cures for a number of pediatric diseases.

Pediatric endocrinologists Dr. David Weinstein and Dr. Emily Germain-Lee are two of several examples of how the partnership of Connecticut Children’s and UConn works seamlessly, with clinical services provided at Connecticut Children’s while robust laboratory research and clinical trials are underway at UConn Health.

Weinstein and his Glycogen Storage Disease (GSD) Program, the largest in the world with 700 patients from 51 countries, has commenced the world’s first clinical trial to test a novel vaccine for life-threatening GSD that is already showing remarkable results in the first study patients, while Dr. Germain-Lee’s first-of-its-kind Albright Center cares for more patients suffering from rare inherited bone and endocrine disorders than any other center in the world.

In the realm of education, UConn School of Medicine has increased its student class size by 30% since Bioscience Connecticut’s inception. In August, the School of Medicine welcomed 110 new students, its largest class ever.  At the same time, UConn School of Dental Medicine’s largest class arrived, with 54 students.

The School of Medicine is also proud to report that while its class size has grown so has its diversity. UConn School of Medicine was just named by U.S. & News Report as one of the top 10 medical schools in the nation for diversity of its student body.  UConn School of Medicine’s African American medical students represent 11.8% of the student body, well above the national average of 6%. Further, the School of Medicine’s population of underrepresented individuals in medicine has steadily grown to nearly 23%.

All this activity contributes to Connecticut’s ever-growing bioscience sector.

What’s next for UConn Health?

Among other initiatives, the institution is excited to turn its attention to population health to improve patient health and their outcomes. UConn Health has recruited Khadija Poitras-Rhea to serve as assistant vice president for population health. Under her guidance, UConn Health will launch a patient-centered mission to help the people of Connecticut achieve and maintain healthier lives, restore their wellness, and meet their health goals through tools, education, and institutional support.

UConn Health undertakes this effort with the goal of improving the quality of health care, reducing costs, and enhancing the patient experience. A major part of the population health initiative will be the establishment of a Patient Centered Medical Home (PCMH). This health care delivery model aims to organize a patient’s care through a primary care physician to create a more seamless patient care experience.

“We look forward to our population health initiative bringing our patient care to the next level,� says Horbatuck.