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UIC Medical Center will get $85 million renovation

Updated: July 25, 2013 3:59PM

The University of Illinois Board of Trustees approved on Thursday a major $85 million renovation of the UIC Medical Center, one day after a Chicago-based consulting firm said the university should consider getting out of running a hospital if it couldn’t do a better job.

The board’s action authorizes up to $77 million in bonds to finance a two-story addition to create a new lobby for the 33-year-old hospital — and to pay for electrical, mechanical and plumbing improvements.

The board had delayed voting on the bond sale in January because of uncertainties about the state’s bond rating and an unexpected drop in Medicaid reimbursements from the state. Since then, the university has negotiated a new reimbursement rate that restores Medicaid revenue and bolsters the hospital’s ability to finance the debt.

The hospital already has jumped to the top 25 percent of academic hospitals in terms of preventing patient deaths from last year’s bottom-half showing by improving the way employees identify the sickest patients and making sure they take their medicine after they leave, said Dr. Bryan Becker, UIC Hospital CEO.

“ We want you to be proud of these numbers — not concerned,” Becker told the board in a report on the hospital’s status on Thursday.

At the board’s meeting Wednesday, Huron Consulting Group experts said the University of Illinois at Chicago must reorganize its hospital, health-sciences colleges and healthcare services to deal with aging clinics, fierce marketplace competition, federal healthcare reforms and fuzzy lines of authority.

Chicago-based Huron Consulting Group presented a report concluding the university healthcare system’s “status quo” is “unsustainable strategically, financially, operationally, culturally and politically” because of the challenges.

UIC oversees clinics, a physicians’ group, the University of Illinois Medical Center and colleges of medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, nursing and applied health sciences.

“We can’t underestimate that this is a very high-risk situation for you,” said Dr. Andrew Ziskind, managing director of Huron Consulting firm’s healthcare practice.

University President Robert A. Easter told the Sun-Times in an interview that he doesn’t believe the university is in a dire situation, but he said the board will act in the next several months to improve the healthcare situation.

“The future of healthcare requires more collaborative relationships” among the university’s medical and health-related colleges and other healthcare facilities, Easter said, noting that the colleges acted as their own fiefdoms in the past.

Ziskind said the university must better coordinate the healthcare system so its doctors, faculty, students and other resources work together, understand who they report to and operate efficiently.

UIC Comptroller Walter Knorr told the board that the university hospital had its second-best year in the past 13 years in terms of operating income, achieving $20 million in net operating income this year. In 2010, the hospital reported $59.7 million in operating income in its best year, but that was unusual because of one-time reimbursements, Knorr said.

About a quarter, or 26 percent, of the hospital’s patients receive Medicare, 41 percent receive Medicaid and 33 percent are under managed care, he said.

Knorr said federal healthcare reforms, including the expansion of Medicaid eligibility to 342,000 low-income Illinoisans starting in January, will require the hospital to review whether it has the resources to handle the load.

Deans of the health-sciences colleges told the board they want to be team players in an integrated healthcare system, but they worry about serving large numbers of needy patients alongside the need to step up revenues.

Board member Ricardo Estrada, president and CEO of Metropolitan Family Services, said the deans now agreed that change needs to come as soon as possible.

“There is a sense (among the deans) that there may have to be some sacrifice of their turf and power so the enterprise moves forward,” Estrada said.

Meanwhile, an agreement to extend the term of President Robert Easter by a year, through June 30, 2015, was approved Thursday by the University of Illinois Trustees Board.

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