UIC has spent four years drafting plans for a $450-million patient tower as the centerpiece of a $650-million, five-year-long overhaul of its Near West Side campus. But an inability to finance the project has forced longtime CEO John DeNardo to ice those plans for now.Part of the problem is the patient mix UIC sees, but the other larger part of the problem is the abysmal state of Medicaid funding:
He's settling for a $40-million repair job on the 500-bed hospital, which lost heat two days last month when the campus steam plant gave out.
The capital crunch poses a threat to UIC, where the hospital serves as a training ground for the nation's largest medical school — more than 15% of the state's physicians cut their teeth at the place. Rival university hospitals are pouring money into new buildings, including Rush University Medical Center's $1-billion makeover next door. The wider that gap grows, the harder UIC will have to work to attract talented physicians and researchers — or the well-insured patients it needs to improve its bottom line.
The medical center has never been a financial powerhouse, partly because it treats a high percentage of low-income patients. Roughly one-third of its revenue in recent years has come from the state's Medicaid program for the poor. Still, its 500-physician medical staff has built some nationally prominent programs, including in eye care, organ transplants and robotic surgery.It's survival of the financially fittest right now - even for hospitals.
Mr. DeNardo acknowledges the challenges but says the modest building overhaul will be enough to stay competitive and continue to provide a training center for medical students and residents.
Joseph Flaherty, dean of U of I's medical school, says the hospital's deteriorating condition — especially in light of its competitors' gleaming new facilities — already has hurt its ability to recruit and keep top faculty. "If we don't start making some dust soon, people will feel that this is a sinking ship," Dr. Flaherty says.
One wonders how UIC's next door neighbors (Rush and Stroger) will fare should they close and their Medicaid patients are shunted their way. Given the mandate that Medicaid is being expanded and the burden falls squarely on the budgets of states after 2017, unless the government addresses these underfunded entitlement programs directly, it all seems like a colossal house of cards - even with "reform."