By Tom Ryan, UIC News
Keeping the West Side veterans hospital open is "critical" to the future of UIC's medical training programs, justifying the university's lobbying efforts against plans to "eviscerate" the hospital, UIC Chancellor David Broski told the UI Board of Trustees at the board's Jan. 22 meeting in Chicago.
"I can't underestimate the critical nature of this facility," Broski said, responding to a question from Trustee William Englebrecht, R-Henry, about a proposed increase and extension of a contract with the Chicago public relations firm Jasculca-Terman and Associates, which has been working with UIC on the West Side issue.
Broski said UIC's efforts, aided by Jasculca-Terman, have paid off so far. "The train was on the tracks and we have frozen that train," he said, referring to what UIC officials have said were plans by the Department of Veterans Affairs to shift medical and surgical services from the West Side facility to Lakeside VA hospital, located in the Gold Coast area at 333 E. Huron St.
But, Broski added, it's still unclear what future the VA ultimately has in mind for the two hospitals. "We're having trouble determining what the VA's end game is," he said. "They may be making it up as they go along."
For that reason, he said it's important that UIC keep working to save the West Side facility, a process he hopes will take no more than about four more months. "Sooner or later we will need to make a decision when to throw in the towel, but we're not there yet."
The board approved extending the contract with Jasculca-Terman from Jan. 16 through June 30 at an additional cost of $200,000, bringing the total cost of the contract to $400,000. Broski said he is "listening to the board" and working to keep the costs down, while balancing that against the need to fight "plans to eviscerate that hospital."
Broski said Jasculca-Terman also would advise the university on public relations aspects of the South Campus redevelopment. "They're not just limited to the VA," he said, adding that UIC and the College of Medicine have benefited from increased public and news media attention during the West Side controversy.
In a shortened meeting delayed a week by snow, the board also voted to establish a health services facilities system, under which the university could issue bonds and finance UIC's ambulatory care facility and similar projects. Trustee Judith Reese, R-Chicago, said she was "nervous [and] worried" about the "possible burden" the proposal could put on Medical Service Plan revenues and College of Medicine tuition payments, both of which would be used as security for the bonds. The first level of security for the system is the revenues brought in by the UIC Hospital and Clinics.
Dieter Haussmann, vice chancellor for health services, said the Medical Service Plan and tuition money never would be used to make bondholders' interest payments, since that would mean the hospital and clinics would have been operating at a loss for a signficant period of time, which he said the board would not allow to happen.
In other actions, the board: