The University of Connecticut School of Medicine renewed their five-year partnership with Connecticut healthcare giant Hartford Healthcare Thursday, Sept. 14, continuing the six-decade affiliation between the two enterprises, according to UConn Today. The “academic affiliation agreement” signed by Hartford Healthcare CEO Jeff Flaks and UConn President Radenka Maric aims to provide medical students with opportunities to complete their residencies in Hartford Healthcare facilities and mitigate hospital staff shortages in the process.
Hartford Healthcare and UConn’s partnership is extensive. As the former details on their webpage of UConn-sponsored programs, the “major affiliation” offers a wide range of fellowships and trainings to undergraduate and graduate students. This past spring and summer, Hartford Healthcare partnered with the Peter J. Werth Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation to produce HealthWerx, an experiential learning program focused on exposing fellows to innovation and equity issues in healthcare.
While President Maric went on the record to say that UConn and Hartford Healthcare want “what is best for the people of Connecticut,” further investigation into the university’s longtime partner calls her statement — and UConn’s community impact — into question.
Over the past two years, Hartford Healthcare has found itself in the middle of numerous controversies involving underpaying care workers, imposing austerity measures on the communities it is supposed to serve, engaging in anti-competitive business practices and overall putting profit over care. By continuing to enthusiastically partner with the company, UConn is tacitly consenting to the abuse of labor and monopolistic practices, thus sending a message to UConn graduates about the kind of harmful behavior that is acceptable in the professional world.
On the receiving end of Hartford Healthcare’s harmful business practices is a community closely intertwined with UConn — Windham. From 2020 to 2022, the company fought a protracted legal battle against courts and community members to eliminate the birthing and delivery unit of Windham Hospital, which union leaders and local activists speaking to the CT Mirror said would create unsafe conditions for people going into labor who would have to drive considerable distances if the unit shut down.
In February of 2022, patients launched a class-action lawsuit against the company for driving up prices by pressuring employers into accepting insurance contracts that steer patients to more expensive and lower quality hospitals. Connecticut Attorney General William Tong characterized the practice as “anti-competitive” conduct — in other words, monopolistic behavior. Another lawsuit leveled by St. Francis Hospital accused Hartford Healthcare of trying to “crush” or “bury” competitors by dominating patient networks, which is further evinced by the fact that half of all hospitals in Connecticut are owned by either Hartford or Yale New Haven Health.
Hartford Healthcare’s recent business conduct has established a clear record of undermining the quality and accessibility of care to widen its profit margins. The Daily Campus Editorial Board believes that in maintaining its economic and academic partnerships with Hartford Healthcare, UConn is sending a clear indication to its constituents — which includes students and UConn Health patients — that it will happily accept anti-labor and monopolistic practices in the healthcare industry. Supplying Hartford Healthcare-owned hospitals with students seeking a residency or clinical experience not only quietly endorses these problematic actions, but risks exposing students to them as well.
Universities are not neutral institutions. Regardless of whether they are public or private, the decisions that university administrations and boards of trustees make have social, economic and political ramifications. The Daily Campus Editorial Board feels that UConn has a responsibility to be more conscientious about its economic partnerships, which extend to companies responsible for global harm such as defense contractors Raytheon Technologies and Lockheed Martin; as the Editorial Board has previously discussed, dedicating buildings and university events to manufacturers of weapons of war is a powerful tell of how meaningful UConn’s human rights impact is. In the future, the university has the valuable chance to prove its stated commitments to making Connecticut a better place by forgoing partnerships with bad actors — should these unconditional alliances continue solely because they are economically advantageous, UConn will squander that chance. We not only urge the UConn community to take notice of these issues and consider their social consequences, but for university leaders to take action.