In her first such meeting after taking office in June, University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst took questions and addressed UConn Health Center employees in an open forum on the health center's campus Monday afternoon.
Before taking questions from attendees, Herbst addressed two of the most crucial issues facing the center: the ongoing search for a vice president of health affairs and medical school dean, and the challenges of funding and recruiting personnel for the Bioscience Connecticut Initiative.
The initiative is Gov. Dannel Malloy’s $900 million economic development project, which seeks to put UCHC at the center of the bioscience industry.
After Dr. Cato T. Laurencin left his post as vice president of health affairs and medical school dean in July — and interim vice president Philip E. Austin stepped in — a search committee led by Dr. Warren Ross, a senior client partner at Healthcare Services in Philadelphia, has been seeking candidates to fill the position.
Herbst outlined the qualities she is looking for in a candidate. She said the prospective vice president must be “open, collaborative, transparent and have a vision for the future of the health center.”
She added that the new vice president, whom she plans to name in December, “must be warm and engaging in order to be a strong fundraiser.
“They need to understand the importance of our educational mission,” Herbst said. “They need to be hands on. This is a high-energy job,” she said. “It’s not the kind of job where you can just sit back and revel in your greatness.”
After addressing the search for vice president search, Herbst went on to praise Malloy and the state legislature for their commitment to the Bioscience Connecticut Initiative.
“He (Malloy) wanted to the project to be bigger and bolder,” she said. “He wanted it to really stimulate the economy and produce the kind of research that changes lives. He had lofty goals.”
“We are fortunate to have a very energetic governor’s office that wants us to be a leader in the field," she said. “I’ve spoken with other provosts and they are always shocked that there would be a government that would make that kind of investment at this time.”
Following her opening remarks, Herbst took questions from UCHC employees on a variety of subjects, including the need for greater coordination between the center and other local health affiliates, possible hurdles in recruiting bioscience professionals, and the prospect of more federal funds.
Addressing a question on collaboration with other health care facilities, from Lousie McCullough, director of stroke research, Herbst said: “It is our plan to integrate with local affiliates. I have been connecting with Hartford Hospital and other institutional leaders because we need to find ways to collaborate with them especially now that we have stability.”
Several audience members raised questions about their fears the medical center may have trouble recruiting doctors, scientists and other bioscience professionals, a fear that Herbst does not share.
“I disagree,” she said. “Farmington is a fabulous place for educated, professional, progressive people. If you create an attractive environment and have a great geographic area, a lot of people will want to live here. Before Bioscience Connecticut, I would have been worried about attracting researchers and clinicians,now, not only am I not worried, but I think we have a huge competitive advantage.”
Addressing the concern over funding for the bioscience initiative, Thomas Callahan, interim chief of staff at UCHC explained that the funding for the ”brick and mortar projects are locked in,” although he added that there currently is no funding for new staff.
Herbst said that UCHC administrators are in "constant" talks with the governor’s office and, “They understand you can’t have the job impact and engine you want without the people.”
Herbst also addressed the need for greater federal funding, of which she said there are “currently a lot of dollars left on the table.” As Herbst explained, federal funding, Bioscience Connecticut and new Health Center staff are all interconnected.
"First, you’ve got to build,” she said. “Then you can attract more people, then you get the NIH (National Institutes of Health) money.”
Herbst said she plans to conduct more open forums with UCHC staff in the future as she looks to create more openness and better communication between faculty and administrators.