Faculty and Students Sound Off on University Hospital

Although the prospect of a university hospital at UB has often been raised in light of recent medical school woes, the economic hardships of university hospitals in the SUNY system and nationwide have pushed the idea to the background.

In their review of UB's graduate medical student residency program, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education cited among other concerns a lack of an overall administrative plan, along with overworked residents completing an insufficient amount of research. A common explanation for many of the problems raised in talks with the medical school's administration was the lack of a university hospital. A consideration of such hospitals at other SUNY schools, however, offers few hopes for UB's program.

University hospitals at SUNY Albany and Stonybrook, schools similar to UB in size and academic stature, are both losing money. With the high costs of building and maintaining a hospital, the question for many is whether the addition of a hospital on campus would be a profitable endeavor.

According to Michael Bernardino, vice president of health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, the cost of a 250- to 300-bed hospital could cost upwards of $350 million.

Pierre Aoukar, a third-year medical student at UB, believes the money would be well spent.

"If you could attract the right kind of people to the university, there is no way it would lose money," Aoukar said. "In fact, good research will increase money to the university by winning grants. You just have to give them an offer they can't refuse. It's an opportunity cost the university has to be willing to take."

Stonybrook, with a combined graduate and undergraduate population of close to 20,000 students, built its hospital in 1980. Bruce Schroffel, executive director and CEO of the University Hospital at Stonybrook, said part of the reason for the hospital's continual yearly deficit is the difficulty of operating a large-scale hospital within the limits of a SUNY school's resources.

"It's a four-million-dollar [per year] operation," said Schroffel, adding that the hospital manages over 4,000 workers.

Schroffel said things have started to turn around since his inception as the hospital's CEO in March 2001.

"We are doing very well. We are growing at the rate we want to grow," said Schroffel, "[however], we are projected to lose money this year."

With the numerous hospitals already in Buffalo, a probable lack of need has been a deciding factor in the debate over construction of a UB hospital.

"Why build a hospital when we already have too many beds in Western New York today?" said Bernardino. UB has decided "no to a hospital," citing lack of usefulness as a main reason, he said.

"Training is becoming more outpatient oriented. Hospitals are and will continue to be important, but less so with each year," said Bernardino.

The Buffalo region already houses numerous hospitals including Erie County Medical Center, Children's Hospital, Buffalo General Hospital and Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital.

"My overall opinion regarding a university hospital is that we do not need one here," said Linda Cuomo, a fourth-year UB medical student. "Although it would be more convenient and the teaching would be more consistent if we were all at one hospital, I think we would lose many important aspects of medical training in Buffalo.

"For example, treating patients at BGH (Buffalo General Hospital) versus ECMC (Erie County Medical Center) is a completely different experience, yet one would not sacrifice one hospital for another. These experiences are what shape us as student physicians and provide us with the background to excel in the future," said Cuomo.

Bernardino believes there would be both benefits and drawbacks if plans for a university hospital were to come to fruition. "A single 'in patient' locus for most, not all, adult faculty would go a long way in building a true faculty culture. But it would have less effect on student education or training," he said.

Aoukar disagreed, emphasizing the educational and practical benefits of a university hospital for students.

"To medical students, the university hospital is an invaluable resource, providing opportunities for willing students to pursue research of interest to them and to participate in exciting projects," said Aoukar. "As a medical student, I would like to believe I am learning the latest theories and findings of a new disease, or the latest treatments for a certain illness."

Aukor added, "a university hospital can serve as a hub of knowledge for the surrounding hospitals, so that the latest treatments and medicines are available to those who have no other options."