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For the better part of three years, the financial difficulties of the University of Pennsylvania Health System have taken their toll on virtually all members of the Penn community. University administrators have seen their time fettered away by a network hemorrhaging millions of dollars every week. Students have seen promised initiatives -- like the Dorm and Dining Renewal Project -- scaled back as the funds have been diverted to the Health System. And thousands of Philadelphia-area residents -- who once worked for the UPHS -- have been forced to find other employment as the reality of layoffs hit home. Today, the University Trustees will convene for the second day of their annual winter meeting. And if all goes as expected, they will emerge with a concrete plan of action to remedy the troubles of the $1.9 billion Health System. Needless to say, the impact of their decision will have repercussions that go far beyond the walls of the UPHS' hospitals and clinical practices. Should the University opt to sell all or part of the Health System, it will be abandoning one of the region's largest health care providers -- as well as the University's largest revenue-generator -- along with untold millions in potential future gains. Should they choose to keep the Health System under Penn's umbrella, they will need to quickly implement a strategic plan for addressing its staggering losses. Much speculation has been made about whether the trustees would consider selling the system to a for-profit organization like Nashville, Tenn.-based Vanguard Health Systems. Some also contend that the Health System will soon find itself in the hands of its next-door neighbor, the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. But no matter in which direction the trustees choose to take the Health System -- if they choose any direction at all -- two constants must be maintained. The University of Pennsylvania Health System -- a network designed to serve the cause of academics -- must maintain both its affiliation to the University and its core teaching function. To lead it in any other manner would be to the detriment of all members of the Penn community -- students, staff and faculty.

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