Nurses in the Western Connecticut Health Network's two hospitals are asking questions.
Late last month, the state Legislature cut nearly $4.2 million from funding to the network.
This came on top of a 5 percent rescission implemented by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy early in December.
Dr. John Murphy, WCHN's CEO and president, advised staff in a year-end letter that cuts would be coming.
He wrote of "difficult cost-cutting decisions" that have to be made to plan and prepare for 2013 -- "what is likely to be another, perhaps even more demanding year."
"In New Milford, there's a lot of nervousness and morale is low among the nurses," Ms. Chapin said. "What Western is telling us about our future is vague. And now we receive this letter."
She said New Milford's nursing staff is down to 150 from as many as 200. Nurses fear more budget cuts will mean more cuts in staffing.
"Dr. Murphy's letter was written in anticipation of funding and reimbursement cuts coming from the state," said WCHN spokeswoman Andrea Rynn. "We have now seen those cuts.
"They do not even speak to potential federal cuts," she added. "How these cuts will be absorbed is still to be decided."
At Danbury Hospital, nurses are asking why open registered nursing positions are being filled by staff who are paid by the day and can easily be let go, said the hospital's AFT Local 5047 President Mary Consoli.
"We can understand going lean. But we feel now some of the budget cuts are affecting patient care," Ms. Consoli said. "It's been proven that better qualified and higher staffing levels of RNs equates to better patient outcomes."
"Any action that has been and will be taken in the future in the face of (funding) cuts is done with the utmost consideration given to having the least negative impact to our patients," Ms. Rynn said, "or community and our organization. We wish these cuts didn't have to be taken, but they're a fact of our economy."
Adding to the nurses' concerns, Ms. Chapin and Ms. Consoli said, is conflicting information from WCHN officials regarding how New Milford obstetrical nurses might be incorporated into Danbury Hospital's staff.
A certificate of need to close New Milford's family birthing center and move deliveries to Danbury is being considered by the state Office of Health Care Access.
Network officials said New Milford obstetrical nurses are encouraged to apply for open positions at Danbury's birthing center, but priority would be given to a Danbury nurse with seniority wishing to transfer to that department -- a requirement of the Danbury nurses' contract with the hospital, Ms. Rynn said.
Ms. Chapin said Danbury nurses would have "bidding rights" over New Milford nurses but added "qualified OB nurses are scarce."
"We also don't know of any open positions in obstetrics," Ms. Consoli said. "And by our contract's language, it is the qualified, trained applicant who would be hired if the position did open."
Ms. Rynn said the WCHN sees it as "a positive step" the two bargaining units are working together.
"We remain open to dialogue with AFT Unit 5047 to see if they are willing to waive certain existent clauses in their collective bargaining agreement," Ms. Rynn said, "to allow more flexibility for hiring New Milford nurses."