New Milford Hospital will receive an important shot in the arm Friday evening when a groundbreaking ceremony is held for a new $10.8 million emergency department.

The addition, which will be built on the west side of the hospital toward Treadwell Avenue, will provide both a practical and symbolic upgrade to the nearly 65-year-old hospital.

The current emergency room is old, cramped and inefficient, and it allows little privacy for patients. The new 11,000-square-foot emergency wing will address all of those shortcomings, including the provision of private rooms.

Construction of the Arnhold Emergency Department will also help restore public faith among New Milford area residents that there will continue to be a local hospital.

There were fears expressed when Danbury and New Milford hospitals affiliated under the Western Connecticut Health Network umbrella a few years back that the smaller hospital's days were numbered.

Concerns have been raised both inside and outside the hospital the past couple of years about the facility's future as services were increasingly consolidated between the two hospitals and as two rounds of layoffs were effected.

The closure of the New Milford Hospital Family Birthing Center in March elicited an emotional outpouring from the community, and many expressed fears the end was near for the local hospital.

Meanwhile, WCHN President and CEO John Murphy and New Milford Hospital Executive Director Deborah Weymouth have consistently insisted New Milford would have a local hospital for the long haul.

The emergency department project, which is expected to be completed by early 2015, certainly represents a commitment on the part of the network to New Milford Hospital, and Friday's groundbreaking ceremony will serve as a celebration of sorts for those whose fears will be allayed that the hospital would be closing soon.

Indeed, in addition to the nearly $11 million being plowed into the new ED, the network has spent several million more on new equipment and improved technology.

To be sure, this is a time of great change for Danbury and New Milford hospitals, for the network as a whole, and for the entire health care industry.

Some of those changes -- like the closure of the New Milford birthing center, reduced state funding to hospitals, and the consequent layoff of WCHN employees -- are not pleasant.

Some other changes -- the ongoing $150 million Tower addition project at Danbury Hospital, a recent $10 million donation, and the imminent addition of Norwalk Hospital to Western Connecticut Health Network -- reflect the growth and optimism within the network.

The health care world faces an uncertain future, and another variable was tossed into the equation on Tuesday when implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act's health insurance exchanges began.

Only time will tell where the twists and turns of the health care world will lead.

But one thing appears certain: With the significant commitment being made by the Western Connecticut Health Network in New Milford, area residents should be able to count on having a local hospital for a number of years to come.