Changing with the times

New Milford Hospital evolves in response to medical needs, economic reality

New Milford Hospital is in a state of transition.

Its affiliation with Danbury and Norwalk Hospital under the umbrella of Western Connecticut Health Network has proven vitally important, said Dr. Thomas Koobatian, the hospital's executive director, chief of staff and CEO.

In 2009, prior to affiliating, New Milford Hospital was operating at a $1.5 million annual deficit.

Today, it is debt free.

"The concept of a community hospital has taken a macro-level shift," Koobatian said. "The reality was that they could no longer stand alone and their path was to close or team up with a bigger partner as we did with Danbury Hospital in 2010."

Along the way, that affiliation has delivered consolidations and change.

The network has invested $58 million in state-of-the-art medical technology, infrastructure, renovations and medical services since 2010.

"Our focus is now that of a primary care and preventive medicine hub," Koobatian said. "With health and wellness now key in medical care, community hospitals are boots on the ground in providing that care," he said, "and New Milford is ready."

To address the needs, the cardiac rehabilitation program was moved in December to a larger space with more equipment for the medically supervised program.

Holistic medical practices have been added, including acupuncture and reflexology.

A wound care unit has been added and expansion of behavioral health services has also taken place.

The 11,000-square-foot Arnhold Emergency Department is set for its opening in coming weeks (see related story).

An aging population in New Milford has led to an emphasis on senior health care.

The hospital's Plow to Plate program has expanded to include monthly senior dinners at the hospital.

In addition, Pilobolus movement and For Your Health talks by area physicians are now part of the hospital's offerings.

Primary-care doctors will have an office in the hospital, with easy access for patients to sub-specialists.

Required tests, including MRIs and CT scans, will be done at the time of doctors' visits. Koobatian has extended an invitation for primary-care doctors to move their practices there.

"We don't want the hospital to be in competition with our primary-care doctors," he said. "We view our partnership as being collaborative."

Even with these changes, inpatient and medical and surgical admissions will continue.

Oncology services at the Diebold Family Cancer Center will be increased.

A new CT scanner to pinpoint tumors will be installed, likely in the fall, with a standby machine on loan until it arrives.

"The hospital is representative of how the state of medicine is changing," said Mayor Pat Murphy. "They're taking responsible steps to keep the doors open. While they're not the same, smalltown hospital we'd come to love, they've had to change to stay in step with the changing landscape."

The family birthing Ccnter was closed and OB-GYN services relocated to Danbury Hospital.

Information technology services, billing and other business office services were consolidated with Danbury's and Norwalk's in Bethel offices.

Medical and radiology records and EKGs are all stored electronically now, eliminating the need for filing and file retrieval staff.

However, Koobatian assured, reports the intensive care unit would be closing are misleading.

"In a community hospital, what has been referred to as an ICU is actually where step-down care is provided," he explained. "Specialists and intensivists who provide minute-by-minute care have never been on staff in community hospitals as they are in trauma centers like Danbury."

A progressive-care floor will be created by closing the second floor and moving its step-down beds to the third floor with the medical/surgical beds.

Nurses now working on the third floor will receive training to care for step-down patients, Koobatian said.

"They're keeping us in the loop," said Joanne Chapin, president of the New Milford Hospital nurses' union, "and we're keeping optimistic. We're waiting to see what happens because we always seem to be the first affected."

"Change is hard," Koobatian said. "By better explanation of our goals, where we're going and where we want to go, will come better understanding."

Daniel J. DeBarba, WCHN executive vice president and president of Danbury and New Milford hospitals, said managing the hospital is a team effort among network CEO and President Dr. John Murphy, himself and Koobatian.

"With Dr. Koobatian's years of experience successfully managing the emergency department and knowledge of the hospital, we couldn't have made a better choice," DeBarba said.

"New Milford Hospital's success is integral to Western Connecticut Health Network's" he added, "With the rapid changes in health care, it is important to have facilities and staff close to the communities we serve."

For more photo, visit www.newmilfordspectrum.com.

stuz@newstimes.com; 203-731-3352