and Susan Tuz

Local patients, nurses and town leaders are wondering about the impact of an affiliation between New Milford and Danbury hospitals.

"If this affiliation can help keep a community hospital here, I'm all for it and will do everything I can to make it happen,'' Mayor Patricia Murphy said Tuesday.

She said the hospital -- with about 700 on its staff -- is the town's largest employer.

While the news is likely to prompt questions and cause some uneasiness, Dr. Lisa Diamond said given the changes in medicine and how it's delivered, she believes this can only be a positive step.

Everywhere, hospitals are uniting to offer patients a broader scope of services at the lowest cost, said Dr. Diamond, a psychiatrist who heads the Department of Behavioral Health.

"I think it's a good thing, and how it should be,'' Dr. Diamond said. "We should be cooperating between the two hospitals.''

She said fears of mass layoffs or a diminishing of New Milford's role in community health care system are unfounded and the area stands to gain because of the stronger ties.

"This is a new era, it really is,'' Dr. Diamond said.

The New Milford nurses' union president, Joanne Chapin, said some nurses are feeling "left out of the loop.''

Ms. Chapin said nurses were not part of the affiliation talks and are learning about the plan along with the rest of the community.

"In this economy, we're not surprised that this is going on," she said. "We have a contract and successor language in our contract, so the nursing staff is in a good position for holding jobs. If we are taken over by Danbury, our jobs will be protected."

New Milford Hospital patient Don Cairns said he fears this could lead to fewer, rather than more, local services.

"I'm afraid Danbury would take a lot away from New Milford. I wonder about the (Regional) Cancer Center. They have a cancer center there, and they have one here. And they have the cardiology program," he said. "I just wonder if New Milford would become a satellite service.''

Mr. Cairns said he appreciates the care he has received in New Milford and wants it to continue.

"But it all comes down to cost. That's the bottom line,'' Mr. Cairns said.

Senior Center director Anne Potter said she hopes this will be an "amalgam of the best of both worlds,'' one that allows people choices within one health care system.

She said both hospitals have the expertise to offer a broad range of care in a community setting that many patients find appealing.

In the past, there have been tensions -- even a competition -- between the two hospitals, and Ms. Potter said she hopes this effort allows people to get the "best of the best.''

"And if that's the case, hot diggity!" she said.