Fond farewells for Birthing Center staff

NEW MILFORD -- Pink and blue were the colors of the day at the farewell party for the staff of the Family Birthing Center.

All 20 birthing center staff members were joined by retirees from the floor and other New Milford Hospital staff Thursday to share hugs and memories.

"I've been here 32 years," said registered nurse Sandy Lewis, of Warren. "All three of my children were born here. It's been a wonderful place to be. The mothers say so many good things about us, but they're the ones who have truly added so much to our lives."

On Saturday, the Family Birthing Center closes its doors. Delivery services are being transferred to Danbury Hospital.

Birth rates have declined at New Milford Hospital, leading Western Connecticut Health Network, the umbrella organization that owns both hospitals, to make this decision.

The last baby born in New Milford was a boy, born Tuesday. The family name was not released by the hospital.

"There are generations of caregivers in this room today," said Deborah Weymouth, executive director of New Milford Hospital and the network's senior vice president.

"Many of these faces were the first face a baby saw," Weymouth added. "We are moving forward, remaking ourselves here at New Milford Hospital. But we can't move on without recognizing the devotion, dedication and commitment of these people."

Birthing Center volunteer Valerie Schmidlin remembered a six-week span, several years ago, in which seven sets of twins were born in the center.

"Lots of babies, lots of babies. That was a real run," Schmidlin said. "My grandchildren were all born here. I've worked with a great group of nurses over my nine years."

Dr. Frank Fanella, chairman of New Milford Hospital's pediatrics department, the closing of the birthing center "leaves a little hole."

"For the 15 years I've been here, these nurses have been taking care of children I care for," said Fanella, adding his two children were born in New Milford. "I knew my children were in good hands. These nurses are all fabulous."

Registered nurse Geralyn Turner joined the hospital in 1981. She has worked under Dr. Elizabeth Haple, Dr. John Sussman and Dr. Carol Papov as chiefs of the obstetrics department.

"When I was having my second child here, the doctor kept telling my friends and fellow nurses Sandy Lewis and Carroll Linabury that the baby would be here any minute," Turner said.

"They stayed with me all day and all night until Sarah was born at 4:17 a.m.," she continued. "They were off duty most of that time. That's the kind of friendships we've had here."; 860-355-7322