"All of our services are connecting, between hospitals," said Dr. Frederick Browne, chief medical officer at New Milford.

"We're working on standardizing services, like integrated medicine, following the same guidelines," he explained. "Danbury Hospital is working toward a Planetree presence" (see Planetree story).

"Our focus continues on long-term viability of the hospital," Ms. Weymouth said. "We intend to secure and sustain this viability by working together -- recognizing the value of New Milford Hospital as the high quality community hospital and Danbury Hospital as the ever-growing regional center for primary and multi-specialty care."

Ms. Weymouth was attracted to New Milford in part to its Planetree philosophy of putting patients first.

"I have community hospitals at heart," said Ms. Weymouth, the first woman to run the 85-bed hospital since it was established in 1921. "The delivery of quality community health care is key for me as it is for my staff."

Ms. Weymouth, who came here from Thompson Health in Canadaigua, N.Y., was drawn to New Milford Hospital because of its community hospital role.

She pointed out 80 percent of people in the United States make their first contact with the health care system either with a family doctor or a community hospital.

"Health care is very personal," Ms. Weymouth said. "Where genuine caring takes place is in a hands-on environment where you can meet with your provider and connect eye to eye. New Milford Hospital is of a size to offer that."

More Information

Some features of New Milford Hospital: Planetree hospital (membership since 2008) Integrated Medicine Family Birthing Center Regional Cancer Center (open since 1999) One-day surgery Center for Sleep Medicine (open since 2002) Emergency care

Physicians practicing through the hospital have seen a marked improvement in patient care of the last few years.

"The addition of the Women's Imaging Center improved the quality of patient care at the hospital," said Dr. Carol Papov, chairwoman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. "Overall, I've seen an improvement since I came to the hospital 12 years ago." "Patients receive much better care," she added, "and are cared for more quickly."

Hospital tax

One dark shadow looming on the horizon of the hospital's future financial picture has recently cleared.

It was announced mid-June the state's new formula for hospital taxes and compensation -- which at first would have cut funding for Danbury and New Milford hospitals by $7 million -- will only means a $1.4 million reduction for Western Connecticut Health Network.

For New Milford, the new hospital tax formula means coming out ahead by $387,742. New Milford is among the state facilities classified as "distressed hospitals" in the new formula.

For the next five years, the alliance of New Milford and Danbury hospitals is prepared to cut its collective budget by $10 million a year to get the facilities ready for the changes to come from national health care reform.

If the worst-case scenario had occurred, millions more in state cuts and taxes would have "shred the safety net,"

Dr. Murphy said.

National health

care reform

Ms. Weymouth arrived in New Milford not only soon after the hospital had entered its affiliation with Danbury but also when national health care reform will change the way doctors do business.

Instead of ordering a lot of fee-generating tests, doctors will work on a team approach and be compensated on the health outcomes of the patients they treat.

She said New Milford Hospital is ready for that challenge.

Patients can now travel from initial appointments with their physicians, to the hospital for procedures, where they receive care by hospitalist post-procedures, all under one payment structure.

A hospitalist is a doctor who specializes in in-patient care. He or she will make the day-to-day patient checks while a person is in the hospital, communicating with a person's physician to keep him or her apprised.

"HealthLink went live on March 31," Ms. Weymouth said, referring to the computerized health record system linking records and test results to and from New Milford and Danbury hospitals, as well as to the offices of doctors practicing in the community.

"For our community, a lot of people have health care at both hospitals," said Dr. Thomas Koobatian, head of New Milford's emergency department.

"A patient may have had his appendix out at New Milford, a cardiac catheterization at Danbury," he noted. "With the new information technology, we have the big picture when that patient comes into the emergency room."

Affiliation equals

enhanced offerings

New Milford Hospital's affiliation with Danbury Hospital gives patients easier access to a wider range of specialists at Danbury -- with that hospital's ties to university medical centers in New York, Connecticut and Vermont.

"Depending on the level of seriousness of a situation," Ms. Weymouth said, "we can get right to the people you need as a patient -- be it during delivery, surgery, or an emergency room visit."

"We can cut right though the red tape," she added. "Physicians can talk to each other (from New Milford to Danbury) and we can get you down to Danbury, through the doors and into the operating room, or get medical personnel in their car on the way up here in minutes."

New Milford patients also now have access to the Praxair Regional Heart Center at Danbury Hospital. Patients no longer have to go to Hartford or New York for heart health-related surgeries.

Not only is emergency care closer, this allows patients to easily come back to New Milford Hospital for follow-up cardiac care, said Dr. Michael Levine, a cardiologist and chairman of the facility's Department of Medicine (see cardiology story).

Community benefits

New Milford Hospital contributed more than $20 million in in-kind service to more than 80,000 residents in 2009 as part of its not-for-profit mission.

"If the community continues to have significant needs, we will continue to provide assistance," Ms. Weymouth said.

Beginning with 2011-12, however, the hospital will not be contributing a portion of the cost of the paramedic service, provided through Campion and shared regionally by seven towns, including New Milford.

In the past, it had. As a result, cost to all seven towns increases by some 14 percent.

Ms. Weymouth said that change is due to "new compliance regulations" on the state level.

"We need to be mindful of the position we would be in. We would be paying for a provider (Campion) to bring patients into us here," she said.