Western Connecticut Health Network, the umbrella organization that includes Danbury Hospital and New Milford Hospital, announced Sept. 29 it plans to lay off 60 employees, or about one percent of its workforce.

"This was a very painful decision for the organization, yet an unavoidable one," Phyllis Zappala, the network's senior vice president of human resources, said last week.

"The health care landscape is quickly changing and our network was forced to make this difficult decision due to the sluggish economy, and as a result of state and federal cuts to hospital reimbursements."

"We are operating in an environment that is very different from what we faced even a year ago. We also recognize that we can't simply respond to financial challenges by inflating our prices year after year. Our communities' businesses are already struggling with the reality that health care insurance has become too expensive."

Hospitals across the country are facing economic challenges.

"People are far less willing to spend money they don't have to spend," Ms. Zappala said.

There have been cuts in federal reimbursements to both Medicare and Medicaid. The new state budget includes taxes on hospital revenues.

"It's just very difficult field on many fronts," said network spokeswoman Andrea Rynn.

The layoff is one of several moves the network has taken in the past year to control costs.

It is now using its own gas-turbine plant to produce much of the hospital's energy. It also has outsourced the food service unit at Danbury Hospital to Morrison Management Services.

That move eliminated 129 food service jobs, but Ms. Zappala said Morrison has rehired nearly all the workers.

She declined to specify the kinds of jobs involved in the layoffs, except to say they include workers "across the spectrum" who are not involved in direct patient care.

Ms. Zappala also said it was impossible to predict when, or even if, the hospital would hire these employees back. Given the nation's economy, and the additional stresses being placed on the health care business, she said "it will be a very slow recovery."

"If the economy improved dramatically, we might be able to bring some of these people back," she said.

Western Connecticut Health Network is not alone with its layoffs.

Patty Charvat, spokeswoman for the Connecticut Hospital Association, said as conditions in the health care industry change rapidly, hospitals have to find ways to respond.

"It's not a move any hospital takes lightly," she said. "But people have to realize that hospitals not only take care of people, they're part of the economic community."