Doctors at New Milford Hospital want to assure moms and moms-to-be the New Milford Hospital family birthing center is fully staffed, even as the hospital begins to shift its birthing service to Danbury Hospital.

As many as three patients who have called the hospital have been told erroneously the birthing center had already closed, Dr. John Sussman said.

Adding to the confusion, two doctors in obstetrics and gynecology with a practice in New Milford, Drs. Carol Papov and Claudia Baxter, have switched their deliveries to Charlotte Hungerford Hospital in Torrington.

Deborah Weymouth, executive director of New Milford Hospital and senior vice president of the network, said "the birthing center is open and operational until we receive needed final approvals."

"Staffing at New Milford Hospital was not the issue in changing to Charlotte Hungerford for deliveries," Dr. Papov said. "We were going to have to make a change eventually, and this seemed an opportune time. We're still doing surgeries in New Milford."

Western Connecticut Health Network, with which New Milford and Danbury hospitals are affiliated, filed the necessary form Aug. 16 with the state Department of Health to receive permission to shift the service.

The 157-page document filed to support a "certificate of need" points to a declining delivery rate at the community hospital and an increasing percentage of those deliveries coming from New Milford instead of surrounding towns.

Births have been declining about 9 percent annually since 2007, causing an annual loss of approximately $650,000, according to the application.

"Before reaching a level of questionable sustainability, and with the opportunity to provide a state-of-the-art facility only 17 miles away," relocation of the service is "prudent," the application states.

Hospital leaders had expected the birthing center could shift to Danbury by the end of this year.

The process requires a public hearing, which has not yet been scheduled by the state health department. Yet it could happen in the next couple of months, said agency spokesman Bill Garrish.

Meanwhile, New Milford Hospital's birthing center is fully staffed and deliveries are continuing, said Dr. Sussman, who has an office in New Milford.

"There has been no change to the services that we have been providing," he added. "I'm hearing from some patients that they are leaving the local network to go elsewhere for their deliveries. That is not necessary at this time."

The Certificate of Need document states the network anticipates "60 percent of the historical (delivery) activity" would shift to Danbury Hospital, but Dr. Sussman is skeptical.

"That's an assumption I don't believe the other OB/GYN doctors would make. I know I would not," he said. "New Milford Hospital is a small community hospital known for personalized care."

"Danbury Hospital is a teaching hospital, with interns, medical students and residents," he said, "all of whom are providing patient care while they learn their profession. That's not always what a patient wants when she delivers."

Dr. Papov said her switch in hospitals from New Milford to Torrington for deliveries has brought "mixed reactions" from patients.

"Some love the fact because they live close to Charlotte Hungerford and like the community hospital feel," Papov said. "Others are ambivalent about which hospital is used, while still others are choosing to deliver in Danbury because of proximity to their homes."

Dr. Papov said about 70 percent of their patients have followed them to Charlotte Hungerford for delivery. Others are still receiving their obstetric care through her New Milford practice, then having doctors at Danbury Hospital deliver their babies.

"The Danbury doctors have been very cooperative in performing deliveries for our patients," she said. "We have very close communication with Danbury doctors, with all patient documentation over to them at the time of deliveries."

"We continue operating under our same plan to transition delivery services at New Milford Hospital to Danbury Hospital with safety and quality for our patients at the forefront," Ms. Weymouthsaid. "We intend to be here for the long term to serve our community and appreciate the ongoing support we continue to receive."; 860-355-7322