We have a mixed reaction to the news that New Milford Hospital will be relocating its Family Birthing Center to its sister facility, Danbury Hospital, at the end of 2012.

On the one hand, we are sorry that venerable New Milford Hospital will no longer deliver babies in its warm, intimate environment, and we are saddened by the impact the closing of the birth center will have on mothers, doctors, nurses, other staff and the community.

On the other hand, we are not surprised by the news, since hospital officials had provided foreshadowing of the decision a few weeks ago. And we fully recognize the practical and business reasons that led to the decision to close the center.

It is difficult to imagine that, after Dec. 31, no more babies will be born in New Milford Hospital, which has been providing that service for nearly a century, including more than six decades at its current site on Elm Street in the center of town.

New Milford Hospital is relatively small, but one of its main calling cards over the years has been its friendly, family-like atmosphere and the excellent personal care provided by its doctors, nurses and other staff.

Nowhere has that been more prevalent -- or more important -- than in the Family Birthing Center. And nine months from now, that center will be history.

Dec. 31, 2012, will clearly mark the end of an era at New Milford Hospital.

We feel badly for mothers who won't be able to have their babies in their hometown hospital.

And we feel badly about the disruption to obstetricians' practices, nurses' careers and other staffers' job status.

Officials of the Western Connecticut Health Network, parent organization of New Milford Hospital and Danbury Hospital, have made a commitment to try to help as many as possible of the 18 birthing center employees retain employment, and we encourage them to be very aggressive in pursuing that goal.

Emotional feelings aside, it is hard to criticize hospital officials for making the decision they did.

The number of babies delivered at New Milford Hospital has been dropping steadily for several years, with the 263 deliveries in 2011 one of the lowest totals among hospitals in Connecticut.

More telling, the birthing center suffered a $2.7 million loss last year, and it is hard to justify such a business reality when the health network offers state-of-the-art birthing services 20 minutes down the highway at Danbury Hospital.

Officials contend that closing the birthing center will enable the hospital to do a better job of providing other needed services and will provide space for expansion of existing departments.

And in the face of public concern over the future of New Milford Hospital, they continue to insist that the local facility is here to stay.

We strongly urge Western Connecticut Health Network officials to do all in their power to make good on that commitment.