The opening of discussions about the proposed affiliation between Danbury and New Milford hospitals is a sign of the times.

Such a move is inevitable, given the well-documented economic conditions in providing health care. And an affiliation has the potential to be beneficial for former competitors, whose alliance could be in the best interests of Western Connecticut residents.

There are pros and cons to such an affiliation, but all factors considered, an alliance between Danbury and New Milford hospitals make sense.

However, as the agreement is worked out this fall, and implemented after the new year, we urge all involved to come from this common ground: compassion.

Danbury Hospital, with nearly 4.5 times as many beds as New Milford, is by far the larger facility. There would appear to be few, if any at all, drawbacks for the larger hospital in aligning with the smaller hospital.

For New Milford Hospital, the situation is significantly different. As services are shared for the sake of economic efficiency, some are likely to shift to the larger hospital. In addition, overall leadership is likely to reside in Danbury as New Milford Hospital has already suspended its search for a new president and CEO.

Most consolidations are undertaken to maximize resources, which very well could mean that jobs will be lost.

New Milford Hospital is more than a place of medical care. It is the largest employer in town -- with a 700-member staff -- and is actively involved in the community.

Dr. Joseph Frolkis, who is leaving this month as president and CEO of New Milford Hospital, likes to say it is a great community hospital. And he's right.

With a 10-year-old cancer care center, a comprehensive heart disease prevention and care program, a sleep center among other services and an excellent staff, there's much to be proud of at the hospital.

But the budget realities cannot be ignored.

Last year New Milford Hospital lost $1.5 million. For this year, the hospital board of directors budgeted for another $1.5 million loss and had to eliminate about 20 jobs to stay on track to meet that budget. The fiscal situation is unlikely to turn around any time soon, and further deterioration could begin to affect health care.

For that primary reason, an affiliation between the two hospitals -- which are only about 25 minutes apart -- is a smart approach.

In the negotiations to come, we ask officials at both hospitals to make decisions based on the best possible care for all communities involved.

Hospitals are pivotal places in the everyday life of a community -- from the joyous time of birth, to crisis care in an emergency room, to fixing broken bones, to medical attention with serious illnesses such as cancer or heart disease, to life-saving services such as dialysis, to end-of-life care.

Merge the hospitals, yes, for economy of scale, but do so with compassion for the people who depend upon consistent quality care. That is everyone.