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Norwalk Hospital affiliating with Danbury, New Milford hospitals

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Pictured at the signing of Western Connecticut Health Network and Norwalk Hospital, seated, from left are: Victor Liss, member of the Norwalk Hospital Board of Trustees, John M. Murphy, MD, president and CEO, Western Connecticut Health Network, Dan DeBarba Jr., president and CEO, Norwalk Hospital and James Kennedy, chairman of the board of Western Connecticut Health Network. They are surrounded by board members from both Norwalk Hospital and Western Connecticut Health Network. (Contributed photo)

By Nancy Guenther Chapman

NORWALK, Conn. – The “middle of a storm” has inspired Norwalk Hospital and Western Connecticut Health Network to bring their parallel missions of improving health care throughout Western Connecticut together in an affiliation that combines the strengths of the two organizations, Norwalk Hospital CEO Dan DeBarbra said Tuesday.

“This is in the face of great regulatory changes, both at the state level, in the federal level, even at the private care level,” he said. “We’re sort of in the middle of that storm and we need to adapt. That’s what we’re doing, but preserving the best of what we are, providing the kind of care that only a community hospital can provide, but with access to resources that major medical centers have.”

Norwalk’s Hospital’s parent organization, Norwalk Health Services Corporation, is merging with Western Connecticut Health Network, said DeBarbra, after signing papers during a press conference at the Dolce Center. The resulting parent corporation will oversee Norwalk Hospital, Danbury Hospital and New Milford Hospital, resulting in 784 hospital beds governed by a single board of directors and a unified mission.

The merger of the parent organizations has to obtain regulatory approval. That’s two approvals at the state level, a certificate of need from the attorney general in the office of Healthcare Access, then federal antitrust approval from the Federal Trade Commission. DeBarbra hopes those will be obtained in six to nine months.

“We have the ability to share quality metrics, share quality standards, improve the quality of patient safety across the system,” he said. “I think there are certain medical specialties that Norwalk on its own, in all likelihood Danbury on its own, really can’t acquire because of the size of the markets that we serve. Whereas when we come together, we hope that we can bring in specialties to serve across the network, do more than we otherwise would be able to do.”

John M. Murphy, M.D., president and CEO of Western Connecticut Health, will lead the new organization as president and CEO. DeBarbra will remain as the president and CEO of Norwalk Hospital and become the executive vice president of the Network. Erv Shames, a current member of the Norwalk Hospital board of trustees, will lead the new board of directors. Other organizational details will be addressed in the coming months.

There are a number of advantages to the merger,  Murphy said. “There are things that we can do collectively that I don’t think we can do individually. … I think we can begin to build regional programs of care, whether it’s cancer care or cardiovascular care, digestive diseases or a whole host of them, but I think if you begin to create programs that attract 600 or 700,000 patients, you can attract very qualified, highly talented physicians who can come here and offer local care with expertise that typically resides outside the community. I think you can build stronger, more comprehensive regional systems of care that are disease specific. “

Both Danbury and Norwalk are teaching hospitals. “We would very much like to maintain those commitments.”

Correction made, Jan. 26

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