Backus becomes latest hospital to join Hartford HealthCare network

State regulators have approved plans for Backus Hospital to affiliate with Hartford HealthCare, bringing the small Norwich hospital into a growing chain of health care facilities that cover a wide swath of the state.

The move makes Backus the fifth hospital in Hartford’s network. Hartford HealthCare is also the parent company of Hartford and Windham Hospitals, The Hospital of Central Connecticut, and MidState Medical Center in Meriden. It also includes physician practices in the Hartford Medical Group and several behavioral health facilities.

Hartford HealthCare also announced plans to establish an “East Region” that covers members of its system in New London and Windham counties, including Backus and Windham hospitals. The region will have its own CEO, Dave Whitehead, who is currently the president and CEO of Backus.

Windham Hospital’s CEO Stephen W. Larcen will become senior vice president of Hartford HealthCare’s behavioral health network. He currently servces as president and CEO of Natchaug Hospital, and will maintain that role, in addition to overseeing the rest of the system’s behavioral health and substance abuse programs, including The Institute of Living and Rushford.

Whitehead said in a statement that the affiliation creates a “very bright, sustainable future for health care right here, close to home.”

“Our goal throughout this very deliberate process has been to create far more coordinated care at every level for our patients and their families,” Whitehead said. “This is a giant step forward toward achieving that vision.”

The affiliation includes plans for capital investment in the network’s east region and a commitment to a trauma center at Backus where one of Hartford’s two Life Star helicopters will be stationed permanently. There will also be a network of primary care and outpatient care services, including surgery, a more comprehensive cancer services network in the region and local cardiac care services.

In addition, Backus will have more access to neonatologists and a new preventive medicine institute, according to Hartford HealthCare.

Backus and Windham hospitals will continue to maintain their own medical staffs and licenses. Backus will maintain its own board, although it will now include two members of the Hartford HealthCare system board. The system’s board will in turn get two additional members from the Backus board.

The affiliation, which received approval from the state Office of Health Care Access, is the latest in a series of moves toward consolidation among Connecticut hospitals. Last year, Yale-New Haven Hospital acquired The Hospital of St. Raphael, and its network also includes Bridgeport and Greenwich hospitals. Danbury and New Milford hospitals have joined forces to form the Western Connecticut Health Network, and Norwalk Hospital is likely to join as well.

Meanwhile, Bristol and Waterbury hospitals have been in talks to join Vanguard Health Systems, a for-profit hospital chain based in Tennessee. Those deals were stymied earlier this month when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy vetoed a bill considered critical for the for-profit chain to operate the hospitals and employ doctors.