Health care workers seeking child care solutions

Posted 10/13/09

While the center's service is valuable, it is of limited benefit for some, especially for health care or city employees who work hours when the center is closed. The center is open from 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

And, because the …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Health care workers seeking child care solutions


{gallery}10_08_09/daycare100809{/gallery} Preschoolers (left to right) Michael Kobbe, Regan Olberding and Madison Timmons play with colorful cardboard blocks while waiting for snack time at the Northwest College Child Care Center on a Thursday afternoon in late September. Tribune photo by Ilene Olson NWC Child care center may close during summerFinding quality child care is a challenge for many parents. But when parents work in the health care field, that challenge often proves even more difficult. The Northwest College Child Care Center has stepped up to help alleviate that challenge by providing child care and preschool services to children of Powell Valley Healthcare employees. The center also serves children of city and school district employees.

While the center's service is valuable, it is of limited benefit for some, especially for health care or city employees who work hours when the center is closed. The center is open from 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

And, because the center serves only children age 2 and older, parents of infants and toddlers must find other solutions to child care problems.

In addition, the NWC Child Center recently discontinued transportation services to and from the center for school-age children, creating more headaches for parents who now must figure out how to get their children to and from school.

The most recent complication is the possibility that the center will not remain open during summer breaks next year, as it has for the past three summers.

Faith Jones, vice president of patient care services, told the Powell Valley Healthcare Board last month she met with NWC officials recently, and they told her the center lost money this summer because too few children were enrolled. She said they told her they couldn't justify having the center open next summer unless enough children were enrolled to cover the center's costs.

Dana Young, NWC vice president for student services, said Monday that Powell Valley Healthcare officials approached the college three years ago about keeping the child care center open during the summer.

“We said we would give it a three-year trial,” she said. “We've done that, and now we're trying to assess whether we can afford to do it. We'd love to keep doing it if we can. It's just, the funding is the challenge.”

According to figures from Sheldon Flom, NWC director of finance, the child care center lost $4,333 during the summer months in 2007 and $5,431 in summer 2008. The deficit nearly tripled this summer, growing to $17,534.

Young said a decision about whether to keep the center open for summer 2010 will be finalized in January or February as NWC administrators prepare to put the college's budget together.

Dr. Betsy Spomer said if the NWC Child Care Center closes for the summer, it would make it much more difficult for her and others to use the center's services. If the center closes during the summer, she may find it necessary to make other child-care arrangements for the rest of the year as well, she added.

NWC Child Care Center Director Autorina Mains noted that summer attendance tends to be cyclical. In 2008, 25-30 children attended the center during the summer. This year, that number dipped to 15-20 children.

Center enrollment this fall is higher than usual, with 25-30 children attending the center each day. That is a reflection of higher enrollment at the college, Mains said.

At Spomer's request, Rod Barton, Powell Valley Healthcare chief executive officer, and Jones will distribute a survey regarding child care needs and concerns among employees. Barton presented a draft of the survey to board members last week.

Barton also reported what he learned about a child-care center operated by West Park Hospital in Cody after speaking to Betsy Werner, director of the hospital's “Seedlings Center.”

That center opened two and a half years ago after West Park Hospital officials remodeled an existing building. It operates from 6 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and is closed on weekends and the six major holidays.

The extended hours have caused some financial challenges because there typically are very few children who are there early or after normal business hours, he told the board.

The Seedlings Center serves children birth through age 12, but most of the children enrolled are infants or toddlers.

The center has three tiers of users: Tier 1 consists of employees of West Park Hospital, Tier 2 is made up of physicians on the active medical staff and their office employees and Tier 3 is for the general public.

Hospital employees pay somewhat less for the service than physicians or their office staff, and members of the general public would pay the highest rate. But, because the center always has been filled, it never has opened to the public.

A waiting list started about six months after the center opened, and it now takes about a one-year wait to get a child into the center, Barton said.

The Seedlings Center lost about $45,000 last year, with West Park Hospital subsidizing about 25 percent of the center's expenses, Barton said. He noted that the highest cost is for infant and toddler care due to lower staff-child rations required for them by state regulations. But that also is where the heaviest demand is, he added.

He said Werner does not view the center as a great recruitment tool for West Park Hospital because of its long waiting list. But it is a good employee-retention tool, she told him.

Werner told him she hopes to expand the center in the future, as it is much more popular than anticipated, but there is no space to do that at the present time.

Powell Valley Healthcare board member Kay Carlson noted the board approved paying $15,000 to a local child-care center two years ago as part of an agreement to keep the center open after business hours and at night for Powell Valley Healthcare employees.

“Nobody used it,” she said.

Child care center also serves as lab, preschool

The Northwest College Child Care Center offers more than care for children.

It also serves as a preschool for children between the ages of 2 and 5, and as a lab for NWC students enrolled in a variety of classes.

Younger preschoolers, ages 2 and 3, attend on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings; 4- and 5-year-olds attend Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons.

This year, the center upgraded its preschool operation after receiving a $3,500 grant from the Northwest College Foundation, said Center Director Autorina Mains.

The money purchased toys and educational material, including kitchen sets and ethnic food, dishes, dress-up clothes, a train set with a table, a doll house with resident families, a fire house, a block table, educational material, books, a listening center, a music CD and a paint smock, she said.

For Northwest College students, “we offer the place as a lab for student observations,” Mains said. “Last year, we had 112 students observe.”

Those students observed children and interactions at the center for assignments in classes such as child development, nursing, psychology, education and reading.

Students who are considering entering fields such as early childhood education can observe or volunteer in the center, and and sometimes they work part-time jobs there.

“This is a place where students can go to decide, ‘Is this what I want to do for my professional career?'” Mains said. “Some students have changed their majors,” either to enter an early-childhood-related career, or to go in a different direction.

Mains also works with Wy Quality Counts to offer training for child care center providers or employees.