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Local health systems lead the way in on-site child care

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by Maria G. Hoover

SBJ Staff

Data from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that women are entering the American work force at an increasing rate. The labor force participation rate for women in America, which includes not only women who work, but women who are actively looking for work, has grown from 50.9 percent in 1979 to 59.8 percent as of January 1999.

Because of the growing number of women in the work force, and because many of them have children, finding quality child care is an important issue.

Area businesses offer a variety of child-care assistance programs, such as dependent-care reimbursement or contracted discounts with local child-care providers, but employees at Cox and St. John's are among the few able to take advantage of employer-provided on-site child care.

St. John's Health System has a child-care center near the hospital, and the center's services are open only to employees for children ages 2-5. The original child-care center for St. John's employees opened in 1982, where the Fremont Medical Building currently stands. Later that year, the existing building at 1831 S. Fremont was built.

Cox Health Systems began offering on-site child care to employees in 1983. There are now on-site centers for the north and south hospitals for children ages 6 weeks to 12 years.

Marthann Hoover, director of St. John's child-care center, said it was a need for nurses that led both St. John's and Cox to offer on-site child care.

"There was a shortage nationwide, not just in Springfield, and both systems were looking for trained people. There were a lot of women with credentials who were not working in the business, and there was major call for women to come back into the work force. But some of them needed child care, and locally, at least, that was the impetus that got the ball rolling for on-site child care," Hoover said.

Tim San Paolo, human resources manager with Cox Health Systems, agreed. "With the registered nurse shortage, having on-site child care was something that helped them decide where to practice," he said.

On-site child care is still an important recruiting tool today, said Randy Meyers, human resources manager for St. John's.

"We've never tracked specifically whether having the on-site center is the deciding factor for employees who come here, but I know it is one important factor among others," he said.

San Paolo said one out of every two applicants to the Cox system asks about child care. In addition to recruitment and retention, the on-site child care centers also help with employees' job performance and productivity in terms of peace of mind, Hoover said.

"The privilege to be able to check, to peek into the classrooms, to call as often as they like during the day and talk with their child's teacher, I think certainly enhances productivity by making parents more comfortable on the job and better able to focus on what their work is," she added.

Linda Thompson, education coordinator for St. John's continuing education, has enrolled all three of her children in the system's child-care center.

Thompson said when she first came to work for St. John's 21 years ago, she didn't have children, so child care wasn't something she thought about. But she thinks on-site child care is an important factor for employees who have joined the system since the center opened.

Cox Child-Care Director Karrie Ridder said it also reduces absenteeism. "We are always here, unlike some private home child-care settings, which may not be open every day. These centers are always open on weekends, and even on holidays if there are enough kids," she said.

At the St. John's center, the daily rate for 2 year-olds is $14, and it's $13 for 3-to-5 year olds. Rates at Cox child care centers are $96.50 a week for infants younger than 2, $69.25 a week for 2-year-olds, and $64.75 for children ages 3-12.

"The child-care center costs St. John's between $150,000 and $200,000 a year, and the center only makes about 75 percent of that in revenue, so the health system ends up paying for the remaining 25 percent of the center's operating costs," Hoover said.

Ridder said the Cox on-site centers are also subsidized by the health system. "We are striving to break even, but in order to provide good, quality child care, that may not be possible," she said.

The St. John's center is licensed to care for 200 children at a time. There are 220 children enrolled at the center, but because shifts vary, there are usually about 150 children in the center at a time, Hoover said.

Ridder said there are 600 children enrolled at the two Cox child-care centers. The south-side center is licensed for 228 children at a time, and the north-side, 123, but like the St. John's center, varying shifts make it possible to accommodate all the children.

The St. John's child-care center is open only to employees.

Ridder said only Cox employees can use the centers during the day, but children whose parents don't work for Cox can be enrolled at night and on weekends. Parents who don't work at Cox do have to pay a higher price.

Lynn White, executive director of the National Child Care Association, said on-site child care is typically offered by larger companies, many of which are hospital-based.

"Most companies who offer on-site child care have a well-developed human resources department, and they are focused on providing a work-family type of environment for their employees," she said.

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