As television's Captain Kangaroo, I influenced several generations of young Americans. Lesser known, however, has been my role as an advocate for American families and children's healthcare.
As a director of the National Association of Children's Hospitals, a fellow in the American Academy of Pediatrics, a director of the National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse and as national spokesman for the Coalition for America's Children, I have long been an advocate for meeting the needs of children and strengthening the family.
As a trustee for a community medical center for a quarter-century, I also have seen firsthand the changes occurring in the healthcare delivery system.
The challenges facing the healthcare industry today are awesome. As employers, hospitals are dealing with the healthcare reform, incredible changes in technology, and the difficult task of recruiting and retaining talented, dedicated employees in the midst of change.
As healthcare is restructured, there may be fewer hospital employees dealing with sicker patients. In an industry that is already faced with meeting around-the-clock staffing needs, these new demands mean caregivers will have to be even more resilient.
Balancing work, family.In this changing environment, hospital workers will face even greater conflicts between their families and their jobs.
Hospitals were among the first major employers in this country to acknowledge the effects of family challenges on the workplace. In many respects, they have led the corporate trend toward more family-friendly environments.
As an example, many hospitals have found that work-site child-care centers are an excellent way to assist their employees in meeting family demands so they can concentrate on their jobs. Nationwide, hospitals make up about two-thirds of the 1,400 employers offering work-site child care.
Let me share a couple of examples with which I am personally familiar.
Based on feedback from employees and physicians, executives at West Virginia University Hospitals in Morgantown decided in 1992 that they needed on-site child care to recruit and retain staff in a highly competitive healthcare market. They were particularly sensitive to this need because WVUH is in a rural area and competes for quality staff with hospitals in nearby Pittsburgh.
To meet the needs and work schedules of hospital employees, WVUH's child-care center has extended hours-from 5: 45 a.m. to 8 p.m.-and devotes a large percentage of its 124 spaces to infants and toddlers. About one-third of the center's enrollment are children of physicians. Employee response has been positive, and the hospital president has labeled the center a complete success.
When Baptist Hospital in Nashville, Tenn., opened its on-site child-care center more than five years ago, it was an attractive feature in the hospital's recruiting efforts. Now, administrators there say the center is proving a valuable tool for retaining workers in the changing healthcare environment.
Fun, challenging.A well-run child-care center is much more than a baby-sitting service; it addresses the developmental needs of each child. Teachers provide loving, responsive care in addition to challenging and stimulating educational activities. The curriculum is designed to help children experience success and also challenge them to move ahead in their growth. Children develop social skills, motor skills, pre-literacy competencies and beginning concepts in math and science. Such programs help provide the foundation for a child's later success in school.
Strong developmental programs are especially welcome in hospitals, where employees who deliver high-quality care to their patients appreciate knowing that their kids are receiving quality care while they are at work.
Officials at Baptist Hospital wanted an education-based program that emphasized each child's developmental progress. Their center, with space for 106 children, is operated by Nashville, Tenn.-based Corporate Child Care Management Services, a for-profit company that operates 48 centers in 18 states, including 19 in hospitals and medical centers.
Many other hospitals have been innovative in addressing workers' concerns by offering flexible schedules, child-care credits, and other programs designed to help their employees balance the demands of work and family.
In today's competitive healthcare marketplace, comprehensive family-friendly programs-including but certainly not limited to work-site child-care centers-have proved to be important to the bottom line by reducing employee turnover and absenteeism. Without a doubt, they will prove even more important in the future.