Day Care for Sick Children

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The hypnotic sound of a treadmill is the soundtrack to Dr. Loretta Assata's typical work day. A cardiologist for Akron General Hospital, she oversees stress tests that assess the health of a patient's heart. One morning a few weeks ago, Assata's 2 year old May woke up with a fever too high to go to daycare. Neither Assata, nor her husband, nor May's grandparents could watch her that day and Assata thought she was out of options.

ASSATA: For the type of respiratory infection that my child had recently I would have been out 4 days in a row that's just simply unacceptable. To have aborted an entire schedule for four days would have affected a minimum of 100 patients easily in that period of time.

Assata says in her moment of desperation she turned to the services of the Akron Sick Child Care Center.

It's a daycare center affiliated with Akron Children's Hospital that cares for kids with colds, chicken pox and other mild illnesses during the day so parents don't have to miss work.

It would be a quiet place if one little boy with a sinus cold could fall asleep. Instead, he's allowed to play in the toy room while 18 other kids of varying ages settle down for nap time. The place can handle 26 kids. Even though the kids here are feeling less than stellar, Center Director Beverly Scott says the nursing staff treats them like royalty.

SCOTT: They all have their own televisions, chalk boards...we have a whole catalogue up there of video games and movies just anything to make their stay more comfortable.

A grant from the JP Morgan Chase Foundation allows children attending Margaret Park Elementary and Riedinger Middle Schools in Akron, both public schools can stay at the center for free. For everybody else it costs 55 dollars a day. However, a growing list of almost 15 companies in the Akron area subside all or part of that expense for their employees. Akron General Hospital Human Resources Spokeswoman Lee Sahadi, says the subsidy makes the companies. an attractive employer and keeps down extra costs associated with paid sick leave.

SAHADI: They're not having the employee doing the work at that time. So there's no productivity in that area where the employee is working. The cost to replace that employee if there has to over time or supplemental staffing, or on call type people-There are a lot of variables that come into an employee not coming to work.

Akron's Sick Child Care Center is one of the very few places of it's kind in Northeast Ohio . Neither the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals nor Metro Health Center provides such a program for kids. In addition many daycare centers won't accept children with even mild fevers. Dr. Jacqueline Stewart, Executive Director of the National Association for Sick Child Care says this kind of care is in high demand among parents and employers.

STEWART: But no body wants to supply it. Nobody wants to take the responsibility for supplying the need for sick child day care...but there is a great need.

Stewart says these centers face complex licensing procedures, because most states haven't made considered how to regulate a daycare that also tends child illnesses. Add to that a SEASONAL clientele and expensive nursing staff, and she says it very hard to be profitable. So the centers that ARE successful Stewart says usually are supported or run by corporations.

STWEART: Its going to be a corporate effort in order to make it available. The corporations can go together and support one center. But it's going to have to be a corporate support there.

And until such corporate support is forthcoming, or some other impetus arises, qualified care for sick children will be, for the most part, a rare option for working parents in Northeast Ohio.

Lisa Ann Pinkerton 90.3

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