THE BLOG

It's Time for Hospitals to Help Families in a New Way‏

12/26/2012 07:50 pm ET | Updated Feb 25, 2013

Hospitals across the nation are trying new and innovative ways to better meet patient needs and in turn build loyalty, improve hospital efficiencies and enhance medical programs. In their efforts to deliver a more patient centered approach to care, many are offering a more integrated set of services. For example many cancer patients now benefit from a single point of contact to guide them through the complex maze of specialists, treatment options and issues. We applaud these efforts.

But there is one need that most hospitals have sorely overlooked. In fact, only a handful of hospitals across the globe have stepped up to this challenge.

Yet organizations such as Ikea, 24 Hour Fitness, community centers, courthouses, movie theaters and even spas have figured it out.

We're talking about drop-in child care.

The hospital is place where many families are in crisis. A parent or child is there seeking needed medical care, yet for the child not needing medical attention, there is no place to go to play and de-stress. So the little person sits idly in the waiting room, toddlers unsupervised through hallways, or finds refuge with a kindly, though likely overextended nurse.

And that's if the family even makes the scheduled medical appointment. Some moms put off needed exams for years due to a lack of child care, other family members cancel appointments at the last-minute because pre-arranged child care falls through, while still other parents simply endure the stress of bringing their child along only to be interrupted or distracted while the doctor shares vital information.

This is a familiar experience. Amy, one of the authors of this article, was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 34, with a 2 ½ year old child at the time. She had more than 140 medical appointments to make that year. And she is one of the lucky ones with a helpful husband, family in-town and friends ready to jump in and help. Yet, still it was hard to arrange for someone to watch their son 144 times.

She is not alone. Our Web survey found more than 90 percent of parents said arranging childcare so that they or another family member could attend medical appointments is sometimes or always a challenge. Nearly three-quarters of parents surveyed said that they or a family member has had to miss or reschedule one or more medical appointment due to lack of childcare resources. Half said that lack of childcare has been an obstacle to their ability to access healthcare. The majority say they would use drop-in childcare at the doctor, and that they would pay for this service.

Drop-in child care at a hospital means fewer missed appointments, greater compliance with treatment plans, more hands-free nurses and more on-time patients which in turn translates to more on-time doctors.

As hospitals seek new ways to do more with less, maximize existing space and resources, and become more patient friendly, we believe it's time for them to offer drop-in childcare.

Two hospitals in Portland, Ore. have taken this leap. Providence St. Vincent partnered with our organization, My Little Waiting Room, and hired Volunteers of America Oregon to provide professionally staffed, donor subsidized drop-in child care to patients and visitors at the hospital. Since doors opened in April of 2010, more than 12,000 child visits have been served.

Now, its sister hospital, Providence Portland Medical Center, will open the second My Little Waiting Room in the spring of 2013.

We implore others who are compelled to start a similar service in their communities. Drop-in child care needs to be at the hospital just as the cafeteria, gift shop and parking lots are there.

Let's set aside the potential barriers of space, liability and funding. Hospitals that find room for multiple conference rooms and cafes, deal with near-death situations daily, or raise millions of dollars for a new wing or new technology can do this.

After all, it's not brain surgery, it's just child care.

This post is part of a series co-produced by The Huffington Post and Points of Light to honor Loreal Paris' Women of Worth initiative. Women of Worth honors incredible women who are making a beautiful difference through their dedication to philanthropy and their passion for improving the world. The 10 women being honored this year were selected from thousands of nominations. Each of the honorees received $10,000 for her charitable cause from L'Oreal Paris. To learn more about Women of Worth or to submit a nomination beginning April 2013, please visit womenofworth.com.