Hackensack Meridian to keep child care centers open after complaints

Hackensack Meridian Health told employees in July it planned to close its day care centers later this year, citing financial pressures and staffing issues. 

This week, the Edison, New Jersey-based not-for-profit health system reversed course and said it would keep the facilities open, following outcry from employees and union leaders.

“After receiving thoughtful input from our team members and the community, Hackensack Meridian Health is committed to finding a solution that maintains on-site child care. Our leaders are continuing to evaluate all options with this goal in mind. As we explore possibilities, we expect that all viable solutions may include adjustments to our current operations,” Hackensack Meridian spokesperson Mary Jo Layton said in a statement. 

Debbie White, president of New Jersey union organization Health Professionals and Allied Employees, said amid a staffing crisis, health systems shouldn’t make it harder for employees to come to work. She hopes it will be the final decision for Hackensack Meridian. The union represents workers at multiple hospitals in the system. 

Investing in child care centers is a big financial commitment for health systems–one that many are not willing or able to make. They don’t typically see any financial gains from operating the centers. Systems are dealing with staff recruitment and retention issues, and the centers can help with both.

Some health systems opened child care sites to accommodate family and scheduling conflicts during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of early 2021, about 30% of registered nurses had access to at least partial reimbursement benefits to cover the cost of child care, according to a report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Other systems have offered the service for years. 

Roper St. Francis Healthcare in Charleston, South Carolina, opened its learning center 35 years ago. The center is at capacity with 110 children and has a longer wait list than before the pandemic, said Andy Lyons, a spokesperson for Roper St. Francis.

About three-fourths of the children at the learning center have a parent providing direct care to patients. A recent internal survey found 91% of parents using the center’s services remained at their jobs because of it, he said. Children have spent longer hours at the facility amid COVID-19 surges.

Johnson City, Tennessee-based Ballad Health is investing $37 million to build 11 child care centers over the next few years. It views the centers as a way to compete in the tight labor market. The expansion will increase Ballad’s 200 available child care slots to 2,000, half of which will be for employees and the rest for the larger community, including high-risk families, said Tony Keck, chief innovation officer at Ballad.

Keck said despite the cost, the health system’s board supported the plan because of the need to compete to attract non-contract workers, plus the tie-in with Ballad’s educational support efforts. 

“We can’t compete with some of the cities, even on our periphery, that can continue to raise wages, and so we understood that we have to compete differently, and we believe that this is one thing that really can differentiate us,” Keck said.

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