OPINION: Seamless transition to new childcare facility unlikely for Chelsea families
As the daughter of Will Johnson, former CEO of Chelsea Community Hospital, I was saddened to hear about the closure of the Chelsea Community Hospital Children’s Center. Throughout the years, my father, in concert with the Chelsea community, achieved many wonderful things for the hospital and for the City of Chelsea, and the establishment of the child care center 35 years ago is one of the accomplishments that I am most proud of. To me, it was and is recognition of the value of women as employees, working parents and the need to provide quality and affordable care for children.
As a former working parent, I know first hand about the difficulties in finding and paying for quality childcare. When we learned that we were going to have our first child, we immediately began looking for childcare. We lived in St. Paul, Minnesota at the time. While there were many options available, the childcare options that I felt good about and that which we could afford were far fewer. I compared them to the quality programming that I was familiar with at the Chelsea Community Hospital Children’s Center and many fell far short of their standards. We did locate a facility, though expensive, with which we were very pleased. Quality of care and proximity to our home and workplaces were two of the deciding factors for us. Once we located this center, we immediately enrolled though our child would not be born for several months. Wait lists at desired childcare centers are typical.
Though I appreciate the efforts that St. Joe’s has made to provide a connection to alternative care (Gretchen’s House; there are several Ann Arbor locations), I do not believe, as the hospital stated, that it will be a “seamless transition for our children and parents.” Both the children and families of the center have developed relationships with the caregivers at the center as well as with the other children who attend the center. Transitioning children to new centers and programs to new owners will have an impact on children and their parents. In addition to having to forge new relationships and trust, many parents must now add an extra commute time to their day which will take away from the limited time that they are able to spend with their child[ren].
Many reasons have been cited for closure of the center, including cost, “refocusing [the hospital’s] mission on health care” and concerns regarding regulatory issues. The hospital has consistently received high ratings as an employer. I argue that the existence of a childcare center for employees is one of the reasons for its high rating. The childcare center helps the employees of the hospital focus on its mission of providing great care to its patients. If working parents are confident that their children are being well cared for, they can focus on their tasks at work. In the past 35 years, while the childcare center was in existence, the Chelsea Community Hospital, as an independent hospital, received numerous accolades for its patient care and repeatedly was awarded status as a nationwide top 100 hospital. There is a reason for this. The employees knew that they were valued and this was reflected in the way that they worked and cared for patients.
With respect to regulatory issues, addressing such issues are routine for hospitals and I am confident, given that the Chelsea Community Children’s Center has been in existence for 35 years, that hospital staff, our state representatives and other highly competent and creative individuals will be able to address any new regulatory concerns.
I have been told that the net loss to Chelsea Community Hospital to run the childcare programs is approximately $50,000. If this is an accurate number, in the scope of the hospital’s budget, this is a small amount of money and seems a reasonable line item number to spend on an employee and community benefit. Moreover, if the cost of the program, whether it is $50, 000 or $250,000, is the reason for the closure of this wonderful program, then I am confident that we as a community can raise the necessary money and will be able to overcome any other legitimate obstacles, financial, regulatory or otherwise.
I hope that the decision to close the center will be reconsidered. While I do not have any of my children currently enrolled in the Chelsea Community Children’s Center’s programs, I am willing to volunteer my time and effort to help secure the future of this wonderful asset. As transfer of administration and management of the hospital continues to occur, I hope that St. Joe’s remembers the community in Chelsea Community Hospital.
Melissa A. Johnson