The second installment in our series of feature articles focused on Dividends Nebraska members who are changing the economic outlook for their community and state by changing the developmental outlook for young kids.
Access to quality health care is an essential component of our state’s local and regional infrastructure. For more than three decades, Columbus Community Hospital has played a central role in the stability, economic growth and quality of life in central and northeast Nebraska. During the past eight years alone, CCH has increased its stature and ability to serve the community as a premier regional medical facility by recruiting nearly a hundred additional workers and dramatically expanding its campus.
According to Nebraska Department of Labor projections, job opportunities in health care are projected to experience the largest growth of all industries statewide—approximately 16 to 17% between 2012 and 2022. Although exciting, this growth presents a challenge to recruit and retain skilled health care workers across all areas of the state, including Platte County and its neighbors. Columbus Community Hospital is addressing this challenge in part by making it easier for parents working in health care to establish stronger roots in Columbus by offering on-site child care to CCH employees.
CCH’s On-Site Child Care: A Shrewd Financial Move
While child care is critical to Nebraska’s working families, the relatively high cost and low availability of quality services have historically offset parents’ ability to work outside the home. This is particularly true in micropolitan and rural communities, where fluctuations in child care availability are often felt across all areas of local business and industry.
In Columbus, this issue came to the attention of the Quality of Life Coalition, an association of local stakeholders charged with developing a plan to identify and address opportunities for ongoing civic and economic growth. Coalition members pinpointed a growing need for additional quality child care options in the community. However, at the time, the partnership was not able to address the problem head-on.
Driven by the Coalition’s findings and a separate assessment of community health needs, CCH decided to conduct its own employee survey.
“We recognized our employees were struggling with access, cost and availability of child care,” said Michael Hansen, Columbus Community Hospital’s CEO. “We’ve surveyed our staff, who told us this was the most significant challenge facing the working parents who make up a large percentage of CCH’s more than 700 employees. This was the wake-up call that pushed our hospital’s management team and board to take action on creating on-site child care for their employees—a plan that has been in development since 2013.”
The new facility opened in August, offering child care services for up to 105 children, primarily those of hospital staff. Hansen notes that the center is already affecting employee recruitment.
“I just talked to a newly hired nurse who told me point blank that the final deciding factor in her coming to CCH was our on-site child care facility,” he said, adding that increased retention will also affect the hospital’s operating budget. Hansen says, on average, every incidence of employee turnover costs the hospital as much as $45,000. These expenses are the result of lost productivity and the cost of recruiting and onboarding new staff.
As an added benefit to its employees, CCH partially subsidizes the cost of child care in the new facility. With this employee perk in place, it further reduces staff turnover, resulting in further savings for the hospital.
A Quality Environment for Kids
Leading CCH’s new facility is Melinda Long, who brings 17 years of experience in children’s early development and child care administration. For Long and her staff, the goal is to provide a critical support for working parents and a quality environment that promotes the healthy physical, social, emotional and cognitive growth of young kids at a critical time in their development. Currently, the center offers full-day and extended care hours for children between birth and age 12. Long says that maintaining low staff-to-child ratios are important to delivering the quality of care and attention children need.
CCH’s child care center emphasizes partnerships to encourage stronger outcomes for the children. Long’s teaching staff builds strong relationships with parents to enable them to work together on work plans to meet children’s individual developmental needs. The center also coordinates with the public school system to ensure early learning specialists can work with the children on-site during the day. Long also notes that she and her staff are looking forward to a new collaboration that will bring students from Central Community College’s Child Development Program to CCH’s child care center for hands-on learning opportunities. Given the serious shortage of highly skilled early childhood professionals in Nebraska, these kinds of collaborations can play a critical role in strengthening an important sector of the statewide workforce.
CCH’s 13,000-square-foot facility shares kitchen, maintenance and environmental services with the hospital, greatly increasing its operational efficiency and further benefiting CCH’s bottom line.
Good for CCH, the Community and the State
While the new child care center prioritizes the needs of hospital employees, there is some space available for other families in the community. Throughout the planning process, CCH carefully considered how its new facility might affect Columbus’ existing providers and worked with them to ensure the center would become a valued partner. Hansen believes the center will benefit Columbus overall by reducing the waiting lists for open child care slots. “Where before there were not enough slots with existing providers, our facility has freed up spaces with other providers that we expect to be snatched up by the broader community.”
Moving forward, Hansen believes this experience will serve as a model for others. “I would love to see others learn from our work and replicate this model in their own businesses and communities,” he said. “Having child care on your campus will be a differentiating factor that will benefit your business in the long term. My message to others considering offering child care options to their employees—either on-site or as a benefit—is simple: invest in child care and your business will see great returns.”