In late 2019, a Childcare Task Force was convened and directed to assess the Jefferson Healthcare need for employee childcare and its impact on recruitment and retention of the work force and the availability of quality childcare in Jefferson County. The TF was asked to identify models that support childcare solutions in order to optimize lifetime health and learning for employee families and the community.
Molly Parker, MD, MPH, Medical Director of JH Population Health served as a co-chair of the TF. The group confirmed a serious shortage of all-age childcare capacity in Jefferson County, qualifying Jefferson County as a “daycare desert.” The public health crisis made the lack of childcare in Jefferson County even more apparent.
Parents reported “settling” for lower quality care than they desired due to lack of options, and ” cobbling together” care with part-time preschools, neighbors, and relatives. Informal relationships for care were commonly reported and often lacked the licensing oversite parents preferred. Nannies were an option for some respondents, but cost was prohibitive for most. After school, holiday, and summer care for school-aged children was challenging to find. Employees listed emergency childcare, sick care, and drop-in options as gaps they had trouble filling.
Dr. Parker explained, “the more the TF learned, the more it confirmed that seriously limited access to daycare is an issue for families and employers throughout Jefferson County. Evidence points to decreased productivity and worsened health outcomes for the workforce and families as a result. Safe, quality childcare sets the stage for healthy growth for children and their families, influencing long-term health outcomes for the child.”
Jefferson Healthcare, with community partners Peninsula College, and the Olympic Peninsula YMCA, applied for the competitive Department of Commerce’s Childcare Partnership Grant—a state collaboration with Safe Start Fund to develop community-based plans for expanding childcare capacity. In August, Dr. Parker was notified her application was successful, “I saw an opportunity for Jefferson Healthcare to play an important role as an advocate for the health of all Jefferson County, including its youngest citizens.”
The grant funds will be used to re-assess the childcare needs in the setting of the pandemic and then create an implementation-ready blueprint to address the childcare crisis by increasing high-quality, community-based childcare capacity in Jefferson County. The project continues the work of the task force established in 2019. Dr. Parker says, “Peninsula College brings their early childhood education academic expertise, and the Olympic Peninsula YMCA contributes school-age care experience both in Jefferson County and nationally – and is poised to respond nimbly with the new demands of providing childcare during a pandemic. Jefferson Healthcare will drive the project based on the acute need from both patients and employees, as well as the mission to improve overall lifelong community health.”