The Beaverton Valley Times, 2.14.08

Doctor office day care gives moms time to heal
By Shasta Kearns Moore

Like everyone who is diagnosed with cancer, Amy Paterson was devastated when she got the news. At 34 years old, Paterson was a new mother and felt as though her life had just been yanked out from under her. But her 2-year-old son was also deeply affected. He wouldn’t leave the house and would cuddle up with his mom at every opportunity. “He clearly knew that something really frightening and destabilizing was happening,” Paterson said.

A year and half later, Paterson’s breast cancer is now in remission, but she is still fighting. She is fighting to get something in hospitals that is becoming increasingly common in fitness centers, grocery stores and even courthouses: a drop-in day care center. Called My Little Waiting Room, the center would be open to all parents who needed a safe and entertaining place to keep their children while they see the doctor.

A recent women’s health report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office found that women caregivers are 50 percent more likely than other women to report difficulty obtaining necessary medical care, and twice as likely to forego care or prescriptions they need. The report also found that a lack of childcare is a major obstacle for many women seeking and receiving timely and professional medical attention.

When Paterson was battling breast cancer, she had 140 medical appointments in one year. “That’s 140 times you have to find a babysitter, get a parent to watch them or have your husband take time off work,” she said. Paterson said the dilemma can add another layer to an already very stressful situation.

“It’s challenging for families with young children to get to the doctor when they’re healthy, let alone when they have cancer,” she said.

Paterson’s longtime friend and partner in the project, Melissa Moore, said the time has come for medical offices to offer an option for parents struggling with illness, schedule conflicts and expensive or inconvenient childcare services.

“It just seems a real obvious way to serve your patients’ needs,” Moore said.

She added that several troubling trends are converging to make life even more difficult for sick parents. Women are having children later in life and they’re getting diseases such as cancer earlier. Extended family tends to be far away and, for the very sick, employee childcare benefits dry up when they are no longer able to work. Temporary day care, Moore said, would allow them to focus their attention on getting better and give their children an escape from the norm.

Both Paterson and Moore are vice presidents in major public relations firms and said they are committed to using their contacts and fund-raising skills to make the dream a reality.

“It’s something that I really feel strongly needs to happen,” Paterson said.

In preliminary research for the project, the pair found that more than 90 percent of parents surveyed said arranging childcare to attend medical appointments is “sometimes” or “always” a challenge and about three-quarters said they have had to miss, cancel or reschedule appointments because of a lack of childcare.

Not surprisingly then, Paterson’s idea has so far been met with wide approval from parents and medical professionals.

She was also recently awarded one of Avon’s $5,000 weekly grants through the Hello Tomorrow Fund, a fund that helps give money to projects that “empower women and change our world.”

Paterson said she was surprised to get a grant so soon and will use the money to solidify her plans and coordinate with the hospital to create a unique environment for the children. Her vision is that the day care center would become a hub for the medical center’s childcare specialists. The staff would be trained to handle the terrifying issues of death and illness and be able to provide therapeutic relief, such as art projects and appropriate play.

Cancer services specialist Selma Annala at Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital & Medical Center – where Paterson was treated and where she hopes to launch the first day care program – said she and the cancer support staff are behind the idea.

“I think it would make it easier for (patients) to participate in cancer treatment. It would benefit families to not have to worry about those stressors,” Annala said.

But, the devil is in the details, she added, and there are many obstacles to a successful program. The most significant of those being the lack of available space and money.

“We aren’t in the childcare business, we’re in the health care business,” Annala said. “But it’s certainly something we see adding another burden to our patients.”

Paterson said she’s looking at a successful day care program in a Minneapolis medical center to provide a framework to launch this program in Portland. She has already begun to offer day care to Legacy’s Young Cancer Survivor meeting and to Breast Friends in Tigard, a group for women with metastatic breast cancer.

Annala said the medical center will see how these initial as-needed programs work before committing to a longer-term day care center.

Paterson and her partner are hoping that commitment will follow soon.

“It’s not rocket science,” Moore said. “It’s just not being done at a place where we think it should – where families are in crisis.”

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