The Portland Business Journal, 6.27.08

Time for hospitals to help families in a new way
by Amy Paterson and Melissa Moore

Portland-area hospitals are trying new and innovative ways to better meet patient needs and in turn build patient loyalty, improve hospital efficiencies and enhance effectiveness.

In their efforts to deliver a more patient-centered approach to care, many are offering a more integrated set of services. For example many cancer patients now benefit from a single point of contact to guide them through the complex maze of specialists, treatment options and issues. We applaud these efforts.

But there is one need that no hospital in Portland is addressing. In fact, only a handful of hospitals across the globe have stepped up to the challenge.

Yet organizations in our community such as Ikea, Fred Meyer, 24 Hour Fitness, Southwest Community Center, Academy Theater, Multnomah County Courthouse, and even Zenana Spa have figured it out. We're talking about drop-in child care.

The hospital is a place where many families are in crisis. A parent or child is there seeking needed medical care, yet for the child not needing medical attention, there is no place to go to play and de-stress. So the little person sits idly in the waiting room, toddles through hallways, or finds refuge with a kindly, though likely overextended nurse.

And that's if the family even makes the scheduled medical appointment. Some moms put off needed exams for years due to a lack of child care, other family members cancel appointments at the last minute because pre-arranged child care falls through, while still other parents simply endure the stress of bringing their child along only to be interrupted or distracted while the doctor shares vital information.

This is a familiar experience. Amy, one of the authors of this article, was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 34, with a 2-year-old child at the time. She had 140 medical appointments to make that year. And she is one of the lucky ones with a helpful husband, nearby family and friends ready to jump in and help. Yet, still it was hard to arrange for someone to watch their son 140 times.

She is not alone. Our Web survey found more than 90 percent of parents said arranging child care so that they or another family member could attend medical appointments is sometimes or always a challenge.

Nearly three-quarters of parents surveyed said that they or a family member has had to miss or reschedule one or more medical appointments due to lack of child care resources. Half said that lack of child care has been an obstacle to their ability to access health care. The majority say they would use drop-in child care at the doctor, and that they would pay for this service.

As Oregon welcomes its largest baby boom since the 1970s and hospitals seek new ways to become more patient-friendly, we believe it's time for them to offer drop-in child care.

So let's set aside the potential barriers of space, liability and funding. Hospitals that find room for multiple conference rooms and gift shops, deal with near-death situations daily, or raise millions of dollars for a new wing can do this. After all, it's not brain surgery, it's just child care.

Amy Paterson, a vice president at Lane PR, was recently awarded a $5,000 grant from the Avon Hello Tomorrow Fund to start a pilot drop-in child care program at a local hospital. Melissa Moore, a vice president at MAP Communications, is Amy's co-founder of My Little Waiting Room. They can be contacted at

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