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Seattle Children's Hospital plans to close its daycare center, highlighting a growing problem for health care workers

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Seattle Children’s Hospital has announced in an email to staff that it is shutting down its daycare center in a cost-cutting move, as the coronavirus pandemic has reduced demand for lucrative elective medical services. The center will be closed effective June 30, 2021. 

Hospitals across the country have taken major hits to their bottom line during the Covid-19 pandemic. In many states, health systems have delayed or cancelled non-essential elective procedures to make space for a potential flood of Covid-19 patients. 

Childcare for essential medical workers has been a big challenge during the crisis. These workers are needed for long shifts at the hospital, but their young children are not able to attend school. Making matters worse, many daycare centers have closed down because of the virus, and the ones that remain open can have waiting lists of eighteen months or longer. 

The email states that the decision was made in part to avoid future layoffs. 

“With the financial impacts we have experienced from the COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot sustain our current spending and maintain the growth and financial stability we need to fulfill our mission,” the email reads. “We have decided to take action now to ensure we remain affordable for our patients and families and protect our most valuable asset: our team members, by avoiding future layoffs.”

The email expressed “deep sadness” for the move and suggested alternatives, including a childcare subsidy program.

A hospital spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Two parents impacted by the decision say they have been thrown for a loop and lack alternatives. Finding availability at a different daycare is a challenge for them at this stage — and even if that were possible, most traditional day care facilities don’t have sufficiently long hours in place to accommodate the schedule of a health care worker. It’s also more challenging to find a nanny given the competition, or an au pair that’s willing and able to fly to the U.S. during a pandemic. 

Both the people declined to be named, because they are not authorized to speak to the press.

They noted that it’s a big problem for highly paid doctors, but will present even greater hurdles for environmental services workers, nurses and respiratory therapists. One parent is now considering two nannies on back-to-back shifts, but is deeply concerned they won’t be able to afford it.

In the Seattle area, other hospital executives have broadly expressed concerns about their health care workers with children at home. 

“We’re worried about our workforce,” said Providence CEO Rod Hochman by phone back in March.

Providence currently offers a daycare benefit and looked to increase capacity during the Covid-19 crisis. UW Medicine, another local health system, confirmed that the hospital network is looking into potentially matching university students with an interest in childcare development with its staff-members in need of an extra pair of hands.

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