Cancer Survivor Putting Child Care in Hospitals

December 30, 2010

"That first year, I had 144 doctor's appointments that I had to arrange child care," said Paterson, whose son was 2½ at the time of the diagnosis. "I couldn't believe they had drop-in child care at IKEA and the gym, but not at hospitals."

Paterson, a public relations executive in Portland, Ore., discussed the situation with her friend Melissa Moore, and they both decided that if hospitals could have a gift shop or a cafeteria, then a child care facility seemed like a no-brainer.

Even more important: On-site child care could have important health benefits, especially for women.

"Studies show there is a health care access issue," Paterson told AOL News. "Women will put off health care in order to take care of kids. Providing child care seemed like an easy solution for better health."

Paterson and Moore ran their idea by doctors and nurses, who agreed the concept was sound, and Moore, who had worked for nonprofits that were grant funded, thought it would be attractive to funders.

She was right. Three years ago, a year after Paterson's diagnosis, they came up with the concept of My Little Waiting Room, a nonprofit that creates community partnerships to help bring this needed service to hospital campuses.

Even better: They were able to find funding from Bright Starts, a brand of Kids II, a Georgia-based company that makes and licenses baby gear.

According to the My Little Waiting Room model, the organization advises interested hospitals on site development from concept to opening day, including funding, operational models and community marketing strategies.

Hospital partners provide the space, maintenance and housekeeping; build-out of the room; and administrative oversight. Then a licensed, third-party child care provider is contracted to operate the site, providing trained, professional and background-checked staff as well as all necessary insurance coverage and operational best practices.

The fundraising is jointly conducted by My Little Waiting Room and the hospital site partner. So far, the first My Little Waiting Room has been up and running since April at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland.

According to Paterson, it has been as successful as can be expected for a new project still getting its feet wet.

"It's a happy place for kids," Paterson said. "There are no TVs, but there is music, books, toys and the caregivers are there to engage the kids."

Still, she is quick to stress that she, Moore and fellow founding board member Stephanie Smith expected the first year to be a time of learning what works and what doesn't. And, most important, when it works.

"What surprised us most is that unlike a center where there's a school and, therefore, a predictable number of people dropping off kids, it's hard to predict the flow and the volume," Paterson said. "We serve about 100 families a week, and some of the kids stay for 20 minutes and some are there for six hours. Also, some kids come in only once, while others are repeat visitors."

As the data are collected, Paterson is hoping to standardize the operating process for other hospitals that want to license the idea.

Referring to her own cancer, Paterson avoids using terms like "cured." However, she does believe that creating My Little Waiting Room did give her hope during a dark time in her life.

"Creating this gave me a way to heal and get my life back at a time when I didn't feel I could work full time," she said.

Even better -- if that's possible -- is the benefits she sees from the people who are taking advantage of the program.

"Just about every day, we get someone who has tears of gratitude in their eyes," Paterson said. "For instance, there was a father who was there with four children because his wife has a chronic illness and is at the hospital a lot. He said, 'This will change my life.'"