My Little Waiting Room blossoms

"I feel like you made this just for me."
"This will change my life."

These are just some of the comments My Little Waiting Room has heard from parents who have left their children in its care, free of charge, so that the parent could see a doctor, receive treatment or attend to a loved one at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center.

It was just over a year ago that the drop-in center opened its doors, thanks in part to contributions to Providence St. Vincent Medical Foundation. Since then, the facility has helped hundreds of families, received national recognition and is inspiring other organizations that wish to make people's lives easier.

My Little Waiting Room has been honored by Portland Monthly magazine, Metro Parent and Avon. It was featured in KATU TV's "Everyday Heroes." As well, the concept for My Little Waiting Room was a national finalist for the 2008 American Express Members Project, ranking 13th out of 1,200 national submissions for innovative ideas that change the world. And recently it earned Providence Health & Services' Mission Leadership Award, a system-wide recognition.

The first year
  • Opened in April 2010
  • Has provided more than 5,500 hours of child care
  • Has had more than 3,000 visits by children ages 6 weeks to 10 years
  • Received more than $200,000 from Providence St. Vincent Medical Foundation, plus $150,000 a year in ongoing commitment
  • Has drawn interest from organizations and hospitals nationwide
  • Received Providence Health & Services' highest honor — the annual Mission Leadership Award
But the most important praise comes from the parents themselves, many of whom had struggled to find child care while they or a family member needed medical treatment.

"Providence St. Vincent Medical Center allowed me to spend more time with my mother," says Jennifer Schultz of Wilsonville. She would drop off her 2-year-old daughter, Ashlyn, and 5-year-old son, Cameron, so she could accompany her ailing mother for cancer treatments. "Without My Little Waiting Room, I wouldn't have had this precious time."

An idea born of need

My Little Waiting Room was started by two Portland-area mothers, Melissa Moore and Amy Paterson. The idea was inspired by Paterson's personal experience undergoing treatment for breast cancer when her son was a toddler. She estimates she visited the hospital more than 140 times.

"I thought it would be helpful to have on-site child care at the hospital like they have at Ikea and the gym," she recalls. "Then Melissa, being the person that she is, said, 'That's a great idea; let's go do something about it.'"

The pair approached Providence St. Vincent Medical Foundation and Providence St. Vincent Medical Center with a community needs survey, comments from hundreds of parents nationwide and public health research, all in support of the concept.

"Providence St. Vincent really embraced [the idea]," co-founder Moore recalls, "from the foundation level to the administration level. Since then we've landed this great third-party partner in Volunteers of America."

Volunteers of America Oregon provides professional staffing for the state-licensed center. My Little Waiting Room accepts both reservations and drop-ins for any length of time a family needs. Some children stay for only 15 minutes, while some stay for six hours.

The center has recently expanded its hours to meet growing demand. It's now open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The center offers some novel conveniences. Short-stay pagers are provided so parents can be reached anywhere on the hospital campus. A refrigerator accommodates mothers' breast milk for their infants. For non-native-English-speaking families, intake forms are available in three languages as well as on-demand translation services on the hospital campus.

National leaders from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Volunteers of America have toured the center to use it as a possible model for their programs.

"It's through the fruits of the collaboration," says Alex Jackson, chief operating officer for Providence St. Vincent, "that we've created a much better model than anyone could have imagined."

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VIDEO:See the center and hear from its founders