Family Unfriendly

How Hermann Hospital and the Texas Medical Center left employees' kids high and dry

Well, the Hermann Hospital Tag Along Kids Day Care Center is history now -- abruptly shut down last week -- and hospital officials just don't want to talk about it. Neither do Texas Medical Center officials, who also played a key role in this debacle.

Consider how these two fine me-no-Alamo institutions have acquitted themselves in this low-rent caper:

* Although the boards of Hermann Hospital and the Texas Medical Center had an agreement five years ago that the day care was lodged in a temporary structure, parents weren't told that the only day care on the medical center's inner campus was in jeopardy and would need to move or close someday.

* Although Hermann knew the end was near, that it had supposedly exhausted its resources in searching for another first-floor site, it continued accepting new children, never telling parents that the day care might not be there a few weeks later. Some of the babies and children being booted had enrolled in the day care only days before receiving the notice that they'd have to find another place. Some parents had even changed residences to be closer to the day care and their work, and now find they will have to leave home, drop their young children off somewhere far from the medical center and then return to where they started for work.

* The day care was used as a recruiting tool to attract nurses and doctors not only to Hermann but to University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Baylor and the UT-Houston Health Science Center. Here was a place where medical personnel could work those 12-hour shifts and more and still stay in touch with their babies.

* Parents were notified of the shutdown personally and warmly with a "Dear Parents" typed note dropped off in their mailboxes at the day care. Several said they did not find out about a meeting to explain the closure until after it was over.

* Attempts by parents to get answers as to why the day-care shutdown couldn't be delayed and why something couldn't be worked out were met with conflicting statements and eventually silence. Parents say they were told by Hermann people that Hermann didn't want to shut down, but the Texas Medical Center was enforcing its 25-foot setback provision and they had to close. So the parents went to Texas Medical Center people, who parents say told them this was Hermann's move but said they were open to discussions if someone would just propose something else to the board.

Naturally, with all this information about and none of it terribly concrete, rumors abounded. Parents will tell you now that they believe this was just a financial move on Hermann's part, with ground-floor space in the medical center at a premium, that the day care will be replaced with a physical therapy office or some other medical unit, that Hermann didn't want to deal with day-care staff training problems, with alleged violations of state day-care regulations, with drips from the ceiling.

All of which sounded plausible enough and worth checking. But when the Press attempted to get answers, spokespeople for the Medical Center and Hermann each said, in statements delivered separately (though perhaps not constructed independently), that enough had been said already, that they were not answering any more questions, and that the issue had been "resolved."

Just so you know who those officials and spokespersons are, their names and titles are James Eastham, CEO of Hermann Hospital, whose me-not-talking-anymore message was delivered by public relations spokeswoman Patty Riddlebarger; and Shelby Rogers, executive vice president of the Texas Medical Center, whose I've-said-all-I'm-going-to-say pronouncement was delivered by PR exec Linda Winters. Lurking in the background in all this decision-making were their esteemed colleagues Richard E. Wainerdi, president, CEO and COO of the Texas Medical Center, and Kuyk Logan, head of public relations for the Memorial Hermann System. Again, these fine folks all declared the situation resolved. In fact, Hermann spokeswoman Riddlebarger, herself the parent of two children at the day care, serenely maintained that parents had been informed, had had their questions answered, and all was well.

Maybe for Hermann and Med Center officials. Certainly not for all the parents. And definitely not for the children.

Jennifer Lyons is a first-time mother of a four-month-old daughter. She works for Hermann as a nursing case manager. It's a stressful, well-paid, exciting job, and she has loved working for Hermann for the last seven years. When she became pregnant, things got even better when she was finally told two weeks before her due date that Hermann's day care had room for her baby. She immediately withdrew her name from all other day-care waiting lists. She would be able to be close to baby Hailey during the day and even nurse her on breaks.

But now Hailey will be going to a day care closer to their Clear Lake home at $65 a week more than the family was paying at Hermann. And Lyons wonders if the hour's drive to and from work each day is worth it anymore.

She predicts that several parents will leave employment in the medical center, some because they simply can't find day care to fit their long and sometimes inconvenient hours, others because why drive all the way from suburbia if you can get a day care and a job closer to home?

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