Family Unfriendly

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

"They stuck a note in our box. That was really bad faith," Lyons says, referring to the notice dated March 30 from Karlene Karfoot, Hermann vice president for Patient Care Operations. The letter expresses "regret" and announces the day care will close May 28 and that its hours will change in May. Missing is any explanation why the day care is closing.

"Two months is not an adequate amount of time to look for a quality day care," says Lyons. She says she and others took their concerns to Hermann officials but got nowhere.

Although her immediate supervisor at Hermann has been very understanding, Lyons says top Hermann officials have no idea what she's going through and what they've done to her life and the lives of all the people who were using the day care. This is because they don't have young children themselves, she feels.

"I think this is a real step backward. In this day and age we're supposed to be advocating for children. This is a hospital. They're supposed to care about children."

Listen to Lyons, and a sense of betrayal comes through. She loves working for the hospital and thinks it does excellent, important work. She expected a caring, loving concern on Hermann's part for herself, her family. Instead, she got an impersonal memo, disrupting her life.

Tina Little is a biochemist at UT-Houston who had a five-month-old son, Duncan, at the Hermann day care. She and her husband, Brian, who works in the oil industry, have led the charge among parents, demanding answers and asking that the decision to close be rescinded or at least delayed. They gathered a petition with more than 200 signatures on it, pleading that the day care stay open.

"My baby was not the last one in, and he'll have been there three months when it closes," Tina Little says. Although many of the parents have found other day cares, some have not -- particularly those who work the second shift at night, she says.

"If you're a single parent or you both work shifts or you don't have family down here, this is really hard," she says. Her child, whom she had been breast-feeding, is going to a day care near their Pearland home.

The abrupt notice left day-care teachers in limbo, too. According to Tina, the workers were told they could not have time off to look for other jobs and had to work through May 28. But, as she noted, "they do have sick leave, and they're taking it."

Tina's husband, Brian, who exhibits certain bulldog characteristics in his attempts to drum up community interest in the issue, sent Hermann a memo entitled "Top Ten Reasons Why Closing Hermann Daycare is Shortsighted, Wrongheaded, Bureaucratic Nonsense." Included were such observations as "Giving parents who have signed their children up this past year the FALSE impression that Tag Along Kids was a viable long-term day-care option for them was a breach of trust bordering on Deception." This did not endear him to the powers that be.

He doesn't care. He wants to make them just as uncomfortable as they've made him and his family, particularly his son, who will be in and out of a day care after just a few months.

"If they would have told us about this before we started... Why get him signed up and get him yanked out two months later?" Brian asks.

As for the Texas Medical Center, Brian describes its officials as "Pontius Pilate washing their hands of this whole thing."

College professor Jim Brown, whose one-year-old was at Hermann's day care and whose wife works at M.D. Anderson, was another letter writer. In his missive, he wondered if Hermann has abandoned its "partners-in-caring" mission in favor of making money.

"Gone will be the days when future employees will want to become a part of this Hermann family because it offered more than a paycheck, but benefits that were truly supportive to the employees and their needs," he warned.

Brown figures Hermann didn't want to fool with the day-care center anymore. In the weeks leading up to the closure announcement, some parents had complained about structural problems, including a persistent leak, he says. "We were asking them to be somewhat more responsive, but no one wanted it to be closed."

Hermann and Texas Medical Center officials can dismiss the complaints of people such as Tina and Brian Little, Jim Brown and Julie Lyons as coming from the "disgruntled" types. They can assure themselves that they had to do a tough job and they did it the best way anyone could.

To discount these people, of course, is to continue to evolve into impersonal, efficient, bureaucratic machines -- institutions that will become known for placing little value on employees' families and children, and on women in the workplace, no matter how many slogans the PR machines churn out to the contrary.

Hermann officials can continue to refuse to answer questions about why its personnel gave so little notice to parents and, even more damning, why they continued to accept new children into the day care without even a hint of the trouble ahead.

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