It's good-night, Irene for another day care in the Texas Medical Center quadrant of the universe. Hermann Hospital's Tag Along Kids Day Care Center celebrated its last day on May 28, despite parents' protests. This time the cancer-fighting folks at M.D. Anderson are calling a final time-out for their day-care center called Andy's Backyard.
Faced with a building that was never meant to be a day-care center, the M.D. Anderson management committee considered alternatives. These included renovating the former apartment building within two years, constructing a new building or going into partnership with day-care centers in the neighborhood to continue to offer a program to M.D. Anderson employees, says Jane Brust, hospital spokeswoman.
Ultimately, however, M.D. Anderson executives decided to get out of the day-care business entirely. The center at the corner of Braeswood and Holcombe will close February 1.
Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Kevin Wardell says the anticipated needs of the building in another two years "forced us to ask some serious questions." Among those was the crucial: "Do we have the greatest expertise to do this?"
What they concluded, he says, is that "We think we're better off focusing on cancer and having day care operated by people who have experience in day cares."
Instead, what M.D. Anderson will be offering is a new cafeteria plan of benefits that offers a referral service and a discount for employees seeking not only day care for their children but elder care for their parents, he says. The cancer center is negotiating with area day cares now to be able to offer the discounts to its employees which will be explained in their annual July benefits sessions, he says.
The day care, started in 1991, was designed as a recruitment tool for nurses, Wardell says. Very few nurses use it now, and in fact the center was down to fewer than 40 employees whose children were making use of the day-care service during the school year, Brust says. By summer this number had risen to 56 employees, she says, but this is out of a total workforce of 8,500 to 9,000 employees. M.D. Anderson executives thought that given this low participation, it might be better to redistribute the hospital's employee benefit dollars, Wardell says. They would have had to find a new site in the medical center, pay up to $2.5 million to build a facility and face ongoing expenses to run it, he says.
Generally M.D. Anderson appears to be handling its shutdown better than Hermann did. While Hermann gave parents two months to come up with day-care options, the cancer center began sending out notices last week giving its employees more than seven months to relocate. Also, M.D. Anderson has developed a set of incentives for its day-care employees designed to make it in their best interests to stay with the day care through its final day, Wardell says. At Hermann, parents say, the center was understaffed as day care workers called in sick to go out and look for other jobs.
As one parent told the Press: "Unlike Hermann, MDA seems to be treating their people quite well. Counseling, job assistance, transfers, the whole bit."
Wardell says that there are no plans to develop the property for something else and that under the Texas Medical Center site plan, that corner has been designated as green space. Meanwhile, rumors continue to circulate that a physical therapy unit will occupy the displaced Hermann day care sometime in August. Whether a waiver will be secured for the Texas Medical Center's 25-foot setback provision -- the restriction that supposedly deep-sixed the Hermann day care -- will be an item of considerable interest for displaced parents.
Some parents say that, for the past two years, rumors had been circulating that M.D. Anderson was about to close its facility. So they didn't register quite the same amount of shock as Hermann day care parents who say they were blindsided by its announcement.
But for some at Andy's Backyard, the discouragement was about as high. Questions were raised as to whether M.D. Anderson and any hospitals in the medical center live up to their billing as caring about children.
Andy's Backyard Director Kay Henry says she and parents feel that child care should be offered to help support employees.
"As a child advocate, I sincerely hope that companies will step up to the plate and invest in quality child care for their employees," Henry says. Employees can better focus on their jobs when their concerns for their children are addressed, she says.
As in the case with the Hermann day-care closure, Henry lays part of the blame for the demise of her center at the feet of the Texas Medical Center, which "deliberately and with forethought has eliminated child care from its master plan by spearheading this effort to remove child care from the valuable property."
"Can't there be a child care cooperative supported by all the institutions just off-site if necessary?" Henry asks. Parents have banded together and found a building near the TMC incorporated under Creative Beginnings, Inc. with the hope of persuading the medical center to support and invest in it, she says.
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As Henry puts it: "This is another example of big guys dumping on little guys, and it's our littlest ones that are getting hurt. Who is taking care of the children in this TMC 'mid-sized city,' as they referred to themselves in discussing their master plan? No provision is made for children in this plan. Do no children live in this 'city'?"
Wardell acknowledges this sentiment and says M.D. Anderson just had to figure out what was of most benefit for most of its people. "It's a balancing act. It's a challenge."
An experience shared, of course, by parents whose day-care switching decisions aren't always precisely their own.
E-mail Margaret Downing at margaret_downing@ houstonpress.com.