Kadlec workers plead to keep onsite day care

A Kadlec Regional Medical Center administrator was surrounded Wednesday night by angry faces and impassioned pleas not to cut onsite child care for employees.

Jeff Clark, Kadlec's vice president of human resources sat in a circle of chairs at the Richland Public Library facing about 30 hospital employees to explain why the hospital is trying to save the $400,000 it is spending each year to subsidize the day care service for about 150 families.

Clark was the author of an Aug. 29 letter outlining the plan to raise the day care center's rates by 15 percent each year in January 2012 and 2013, and to only allow children to be enrolled full time, or five days per week, starting next September.

It's one of many cost-saving measures the hospital is considering as it anticipates losing more than $7 million this year because of cuts to Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements as the state and federal governments tighten their belts.

But most of the employees said they were less upset about the increased rates than a move to reduce the day care's operations by two hours each day. Under the plan in Clark's letter, the day care would be open from 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Employees said that's a problem because nurses work 12-hour shifts, three days per week, and their start and finish times often would conflict with the times the day care is open.

One woman pointed at three toddlers, who were laughing as they chased each other around the meeting room.

"That's what it's going to be like on the (hospital) floor," she said, explaining that some parents will have no choice but to bring their children to work if the day care center reduces its hours.

Employees at the meeting also said some nurses would consider finding jobs elsewhere, or if they stayed would be under stress about making it to the day care center to pick up their children in the evening.

Either scenario could affect patient care, they said.

Most people at the meeting said they are happy with the quality of the child care, which is operated by Bright Horizons, and were willing to pay more if necessary to keep the current schedule, although many of them noted that the Kadlec day care is more expensive than others in town and questioned why rates need to be raised.

They also questioned why Kadlec is looking to an employee benefit to save $400,000 in a $300 million annual expenditures budget while the hospital is planning to build a $16 million free-standing emergency department in Kennewick.

Clark said the day care isn't the only place where Kadlec is looking to make cuts.

"It would be incorrect to assume everything you see will continue as it has been," he said. "There will have to be cuts elsewhere."