Courier Staff Writer
Two weeks after it was announced that the hospital's daycare center was shutting its doors, parents, hospital and college staff met to look for ways to keep it open.
Melissa Schuttlefield, whose 3-year-old daughter has attended the center for nearly two years, said more than 100 parents and family attended a meeting Tuesday night with Ottumwa Regional Health Center CEO Phil Dionne and Indian Hills Community College President Jim Lindenmayer.
"I'm very happy to hear from Lindenmayer and Dionne that they were willing to sit down and have more conversations with community members, with me as a parent," Schuttlefield said. "Let's make sure we exhaust our efforts before we do shut this down."
The Child Development Center, which was created by IHCC, is slated to close on May 24. Dionne previously cited the financial impact of the Affordable Care Act, reimbursement reductions and continuous financial losses as reasons for its closure. He said recently the hospital has averaged a loss of $90,000 per year to keep the center afloat.
IHCC manages the center for ORHC, providing staff and training them, as well as handling all invoicing. The center's funding comes from three sources: parents' fees, IHCC-donated services and services billed to ORHC.
Parents' fees alone cannot cover operating costs, Lindenmayer said, which is why the hospital has been hit with a $100,000 bill nearly every year since the center opened a decade ago.
"One thing I explained to the parents [Tuesday] night ... is our model is an educational model," Lindenmayer said. "We built a lab on campus so we can train childcare providers ... so we have full-time staff that get benefits and we pay IPERS on them. They're paid much better than your average childcare provider would be. It's a very costly model. It's a good model to train people on but it's not an efficient model to run a childcare center. But ORHC has been willing to accept that overage to get that type of model."
Lindenmayer said he advised the former Ottumwa Regional Health Foundation of the significant costs involved in this model, "but [former foundation president Michael Feinstein] wasn't interested in hearing that."
The hospital said Dionne was not available for comment Wednesday morning, however Suzie Wood, ORHC executive director of development, said the date to close the daycare has not been extended.
"The meeting was a closed meeting," Wood said. "We will be working with key community leaders to see if we can find an alternative situation for them."
The discussion resulted in one possible idea: reach out to local businesses "that may be able to subsidize or contribute financially to keeping the daycare open," Schuttlefield said. "Mr. Dionne and Dr. Lindenmayer are committed. I talked to [Dionne] this morning and he's already working on three possible dates to meet with businesses."
Lindenmayer said the idea to reach out to local businesses for financial help was only one idea discussed Tuesday and no meetings have been set up as of Wednesday.
"We're going to commit some people to start a dialogue on whether it should — or can — be addressed," he said. "I don't know if that's the job of local businesses to do that. There may be some interest in that, but to pick up a tab for $130,000 is a lot. I don't know that businesses, given the economy we're coming out of, I don't know how much interest or ability they have in underwriting something like that."
He noted that neither the hospital nor the college's mission is to "provide childcare to the masses."
"That's part of the problem," he said. "It doesn't have the capacity to handle all the community needs and it's not built on a financial model that would allow us to do that."
The daycare's closure has raised another, larger issue that stretches throughout the community.
"We're all of a sudden faced with the realization that we have a strong need in Ottumwa for quality daycare," Schuttlefield said. "Whatever happens with this or not, the need is still very great. This is a time also where we can use this as education of the fact that we need quality daycare in Ottumwa, no matter who's running it."
There is a greater need for childcare today than there was 30 years ago, Lindenmayer said.
"I don't know in general if our culture kept pace with that need," he said, due to the change in household dynamics, where either both parents work or the mother or father in single-parent families has to work.
The center's closure does not mean the college's child development center is in danger of closing, he said.
"The decision to close was the hospital's prerogative," he said. "It will only affect us in the aspect that it'll put more stress on [the college] facility as far as providing services. There's a lack of that in our community and we already had a waiting list for our facility. Now there are 74 children that will be looking for additional daycare and we're going to try to accommodate some, but we can't accommodate all."