How Child Care Can Help Healthcare Workers In Crisis
Charles Bonello is the co-founder, CEO, and proud "First Dad" of Vivvi, which provides child care and early learning for today's families.
After more than two grueling years of serving as first responders during an ever-evolving global pandemic, our healthcare workers are in crisis. They’re frustrated, burned out and overwhelmed. And they’re almost all women.
While it’s true that everyone in the healthcare system plays a role, it’s not an understatement to say that our entire healthcare system rests on the backs of women. Seventy-six percent of our 9 million-plus healthcare workers are women, making them the primary providers of hospital patient care, long-term care and home healthcare. We literally owe our lives to these women—not a single healthcare facility could operate without them.
But like most industries disproportionately populated by women, the healthcare industry has also been disproportionately affected by the child care crisis, and workers are decamping in record numbers. According to a recent report, more than 20% of healthcare professionals have left the workforce since the pandemic began, including nearly 1.7 million people this year alone. That’s the equivalent to almost 3% of the healthcare workforce each month.
The numbers are even starker for nurses, where women make up 85% of the ranks: According to another study, more than one-third of nurses say they are likely to leave their roles by the end of 2022. Of those, 27% cited benefits and pay as their reasons for quitting.
New studies show that the lack of available, affordable child care in the healthcare industry is having a material effect: Healthcare workers experiencing high levels of child care stress are 80% more likely to experience burnout and reduce work hours or leave their roles.
This challenge is so systemic and circular, it’s almost too much to consider: Patients in need of care suffer, healthcare workers in need of support suffer, and hospitals in need of staffing have to continuously increase wages or invest in shift workers like traveling nurses (paywall) to cover shortages. And while healthcare professionals were the recipients of praise, attention and nightly applause just a few short Covid variants ago, the general public has largely moved on to other causes, leaving them vastly unsupported.
Finding a solution feels personal for me. I married into a family of nurses that dates back generations and now includes my wife, her mother, her grandmother, her aunts and her cousins. My aunt is a nurse, too, and my cousin is training to become one. My kids are already entrenched in the family business—nothing makes me prouder than when my soon-to-be three-year-old plays with a stethoscope and says she’s going to the hospital to help people like mommy.
But it should be personal to all of us. According to a recent McKinsey report, “By 2025, we estimate the United States may have a gap of between 200,000 to 450,000 nurses available for direct patient care, equating to a 10 to 20 percent gap.” Staffing shortages are already forcing hospitals across the country to cut back on services or close units.
So how can leaders in the healthcare industry help keep their workers in place? One option is to provide them with child care. Approximately 4.6 million healthcare workers—about 30% of the total—have children 14 or younger.
Yet, for most healthcare workers, child care remains unaffordable. I’ve written before about the high cost of child care; it accounts for the single biggest line-item expense for the average American family (more than housing, healthcare and food). With long shifts—often on the weekends—that don’t always follow 9-to-5 schedules, traditional child care solutions are not an option for healthcare workers.
As the CEO of a child care provider, I’ve seen firsthand how employer-sponsored child care can not only improve the lives of working parents but also ensure that hospital doors stay open. When Covid hit and hospitals were surging with patients, healthcare workers who had consistent access to child care could continue to show up for their shifts. It helped them stay focused, reduced their level of overwhelm and engendered more loyalty to their employers.
Building on their pandemic learnings, many healthcare organizations are now touting child care as a reason they’ve been able to attract and retain healthcare workers. More hospitals are investing in on-site child care centers—where parents can have both convenience and peace of mind when they head into the hospital—or offering subsidized backup care and even virtual tutoring for parents with older children. It’s a smart business decision that adds up to less absenteeism, more job retention and greater cost savings.
Admittedly, not all healthcare organizations look the same, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. But if we want to solve the child care crisis for healthcare workers, here’s a good place to start: Figure out the needs of your caregiving employees. Build a business case for implementing employer-sponsored child care. Find a flexible child care provider that truly understands the unique needs of your organization. Make the decision to be a part of the solution.
When I look at my wife, one of the 6.8 million women in the healthcare industry, I see someone who made a career choice that took a lot of bravery and dedication, including going to nursing school and doing clinicals upstate while 6 months pregnant. I see someone who works 12-hour shifts and often spends weekends at the hospital instead of together with her family. I see someone who loves her job fiercely, despite all the challenges it throws her way.
For her, as for so many healthcare workers, the choice to serve our community during this pandemic was never really a choice. They answered the call to serve with a full heart because that’s who healthcare workers are deep down inside. They are caregivers. But even caregivers need care sometimes.