TORRANCE — For Anne Deffebach, a Fountain Valley resident who works for an El Segundo trucking company, the familiar initials TLC have special meaning.
"It's a big relief to know that if my children are sick and I have to go to work, I can bring them here," she said last week after dropping 7-month-old Ryan and 19-month-old Marissa off at TLC--short for the Torrance Loves Children program started in September by Torrance Memorial Hospital to care for sick children.
Geared toward working parents who are hard-pressed to stay home when a child is ill, the program provides tender loving care for moderately ill children who cannot go to their usual preschool or child-care center. The charge is $3 an hour.
"This service is here to take over so the parent does not have to miss work or other commitments to take care of the child," said registered nurse Charlene Smith, manager of the hospital's pediatric clinic that devised the program and operates it.
While TLC excludes children with communicable diseases such as chicken pox, measles and mumps, Smith said it accepts those suffering from what seems to ail most youngsters: runny noses, colds, flu, viral infections and above-normal temperatures. Children with the flu or colds are separated from the others, Smith said.
In Deffebach's case, both of her children had colds, and last week's rainy Monday was the ninth time she had placed one or the other of them at TLC. "They get excellent care, and I don't worry about them," she said, adding that in the past either she or her husband had to stay home and play nurse.
Torrance Memorial officials believe theirs is the only Southern California hospital to have such a program, and the Hospital Council of Southern California, which keeps tabs on new developments in health care, believes they are right.
"A lot of hospitals have day care, but this is the first time I've learned of a program specifically designed to take care of sick children that don't need acute care," said Aurora Mackey, spokeswoman for the council.
The South Bay Free Clinic on Dec. 16 will begin a sick child day-care program in Gardena, but it will not be based at a hospital. Regina Kodimer, executive director of the clinic, said the program will be more restrictive than the one in Torrance and children in the contagious stage with flu or viral infections will not be eligible.
"This is really for recuperating youngsters who are beyond contagious stage but not quite ready yet to go back to the conventional day-care center," Kodimer said. Like TLC, it will be aimed at working parents, but services will be free. Donations, however, will be asked.
Smith said the Torrance program grew out of the problem hospital employees faced when they had sick children, but it quickly became a community service and about 75% of the users are from outside the hospital. It can accommodate children from 1 month to 18 years old, but most fall into the 2-to-10-year age bracket.
"Nationally, 54% of American children have working mothers, and there is a crisis when they have to be at work and do not have a place to leave their children," Smith said. She said that in many states, including California, day-care centers and preschools must send a sick child home unless they are able to make special provisions for them.
Pam Hsieh of Torrance learned about TLC two weeks after it opened and her 2-year-old son, Brian, has been there five times. Brian has allergies, and Hsieh said she and her husband used to lose two workdays a month being home with him. "I was thrilled to find this," she said.
Began in Iowa
The idea for TLC came from a newspaper article Torrance pediatric nurses saw about a similar program begun a year ago in Waterloo, Iowa.
"Our administration said to look into it, and in three months we put our program together," said Smith, adding that the hospital had the space and did not have to add staff to run the program. It opened Sept. 16 and has been averaging five to six children a day, although it has a capacity of 10.
Katy Moore, another registered nurse who helped organize TLC, said she used her own experience as a mother of two small children to decide what parents would want for their children.
"We wanted to make it as non-hospital and non-clinical as we could so it would be a friendly, warm environment," she said.
More Like a Nursery
The result is a main room that looks more like a nursery than a hospital ward. Walls are pale yellow; vividly colored paintings done by the children decorate the walls, and a population of stuffed animals keeps the children company. A room next door, which looks more like a hospital, is used for the "cold-and-flu" brigade. Additional pediatric rooms, together with the clinic's regular playroom, also may be used on especially busy days.