Ventura County this week became the latest of a small but growing number of governmental agencies and businesses across the state to adopt a day-care program for the mildly ill children of employees.
In authorizing a six-month test period for the program, which will be paid for from parent fees, donations and $11,500 in county money, the Board of Supervisors approved the newest of about 20 such projects in California and perhaps 100 nationwide, according to industry and government spokesmen.
The day-care project will be at the Ventura County Medical Center. Scheduled to open in December, it will accommodate as many as six children, ages 6 months to 13 years. Parents will pay $18 to $36 a day, depending on income. Medical care will be provided by the adjacent county pediatrics clinic.
The center, in planning for almost a year, was unanimously approved at the supervisors' regular Tuesday meeting with the understanding that if it fails to attract enough business, it will be closed.
"We have designed this program to self-destruct in six months if it doesn't work," Supervisor Madge L. Schaefer said. "We will have given it our best shot."
Assessment of Needs
Schaefer based her proposal on an assessment of child-care needs conducted by the county's personnel staff. About 1,100 of the county's more than 5,000 employees responded.
Of those, 68% favored establishing a center for mildly ill children. However, a greater number saw the need for infant/toddler and after-school programs. A task force is studying these aspects of more general child care.
Schaefer was quick to point out that county employees would not be obligated to bring their sick children to the center so that they could then report to work. She said she expected that many would stay home until their children were on their way to recovery.
"We are not saying to the parent, 'This facility is here and therefore you must use it.' It gives the parent an alternative," she said. "They need to make that decision as to whether this is appropriate." she said.
The center will only accept children with non-contagious diseases, such as the final stages of chicken pox. Youngsters with diabetes, asthma and other chronic but non-contagious conditions will also be accepted. The center will be open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
May Be Expanded
If successful, the facility may be expanded to handle 11 more children. As part of the expansion, the county can offer the service to employees of the Ventura Unified School District, the city of Ventura and private companies, Schaefer said.
The county program is the second such service planned in Ventura County.
Ventura-based Koffs 'n' Kolds, which is run by the Livingston Memorial Visiting Nurse Assn., will sell in-home care to companies as a benefit available to employees on demand, said spokeswoman Maureen Reiley, who expects to begin full operation in October.
The county originally considered Koffs 'n' Kolds an attractive option, but its cost ($80 a day, $50 for half a day) was prohibitive, said Huyling Tanouye, senior personnel analyst, who directs the County Child Care Task Force. "Price was the primary reason we did not pursue it any further."
While the supervisors' decision provides employees with an affordable place for temporary care for their mildly ill children, county officials also see the investment as a way to reduce high sick-leave costs.
$360,000 Paid in Sick Leave
The county estimates that it pays employees about $360,000 in sick leave each year. How the new center will affect those costs won't be known until the trial period is over, Tanouye said. The six months will cover what Elizabeth Conti of Sacramento-based Kids on the Mend calls "the season" for ailments like chicken pox.
Conti, president and executive officer of the privately owned center, said the company operates at its 15-child capacity during winter and early spring. She and her husband, a physician, plan to relocate to a facility that can accommodate up to 30 children a day.
The Contis' business, which serves both corporate employees and the general public, charges up to $72 a day, which includes meals, and has special arrangements for children with contagious diseases. The Contis are negotiating a merger with Minneapolis-based Chicken Soup, a pioneer in the field.
Most programs for mildly ill children are run by hospitals, said Gary Palmer, former head of the state Department of Social Services' Child Care Division.
But not all have been successful. Orthopaedic Hospital of Los Angeles closed its 9-month-old program earlier this month due to limited use. It charged up to $40 for a full day and could also handle contagious children; the program was marketed to companies as part of a benefits package.
But the program's cost scared away blue-collar workers and failed to attract white-collar employees who could afford to call in sick and stay home with their children, said Blair Contratto, Orthopaedic's vice president of marketing.
"There just isn't enough incentive right now," she said. The centers "are too expensive to run without adequate volume."
Contratto said two similar programs have closed in the last year, one run by a hospital, the other managed by a private day-care center. In both cases, the reason was the same.
"Finances," she said. "We need more employers to realize the value of assisting their employees with a program of this nature."