Ministry facilities ease the strain for working parents

January 15, 2011

Sandwich generation workers benefit from eldercare support too


It can be a real struggle for parents to juggle work and home demands. Performances on both fronts can suffer when stressed out workers fret about work when they are home and home when they are at work.

The antidote advanced by many Catholic hospitals and systems is a "family-friendly" environment with work rules and services that help employees balance the demands of work and home.

These ministry organizations tailor schedules, and offer on-campus day care and other amenities to benefit parents. Bon Secours Virginia Health System in Richmond, Va., is among the Catholic health systems and facilities that have been recognized nationally for their comprehensive support of working parents. Bonnie Shelor, senior vice president for human resources at Bon Secours Virginia Health System, said, "We ask a lot of our employees — we don't just ask them to come to work, we ask them to bring people to wholeness in the midst of pain. When we ask that, it's our responsibility to give back and support our employees."

Grueling schedules can be a problem for any health care worker, but particularly for parents who may have little to no downtime. Since hospitals never close, and since 12-hour shifts are the norm for many clinicians, employees work nights, weekends and holidays. "It can be very hard if you get home late from a shift, to get your children in the bathtub, feed them dinner and start all over again in the morning," said Nickie Radford, a nurse in the mother and infant unit of Bon Secours St. Francis Medical Center in Midlothian, Va., part of Bon Secours Virginia.

The upside of the 24-hour workplace is that working parents may have more flexibility in choosing schedules that best suit their families' needs.

Sabrina Michaelis, human resources manager of Dominican Hospital of Santa Cruz, Calif., said some parents will arrange their schedules so that they and their spouses can trade off on child care responsibilities. At St. John's Health System of Springfield, Mo., some departments allow employees to work four, 10-hour days, which gives them an extra weekday home with their children.

Radford of Bon Secours St. Francis said the culture is such that "we pull together and support each other" to make schedules workable. Dawn Trivette, administrative director of work and family services at Bon Secours Virginia, said that when it comes to work shifts, "we accommodate our employees as much as we can … as long as patient care and unit support is maintained."

Even the most conscientious and organized employees may need some slack on occasion to attend a school program or take an aged parent to the doctor. Pam Kennedy, vice president of human resources and organizational effectiveness at CHRISTUS St. Michael Health System in Texarkana, Texas, said that CHRISTUS encourages flexibility around work schedules so that people can attend to family responsibilities. For example, in Kennedy's own department recently, a colleague was able to leave work to visit a sick mother-in-law because her teammates adjusted their schedules to cover for her.

Child care
It can be difficult to find child care for evenings, nights and early mornings. Bon Secours Virginia; Covenant Health System of Lubbock, Texas; Holy Name Hospital of Teaneck, N.J.; and St. John's offer on-campus child care centers that have extended hours and flexible policies. For instance, all four of these centers remain open on most holidays and on bad weather days when schools are closed. Most of these centers also have long hours on weekdays. Bon Secours Virginia's center has Saturday hours.

Radford takes advantage of the child care center at Bon Secours St. Francis. "When I first started to work here after my daughter was born, it was comforting to know she was right here." Also, Radford can cancel scheduled day care days with no financial penalty, unlike at many off-campus centers.

Francine Barr, chief nursing executive and vice president of patient care services at Bon Secours St. Mary's Hospital in Richmond, Va., said offering on-site child care enables Bon Secours to attract and retain workers in a competitive market. "Our workforce couldn't survive without the programs we have in place. The majority of our nurses are women, many are in their child-bearing years and many are the key breadwinners of their families. Without child care and some of these other opportunities," it would be much more difficult for them.

The center at Covenant has expanded its infant, toddler, pre-school and school-aged programs over the years; even so, it has a long waiting list of employees. (Space limitations and budget constraints have kept Covenant from expanding further at this time.)

"Covenant believes if parents know their children are in a safe place, they will be better employees and health care providers to the health system's patients," said Sharon Chatham, director of the Child Development Center at Covenant.

She added, "One of the best ways to show Christ's love is to show love to our employees' most precious treasure, their children."

Teresa Lennon-Giles, a lobby director at Holy Name, uses that facility's day care for her children. She appreciates their Sniffles center, where sick children can spend the day so their parents don't miss work.

TriHealth, parent of Good Samaritan Hospital, both in Cincinnati, will significantly subsidize the cost of hiring an agency nurse to care for a sick child in an employee's home so the employee can go to work. Employees pay just $5 per hour for the service.

Bon Secours Virginia offers similar help for employees taking care of sick children and it also offers assistance for staff needing help taking care of an elderly parent. Bon Secours subsidizes half the cost of 10 at-home eldercare visits, provides discounts on medical equipment, allows the use of paid time off for eldercare and provides wellness services for employees who serve as the caregivers for an elder. "We've created this culture and environment that supports employees and their families where they are in their life," said Shelor.

Wellness services
Many Catholic health systems and facilities also provide wellness services for their employees and their families. At Dominican Hospital, new moms have access to a 24-hour nurse line and a breast-feeding support group. Employees who are new dads can participate at a discounted rate in a parenting class.

At St. John's, moms get free access to prenatal education, a nurse "coach," lactation education and lactation rooms equipped with breast pumps.

Employees of all ages can access St. John's disease management programs for free, as can their family members. Programs include asthma, heart disease, depression, diabetes and wellness education.

Benefit packages

Many Catholic facilities also evaluate their pay and benefits packages to ensure they are just for workers, which helps working families stay afloat financially.

Bon Secours has had a no-lay-off-policy throughout the recession. And, recognizing that employees' spouses may be losing their jobs, it has been offering job-hunting and economic counsel to employees' family members.

The fun stuff
Many Catholic facilities also promote work-life harmony by including families in workplace events. CHRISTUS St. Michael hosts a yearly picnic and it invites families to participate in employee recognition events.

Holy Name opens its annual holiday party to employees' families and it sponsors family outings, like trips to Yankees' baseball games.

St. John's has a coworker services department that coordinates volleyball teams, softball teams and fishing tournaments for employees and their families.

Jim Brookhart, St. John's senior vice president and chief human resources officer, said the family-friendly environment and policies set that facility apart for health care workers. "A comment heard often … is, 'something feels different about this place.'"

He said the difference tracks back to the mission of seeing each employee and their family members as valued individuals. "It relates to how we treat one another within the organization as coworkers — treating our coworkers with compassion … must remain one of our highest priorities."


Copyright © 2011 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2011 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.