Emergency Child Care: When Parents are First Responders

When natural disasters or other catastrophic events are expected or have occurred, those on the front line of health care – including doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff – do not often have the option of staying home and need to get back to work. Just like the rest of their communities, they too are often personally impacted by damage to their homes and flooded roadways but often their greatest concern is who will take care of their children if they are required at work.

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Houston’s hospitals were among those in crisis mode, and needed doctors, nurses, and other clinical staff at their hospitals before, during, and after the storm. With child care centers closed and some employees working nonstop shifts for days at a time, Bright Horizons set up on-site child care at five locations for the Houston Methodist hospitals and at MD Anderson Cancer Center.

The temporary child care programs were open throughout the workday and one location operated 24/7, with caregivers covering more than 200 shifts for essential medical providers on patient floors, emergency rooms, and transplant teams.

With so many in the area dealing with flooding and storm damage, local Bright Horizons partners and staff were already stretched thin, so Bright Horizons teachers flew into Houston from places like New Jersey, Minnesota, Washington, DC, Ohio, and California to supplement care provided by Bright Horizons back-up child care program and Bright Horizons partner College Nannies Sitters & Tutors. Meanwhile, while Houston was still very much in recovery mode, Hurricane Irma took aim at Florida and three client hospitals also needed emergency child care. Bright Horizons also established temporary child care programs at both Tampa General Hospital and Moffitt Cancer Center, so that employees could drop off their children and get back to the critical work of caring for patients.

At JFK Medical Center in Atlantis, Florida, Bright Horizons teachers arrived on site so that the emergency teams of doctors, nurses, and vital hospital personnel could focus on caring for patients who were already hospitalized or arrived during the storm. They created a safe and engaging space for the children who came to the hospital with their parents and sheltered from the storm there. The staff set up multiple learning areas for the children so that their time in the shelter area would closely resemble a routine day.

“For employers located in areas where severe weather can be a concern, having a good child care plan in place for first responders is so critical as children often have nowhere to go when school and child care centers are closed but their parents must be at work,” says Bright Horizons CEO David Lissy. “We’re proud to work with employers who recognize that their employees are under tremendous stress themselves and have to consider their own families as they treat the sick and injured.”

Bright Horizons also worked with clients in both Texas and Florida to provide Crisis Care Assist, a Bright Horizons back-up child care program that allows employees of participating companies to utilize their own networks of caregivers – friends, family members, etc. – for backup child care and receive reimbursement.