State-of-the-Art Child Care is Strategic to Rural Hospital’s Talent Plans

Miller County Hospital

Rural America is facing a child care crisis that’s accelerating worker stress and creating major challenges for employers. In half of all states, the majority of workers live in child care deserts with rural areas underserved far more than urban areas. Critical staffing shortages and the high cost of hiring travel nurses or other contract labor are contributing to rural hospital closures with nearly 30% (631) nationwide at risk of closing because of the rising cost of providing care.

The Hospital Authority of Miller County in rural Colquitt, Georgia, plans to ensure its future with a new state-of-the-art child care center designed to address the unique caregiving challenges of healthcare workers and increase its ability to attract quality staff to continue fulfilling the area’s healthcare needs.

Competition is steep though: out of all states, Georgia ranks near the bottom in its number of active nurses per capita, reports Georgia Public Broadcast News. While 65% of children through age five in Georgia have both parents in the workforce, 89% of parents in rural areas say child care responsibilities influenced their decision to not work.  

“We're all fighting for the same staff, and there's never enough to go around. We're about growth here, and while employee benefits play a huge part in our growth, we're based in rural Southwest Georgia. If you weren't raised here, you might not want to move to a community that doesn't afford all the conveniences of a larger city. So, we have to be innovative,” says Karie Spence, Human Resources Director at Miller. “What we’re introducing here is topnotch child care that will give us a big competitive lift because none of our local competitors have this benefit.” 

While Miller is the largest employer in the area, it vies with bigger regional hospitals for healthcare talent. Today a staff of 700 provides high quality patient services at a 25-bed hospital, 217-bed long-term care facility, 100-bed ventilator-dialysis unit, multiple medical clinics, and specialized services. With studies from the Journal of the American Medical Association showing that parents who work in healthcare experience high levels of stress and burnout because of personal child care responsibilities, Miller County believes that providing on-site child care will allow it to punch above its weight in attracting and retaining staff by supporting working parents on a whole other level. 

“The business case for healthcare systems to invest in child care is clearer than ever. To deliver outstanding care to patients and continue to grow, we need to support our staff. Creating a culture of care for working parents is mission critical for us to attract and retain top talent, combat employee stress and burnout, minimize reliance on travel nurses, and support economic growth in our region. Providing reliable, high-quality early education for children with the extended hours that healthcare workers need is a building block to a strong and stable workforce,” says Robin Rau, CEO at Miller County.

Developed in partnership with Bright Horizons and expected to open later this year, the new center will provide early childhood education plus school age learning for older children during closures for holidays, summer vacations, or other reasons. It will also offer a “mildly ill” room, where professional center staff can care for children who are unable to attend school. So, even an employee with a sick child won't have to miss work. 

With women making up the majority of workers at Miller, solving the child care crisis is critically important, since women most often carry the burden of responsibility when a child is sick. According to recent US Census Bureau surveys, mothers are more than four times as likely as fathers to miss work due to child care.

In addition, the center will accommodate the demanding schedules that often challenge working parents. “Not all child care centers are open 14 hours a day to accommodate 12-hour shift employees. Having a center on-site allows us to meet the scheduling flexibility our healthcare workers need. Having their child right on campus, so they can check on them or breastfeed, supports employees’ wellbeing and mental health. That results in a positive workforce,” says Spence. She expects it will help strengthen employee recruiting and retention. 

Miller embodies a culture of caring, dedication to innovation, and focus on providing benefits that meet evolving employee needs. The on-site child care center is strategic to Miller’s growth plans and to helping employees deliver premium patient care. It will enable staff members to come to work without having to worry about the wellbeing of their children, ensuring their own wellbeing, and that of the community. 

As Miller County sees it, bringing in a Bright Horizons child care center is not just a way to support the hospital. The center’s high quality, high caliber child care will support the entire Colquitt community as those children head to local schools and beyond. 

“Yes, this is a big investment for a small hospital, but our caregivers are like family. Building a family-friendly culture makes sense for us. By all accounts, labor shortages and healthcare worker burnout are here to stay. Younger generations expect employers to help solve personal challenges like child care. We believe our child care center will help us entice early-in-career people to come to Miller to grow their careers and their families with us,” says Miller’s CEO.

Want to learn more about investing in a child care center for your employees? Check out Building Your One-of-A-Kind Child Care Center: A Step-by-Step Guide, drawing from Bright Horizons’ 35+ years supporting top organizations with the creation of successful employer-sponsored centers.

Miller County Hospital