COMMENTARY: Childcare for health care workers now, not later

by Mar 16, 2020OPINIONS






I know with all the incident command centers that have been established that this must be a topic of discussion, but just in case…

Municipalities need to be making childcare for health care workers a top priority in the overall COVID-19 response. And, there needs to be some thought given to giving care that is consistent with the protocols for preventing infectious diseases that are at the forefront of all our minds today.

With many municipalities closing their school systems, the wisdom of which will be discussed in the many days to come after this contagion is dealt with, we will soon be straining further the already stretched capacity of our hospitals, urgent cares, and nursing home facilities. 

Many of the country’s sick, convalescent, and elder care facilities are begging for qualified workers. It takes much training, experience, and, most of all, a special sense of compassion to work in the medical field at the nursing care level. 

Bathing, cleaning up after, and caring for the infirm, especially a stranger with infirmities, is not for the faint of heart. Helping someone to use the bathroom when they can barely move and cleaning up the mess after a failed attempt are challenges that few people willingly accept. This, in addition to the special skills – blood drawing, catheters, wound care, medication administering-needed to give proper medical care to a patient. 

Primary and elder care facilities were not fully staffed before coronavirus reared its ugly head. Health care facilities are working with colleges to lure more people to the field of nursing, but supply is not keeping up with demand. 

“Without decisive action, nurses will practice under increased stress. As the health care system is strained by an aging population and broadened access to public health care, it will be nurses that feel the weight of patient responsibility on their shoulders.

“By 2022, there will be far more registered nurse jobs available than any other profession, at more than 100,000 per year. With more than 500,000 seasoned RNs anticipated to retire by 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the need for 1.1 million new RNs for expansion and replacement of retirees, and to avoid a nursing shortage.

“Over the past decade, the average age of employed RNs has increased by nearly two years, from 42.7 years in 2000 to 44.6 years in 2010. These factors, combined with an anticipated strengthening of the economy, will create a renewed critical shortage for nurses.” (

All that said, we must provide support for those who will be on the frontlines of this crisis for the foreseeable future. It doesn’t matter if the workers are from the private sector, nonprofit, or are governmental. We need to provide these workers who are also parents the tools they need to remain on the front line of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

If we don’t, we leave these critical healthcare professionals with a gut-wrenching choice; whether to take care of their children or go to work. In my opinion, if we don’t give these workers a safe place to leave their kids, they will either choose to take extended leave or they will bunker in like the rest of the  nation, leaving their jobs instead of their kids. 

Municipalities may alleviate some of the strain and head off some of the additional staff shortages by offering health and human services hosted or sponsored child care facilities or incentivizing privately owned child care facilities to step up and provide child care that is free to the workers. 

Doctors are warning against using grandparents, for example, as “babysitters”, during this outbreak because grandparents are among the highest casualty rates for COVID-19. So, that eliminates one class of caretaker for the children of health care workers. Most friends and family of working age are on the job. So, during the time that their children would normally be in school, they are left to make that choice of job versus childcare.  

As our leaders – mayors, commissioners, chiefs, governors, congressmen – gather to coordinate response to the outbreak, the health care workers do not need to fall through the cracks. Make getting free or affordable childcare for health care providers, in the various venues in which they serve, a top tactical priority in fighting COVID-19.