COLUMBUS — Columbus Community Hospital officials knew the community’s chronic shortage of day care resources had been lurking for years when they decided more than a year ago to take a good, hard look at the issue.

The attention given by the CCH board of directors, administrators and employees resulted in breaking ground about a month ago on a $3 million in-house day care program for workers located on the hospital’s campus at the corner of 38th Street and 48th Avenue.

The hospital’s annual internal surveys of its more than 600 staffers have found that deepening the pool of child care options available in the community is at or near the top of the list of workplace concerns.

“Child care is a big issue (for parents trying to balance work and family),” said Michael Hansen, president and chief executive officer of the hospital.

Hansen said making more care options available also removes a barrier to local businesses in recruiting and retaining quality workers.

“It’s a quality of life issue,” said Hansen, who in his more than 30 years in the health care industry has served at other hospitals that operated child care facilities.

“Child care options have been an ongoing concern for us for years," he said. "It’s a huge benefit (to staff and employers).”

The direction taken by the CCH board in green-lighting the 14,000-square-foot Columbus Community Hospital Child Care Center, expected to open sometime in the fall of 2017, is something Hansen would like to see repeated in the community.

“Maybe it could be a viable solution for other businesses on the industrial side of town (who struggle with recruiting and retaining workers),” said the hospital president while crediting the CCH board for researching and signing off on the project.

Scott Messersmith, vice president of operations at CCH, has been instrumental in putting together plans for the new child care facility in the northeast corner of the campus just north of the medical office building.

The facility will have a capacity of 105 children, including three rooms each for infants (newborns to age 2), preschool toddlers and school-age kids. The center will employ about 20 child care workers.

The center will open earlier and close later, 5 a.m.-7:30 p.m., than most other local providers to be accessible to the vast majority of staffers working shifts at the hospital.

If there are open slots beyond what hospital employees need, they would go to medical providers, other members of the health care community and then the public in that order, Messersmith said.

The hospital’s in-house facility, however, will open up more choices for parents at other day care providers throughout the community.

“We’re filling a gap,” said Messersmith, adding that other local providers realized the need for more day care slots in the community and were enthusiastic in backing the hospital’s plans.

In 2015, the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce targeted expanded day care resources as one of its strategic goals for the year.

Columbus’ deficit of day care openings has been on the community’s radar for more than 10 years, which is about the time when a local task force was created to seek ways to boost the number of slots available for parents to choose from.

Columbus currently has about 50 in-home day care providers and nine day care centers that can accommodate about 500 children, according to unofficial figures provided by the chamber office.

There is no official count on the number of children cared for by extended family members.

Chamber President K.C. Belitz estimated that the 500 day care slots are about half the number needed for children under kindergarten age in the community.

"This decision (by the hospital) is a big deal," Belitz said.

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