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Hospital Tries Day Care For Patients

NOEL KING, HOST:

Child care can sometimes get in the way of health care for busy moms, so a hospital in Dallas is trying something new to help parents make it to their doctor's appointments. Here's Sujata Dand of member station KERA.

LAKESHA BUNCH: What are you doing?

BAYLOR: I decorate a tree.

BUNCH: You decorating the tree.

SUJATA DAND, BYLINE: Lakesha Bunch helps her 3-year-old daughter Baylor put ornaments on their small Christmas tree. Big brother Blake, who's 5, peeks into the living room, smiles and runs away. Josiah, who's 10 months old, wants to stay in Mommy's lap.

BUNCH: We all joke about how spoiled Josiah is because I was sick - like, when I'm nauseous and stuff, and I would just lay down. And so I just held him because that was the easiest thing - to just hold him. And so now here he is, still wanting to be held (laughter).

DAND: Just a few weeks before Josiah was born, Bunch found out she had breast cancer. A stay-at-home mom, her first thought was, who will care for her children? Her husband started taking Fridays off from work whenever he could so she could get chemotherapy. But sometimes, she still missed appointments or had to bring her kids along.

BUNCH: I remember sitting in chemo, and I remember crying because I was just so worried about my kids. And I remember the nurse saying, you have to focus on you. And that's hard, you know? Yeah, you know, you do have to focus on you. But you know, as a mom, I already feel so guilty about them having to go through all this.

DAND: A social worker told Bunch about a program called Mommies in Need. The nonprofit provides free full-time nannies for parents who are going through a health crisis. Natalie Boyle founded the organization after she had a series of health problems following the birth of her twins. She understands how hard it is for mothers to focus on their own health.

NATALIE BOYLE: How can you address women's health if you're not taking care of child care? And nobody had realized that. And I think the only reason I realized it is because I lived it.

DAND: Boyle wanted to support more parents dealing with health issues, so she asked Parkland Hospital if it would offer free day care on its campus. The hospital was on board, and it's set to begin next fall. Dr. Kavita Bhavan is the director for Parkland Center for Innovation.

KAVITA BHAVAN: It's going to the frontline and thinking about, how can we design around people? And how can we reimagine how care is delivered?

DAND: When experts study barriers to care, they often ask patients about transportation, nutrition, insurance. But few had considered asking patients about child care. So Parkland's Dr. Kimberly Kho interviewed 300 mothers at Parkland who had young children.

KIMBERLY KHO: What we found is that when women are asked this question, this is the No. 1 reason that they are missing appointments.

DAND: Kho says the study revealed women typically missed four appointments a year, and almost all said they missed well visits. This may explain why she sees women in the emergency room, especially at night.

KHO: They're coming in at, like, 7 or 8 o'clock. Why is that? It's because their partner has come home from work. They've fed the kids dinner. They've given them a bath. The kids are in PJs now. The husband or whoever can take care of the kids. And now she can make time for herselves (ph). Emergency services cost a lot of money, and it's not the ideal place to get health care.

DAND: Lakesha Bunch gets that but says sometimes parents don't have a choice when there's no reliable child care. A day care facility at the hospital would've made the difference.

BUNCH: But if I could, like, take them with me and they knew that I was just - I'm still in the same place as you; I'm just going to be over here - I know that a lot of my treatments - where I would've felt a lot more - you know, I would've felt a lot less stressed.

DAND: Doctors involved in this collaboration hope one day, this idea goes beyond Parkland Hospital and eliminates the need for parents to choose between child care and their own health.

For NPR News, I'm Sujata Dand in Dallas.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAID'S "CROWN SHY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.