On March 12, 2020, school districts across Los Angeles County announced they would close campuses and implement distance learning for students. Many of Harbor-UCLA Medical Center’s (Harbor) staff expressed concerns that due to school closures and lack of child care opportunities, they would need to call off and not be able to fulfill their clinical and support service roles to assist the hospital’s COVID-19 pandemic response.
Hospital leadership immediately contacted the State of California – Community Care Licensing Division (CCLD) to seek a statewide emergency waiver for operation of an onsite child care for employees to support the COVID-19 Emergency Response. Harbor’s was the first emergency waiver granted in the region. With this waiver in hand, the hospital worked to implement infection control measures and protocols, registration and screening protocols, and made connections to other resources in the community, such as local school districts to provide meals and snacks, to help the hospital support the Child Care program for Harbor and other Health Services staff who were supporting the COVID-19 response.
On March 16, 2020, Harbor opened an Employee Child Care center. A team including a Child Life Specialist, Pediatric nurses, and other support staff further developed programming and provided supervision to the children while parents were working in the hospital. Once the children and teachers were more acclimated with distance learning technology and new distance learning school schedules, the hospital determined that it would better serve the children and employees by shifting emphasis from providing child care services to all ages to creating a Learning Lab (LL) to focus on providing a safe learning environment for school-aged children of the hospital’s workforce.
The LL operates Monday-Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and serves children from eight years old (3rd grade) to 17 years old (high school). The program has capacity for 40 children. The LL is equipped with Wi-Fi, desktop computers and desks spaced six-feet apart. Parents and children are given a health screening and temperature check at the entrance. Through a partnership with White Middle School in Carson, CA, all students are provided with breakfast, lunch and a snack. All services are offered free of charge to staff during their working hours.
The commitment by hospital leadership to offer this service removed a significant cause of concern and worry for staff and allowed them to focus on providing critical care to patients. Parents stated they could see a change in the mental health status and disposition of their children once they began attending the LL. Many of the students reported that they loved coming to the LL because it reminded them of school and seeing their friends. New friendships and connections were being built through this program. The LL enrollment, and applications for enrollment, led to expanding the operating hours and recruiting additional staff, to meet demand. The LL came close to its enrollment cap of 40 children.
Harbor established the LL space outside of patient care areas to comply with Public Health standards for safety. Significantly, staff called off less when they had this vital resource in place. The accessibility of the LL as a resource and the assurance that their children were safe allowed staff to continue to perform the important work of parenting and patient care.