Parents upset by closure of children's waiting room
April 15, 2009
CAMP LESTER, Okinawa — More than two weeks after the closure of the children’s waiting room at U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa, former program director Heather Potter said she’s still fielding calls from upset parents.
The room — which offered free child care to patients with hospital appointments — closed March 23 because it violated military guidelines that prohibit the operation of a day care on the premise, hospital officials said last week.
"We’ve gotten a ton of calls and e-mails," Potter said. "People are not happy."
The hospital provided the space, and the Armed Services YMCA operated the service with help from 20 to 30 volunteers.
Parents still have the option of taking their children to drop-off services at child develop centers on surrounding bases for an hourly fee, officials said.
While the decision by the two agencies was mutual, the reasons for its closure are not. Armed Services YMCA staff and volunteers say they were forced out after asking the hospital to pay for a few safety upgrades to the facility — including installing a child protective gate at the room’s entrance.
Hospital officials say the room closed because it no longer operated as a waiting room, but rather a day-care facility in need of significant structural modifications to comply with safety standards from the National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education.
According to those guidelines, a day-care facility must have a minimum of two emergency exits and meet American with Disabilities requirements.
The room had only one entrance, hospital and Armed Services YMCA officials said.
"It outgrew the standards of a waiting room," said hospital spokesman Brian Davis. "I guess the best thing I can say is a closer look at the regulation brought this to our attention."
Whatever the reason, the loss of the room is affecting families.
Harriet Williams, a mother of four small children, said drop-in service is costly and finding a baby sitter to care for a group of children is difficult.
Under the drop-in service rate, at $4 an hour per child, Williams said she would have to shell out a minimum of $48 for every hospital visit.
With her fifth child due in September, Williams said she’ll have to rely on her husband, a Marine Corps officer, when it comes to her multiple appointments.
"I’m sad just because child care is challenging. And I know that going forward, my husband is just going to have to take time off from work if I have doctors’ appointments," Williams said.
Potter insists the Armed Services YMCA are adhering to a policy — supported by the Marine Corps Community Services — that puts restrictions in place to avoid being categorized as a day care.
The room provided a maximum of two hours supervision for each child, from infants to age 12, and was limited to 17 spots, Potter said.
"We were never a day-care provider, and we have continuously said we are not a child-care provider," Potter said. "We opened in 2004 and I have no idea why this stuff was not addressed at this time."