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Innovative solution answers hospital's nontraditional needs

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PHOENIX—After administering an employee survey in 2002, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta realized it needed to do a better job of addressing the dependent care needs of its primarily female employee population.

Retention rates, job vacancy rates and return-to-work rates were not where the Atlanta-based hospital system wanted them to be, nor were the utilization rates of existing dependent care programs that included childcare centers, resource and referral access, and dependent care credits.

Not only did Children's Healthcare's employees express a need for quality care while at work and 24/7 access to backup care for healthy and sick dependents, they also needed help with nontraditional and seasonal care, said Alissa Grzybowski, manager work life balance at Children's Healthcare.

While the health care system, in addition to other initiatives, soon introduced a new backup care option for its employees and extended the hours of its three childcare centers to accommodate more workers, it had to be more creative in addressing the needs of its night shift employees who wanted nontraditional child care as well as those employees who desired summer help when their children were out of school.

Speaking at the 2007 Work-Life Conference & Exhibition held in Phoenix last month, Ms. Grzybowski said she couldn't find anything in the marketplace that would help her employees needing nontraditional care.

"Our resource and referral does a great job with in-home care agencies, but a lot of those agencies in the Atlanta area don't have that component for overnight care. So we were just grappling with what to do."

After seeing a magazine advertisement for Sittercity Inc., Ms. Grzybowski said she found the answer to many employees' nontraditional care needs.

That effort plus other programs helped significantly improve the hospital system's retention rates (see box) and other areas of concern.

The Web site, sittercity.com, offers a database of 150,000 house, pet and child sitters across the United States to which individuals can purchase access for about $35 a year. While the site was not set up for corporate use, Ms. Grzybowski said Children's Healthcare worked out a corporate deal that gave all of its roughly 7,000 employees access to the database of about 3,000 sitters in the Atlanta area.

Employees can use the site to post jobs, search for sitters or go to a message board that Children's Healthcare created to share and view information about specific sitters, she said. While the hospital system pays for the access, it is up to each employee to screen the sitters, she noted.

Since launching in December 2005, the health care system's employees have found more than 400 sitters, Ms. Grzybowski said.

"Some of our employees who have utilized this have found...overnight nannies to take care of their kids through the week, and that was our primary goal in looking at this site--finding that nontraditional component," she said.

Sittercity also proved a hit with Children's Healthcare's non-Web savvy employees with seasonal dependent care needs, Ms. Grzybowski said.

Children's Healthcare was having "challenges" filling summer shifts because so many employees needed the same time off to watch their children, she said.

After asking employees whether they wanted to take that time off or whether having another resource would help them balance that time and use it for a true vacation, the organization came up with a "speed sitting" event.

'Speed dating' for sitters

More than 200 employees came to the corporate campus on a Saturday last year to meet 50 background-checked sitters from across Atlanta, provided by Sittercity, Ms. Grzybowski said.

Similar to "speed dating," the sitters sat on the inside of a circle of tables while parents sat on the outside. Parents got the chance to meet the sitters for five minutes before a bell would ring and the parents would shift positions around the table until all 50 were met. Due to the popularity of the event, three separate shifts were held, she said.

"The intent was not that you would hire right on the spot, but that you would narrow it down from the 50 to those two people who you were really interested in and then you'd follow up with them," Ms. Grzybowski said. "Our employees had an amazing time" and more than 70% found a caregiver to meet their needs.