South Peninsula Hospital receives $1.3 grant to open child care center

The licensed child care facility will serve hospital employees

South Peninsula Hospital has received a $1.3 million grant from thread, a private, nonprofit child care agency in Anchorage, to open a child care center for hospital employees. The center will also serve as training facility for people interested in engaging in the service area field.

Derotha Ferraro, SPH director of PR and marketing, estimates that among hospital staff there are more than 120 children of child care age who may require child care services.

The program will be located in the SPH building on Pioneer Avenue across from Bartlett Street, which currently houses home health services, Seaworthy Functional Medicine and the training center. These departments will be relocated to other locations on the hospital campus as the preschool facility prepares to transition into the building space. Approximately $300,000 from the grant will contribute to relocation expenses.

“We built the grant to be heavy on training so we can pay people to train instead of having to hire already trained, because it will help grow the field in the community overall and contribute to an increase in child care opportunities for people looking for resources,” Ferraro said.

The hospital began the project of documenting the need for child care for employees and the impact the lack of child care had on staffing with staff surveys approximately five years ago.

Ferraro explained some of the benefits of licensed child care center.

“A center has more defined and prescribed safety space type requirements. For example, for a licensed center, the space has to have 35 usable square feet available per child and that space can’t be blocked by a table or shelves. Also, there are certain staffing license requirements and ratios of staff to children depending on their age. Or, the number of bathroom facilities available. In a licensed facility, those parameters are guaranteed.”

There are also challenges to achieving licensing and Ferraro explained why this contributes to the scarcity of centers in the state. The Child Care Licensing Policies and Procedures Manual, issued by the State of Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, is a 212-page document the center will need to be in compliance with for operation.

According to Ferraro, another community benefit to the new SPH facility is that it will presumably open up child care space in other facilities in Homer. The Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development’s business license database shows 14 businesses in Homer that currently active child care licenses but lack of child care is one of the biggest concerns expressed by residents in city surveys and the hospital employee surveys.

“We had people resign this summer because of lack of child care. We’ve really reached a pretty bad spot as a state due to child care shortage.”

The hospital also has a goal for the new facility to be open longer hours than other providers — from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. to accommodate staff needs. “In our staff surveys, we found that some people might be able to use the service even earlier if they are working an earlier shift at the hospital but it looks like the bulk of employees will be satisfied with those hours,” Ferraro said.

The hospital has already hired a child care administrator, Kyle Settles, and has an employee-led child care advisory committee to help create hospital policies, processes and procedures.

Before moving to Homer, Settles taught elementary education primarily for fifth and sixth grade in rural Alaska for the past nine years, including schools in Bristol Bay, Healy, Denali and the Aleutians. His wife, Amy Settles, took a position teaching fourth grade at West Homer Elementary last year.

“I came along with her, was looking for work and this position with the hospital popped up. I had some really great interviews with the people at South Peninsula and was excited about the balance they put on work life and mental health and everything just kind of worked out perfectly. I was hired two months ago and have learned a ton since then,” he said.

“I’ve been busy in management mode and making sure everything is in compliance with the state. Opening a day care in the state of Alaska is pretty overwhelming and can feel like an uphill battle but the thread grant the hospital received has been a tremendous support and all of the administrators at the hospital have been extremely supportive and we’re moving forward.”

According to Settles, the first version of floor plans for the new interior of the facility were contributed by Kimber Graham, an architectural drafter with Draft Alaska in Kenai and an updated version will be available soon. Settles has had assistance with the Homer design plans from the child care facility at Providence in Anchorage as another check on state compliance.

Settles said things are moving forward pretty quickly now; all final paperwork will be submitted to the state soon and contractors will start with new interior construction in the building in January. The goal is for the facility to open in May 2024.