ROCKY RIVER, Ohio — I’ve spent the past quarter-century recruiting health care workers, and I’m certain the current workforce shortage Ohio hospitals face is the worst I’ve ever encountered. There’s no question that COVID-19 is a significant factor in explaining the shortage, but COVID only compounded a serious, underlying problem: a critical lack of affordable, quality child care for people in every industry.
Right now, Congress is debating measures to help states like ours strengthen the child care system. We desperately need federal help to make the sustainable, systemic changes necessary to push back against the child care crisis.
I’m a member of ReadyNation, an organization of business leaders advocating for evidence-based solutions that strengthen the workforce while promoting better outcomes for America’s children and youth. Even before the pandemic, a 2019 ReadyNation report examining the nation’s infant-toddler child care crisis noted that the crisis costs our economy a staggering $57 billion per year in lost earnings, productivity, and revenue.
Ohio’s share of national GDP suggests that the economic cost for the lack of reliable infant-and-toddler child care in our state could come to $1.7 billion annually. COVID-19 has almost certainly increased these costs. Even before COVID, nearly one-third of Ohio families lived in a child care desert, where there are at least three children for every licensed child care slot.
Shortages are particularly acute for care during nontraditional hours — schedules common for health care workers.
I meet health care workers continuously who can’t return to work because of child care, either the cost or the lack of space in a facility.
I recently recruited a nurse for a Cleveland hospital. She had left work during the pandemic to care for her three children. Now, she’s ready to return to work. We booked an interview: She has 10 years of experience and was likely to get an offer. But, 24 hours later, she called — disillusioned and discouraged. “I’m going to have to cancel the interview,” she said. “I can’t find child care for my three kids. And if I could, it would be so unaffordable it wouldn’t make sense.”
This is a big issue. We’re all consumers of health care. At some point, we’re all going to be patients of health care. Imagine showing up at an emergency room at 3 a.m. and being told they can’t take you because they don’t have staff. This is happening now.
If we don’t fix this, it’s going to be a crisis for all of us. Congress can take action that could triage this national crisis. Federal lawmakers need to create increased, sustained public investments in our nation’s child care system. Lawmakers could provide direct grants to child care providers to keep them stable, improve quality, and expand child care options in areas where care is currently unavailable — such as for overnight workers. Congress could also increase direct subsidies for low-income working parents so that they can select the care that fits their needs.
Employers are willing to do more, but they need help. Congress could provide this assistance by expanding the Employer-Provided Child Care Tax Credit and by incentivizing state child care agencies to partner with employers to create or tap into networks that link parents with appropriate care. The Small Business Administration can be directed to help child care providers launch their businesses and connect them with seasoned business leaders for expert advice.
The stakes are high for all of us.
Highly qualified people haven’t returned to work because of child care. We need these people to go back to work. For that to happen, we need Congress to act and we need more broad partnerships here in Ohio. It’s imperative we act, because we all need night-shift nurses at our local hospitals.
Danielle Folliet Munk is chief operating officer of Global Healthcare Services of Rocky River and is the mother of two children.
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