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Hospitals Offer Sick Children Day Care as Well as Health Care : Health: Torrance facilities are among a growing number that look after mildly ill youngsters for working parents.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dawn M. Beigel awoke to a scenario dreaded by all working parents.

Her 7-month-old daughter was recovering from a stomach ailment and ear infection. Her 3-year-old son was ailing too. And in just a few hours, Beigel was due at her job teaching a roomful of Torrance third-graders.

So she telephoned an unlikely source of day care: the local hospital.

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Beigel arrived at Torrance Memorial Medical Center soon afterward to leave her children, Linda and Jimmy, in a cheerily decorated room more akin to a kindergarten than a medical ward.

Torrance Memorial and another local hospital--Little Company of Mary--are among a growing number of Southern California health facilities offering programs for mildly ill children of working parents. The programs, billed as a community service, provide another function as well--introducing families to hospitals they may turn to later for more critical medical care.

Parents credit such programs with easing the constant tug-of-war between job and family. “Being a teacher, it’s really hard for me to leave my class,” said Beigel, of Harbor City. “It’s hard for me to stay home, and it’s hard for me to leave my kids. I’m glad I had a place to take them.”

Jimmy usually spends his days in preschool while Linda goes to day care. Ordinarily, if the children got sick, Beigel and her husband would have to decide which parent could miss work to care for them. But last week, they remembered the Torrance Memorial program, known as “TLC” or “Torrance Loves Children.”

Nine children would arrive that day at the center, located on the hospital’s fourth floor near the pediatrics wing.

The center, which can handle 13 children and plans to expand soon, normally sees business quicken during the winter months as colds and flu abound.

“We’re swimming in children in the wintertime,” reported Karen Campbell, the certified nursing assistant who has worked with TLC since its start in 1985.

Torrance’s Little Company of Mary has launched its own program for mildly ill children, known as the Kids’ Care Station.

The regular rate at both centers is $4 an hour per child; employees of the hospitals pay $3. The Torrance Memorial program is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, while Little Company of Mary’s is open weekdays from 6 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., including holidays, with rates rising to $6 an hour after 10 hours and after 6 p.m.

The programs are similar, although Little Company of Mary takes children with chicken pox while Torrance Memorial does not.

Most children in the programs are suffering from colds, stomachaches and ear infections. One concern raised by many parents is whether their children will catch a new illness from other youngsters.

To prevent the spread of disease, toys are washed regularly between uses. Workers also report that aides are careful to wear gloves when changing diapers and to wash their hands frequently.

“If you saw what went on for a day, for $4 (an hour), it’s a bargain,” said Judy Wolstein, Little Company of Mary unit manager for pediatrics and the Kids’ Care Station.

Hospital officials emphasize that the programs are not intended as medical treatment. For instance, program workers do not dispense medication, so parents must bring it from home. But neither are these programs standard day care.

As children arrived last week at TLC, thermometers were popped into their mouths. And when they leave, their parents receive written reports of their condition during the day. Some children at TLC may relax in bed, while others get involved in arts, crafts and games.

“We really take our cues from the kids on how they’re feeling,” said Marlene Nazarey, clinical director of children’s services at Torrance Memorial.

Similar programs, with names underscoring the link between children and health, have sprung up elsewhere in Southern California, offering an alternative to day-care centers that do not want to treat sick children.

“This way, parents can feel comfortable that their kids are being supervised by medical people,” explained spokeswoman Carolyn Carter at St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach.

Kidfirmary opened in the late 1980s at St. Mary, while a center called Kids Care is operating at Northridge Hospital Medical Center in Northridge.

Some facilities, such as Little Company of Mary in Torrance, launched sick child-care programs to help serve and retain their own employees and later opened them up to the public. And for many hospitals, the programs may not make money but serve as a valuable community relations tool.

“It brings them right into the community as a neighbor, caring for your children when you have a hard time,” said Gail Gonzalez, president of the National Assn. for Sick Child Daycare in Morgan Hill, Calif. “When you add all that up, it’s a good financial move.”

Programs like TLC and Kids’ Care Station in Torrance may also serve as a young family’s introduction to a hospital where they may return later if their children need major medical care.

“They know the unit, and they know the nurses,” said Wolstein at Little Company of Mary. “If you get them familiar with the hospital, we would hope that they’d want to come to see us if they needed to.”


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