My Little Waiting Room

By Diana Price

Amy Paterson was 34 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. As she underwent subsequent treatment, the mom of a toddler son was confronted with the problem that so many cancer patients who are also parents face: finding child care that would allow her to get to all of her necessary medical appointments.

In Amy’s case, friends and family stepped in to help care for her son, but it was still a struggle to continually make arrangements. When she completed treatment, Amy found herself reflecting on the fact that she could use her own experience to help other families facing similar challenges. “I had been steeped in this sense of cancer as a liability and a weakness,” Amy says, but a conversation with good friend Melissa Moore, who pointed out all that she had learned from the journey, changed her perspective: “She gave me a way to see the strength in it.”

Recognizing her own strength and her ability to make a difference, Amy was inspired to act. “The first thing I thought could change to ease the burden of cancer on families was to bring drop-in child care to the hospital, just like they have at many community centers, gyms, retail stores, churches, and even many county courthouses.”

The idea had been planted, but it was Melissa’s reply that set the wheels in motion. She said, “That’s a good idea. I think we could get grant funding for that. Let’s do it!” Now the two friends joke that if it hadn’t been for Melissa’s response, Amy would still be in her fuzzy slippers and bathrobe, and drop-in child care at the hospital would have been just another good idea that never got launched.

Instead, fueled by Melissa’s enthusiasm and her own growing excitement about the idea, Amy got busy. As she continued to care for her family and went through rehab, Amy devoted her remaining energy to making drop-in child care a reality for patients. “I spent my days researching drop-in child-care models and talking to my doctors, other hospital staff, area nonprofits, and my young survivors support group about how we might create an offering that was attractive to hospitals,” Amy says. At the same time, she and Melissa researched and submitted applications to funding resources.

As she worked on the project, she realized that the child-care center’s potential clients were not the only beneficiaries of the plan; she was also helping herself. “It felt good and very healing to use the energy I had toward making something good come from all of the bad.”

Soon Amy and Melissa’s research and efforts began to bear fruit. Her project—by this time officially named My Little Waiting Room—received funding from national and local foundations and also began getting media coverage. In March 2008 the executive director of the medical foundation affiliated with Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, Oregon, recognized the value of the project and signed on as a partner, providing My Little Waiting Room with its future home.

The first My Little Waiting Room opened in a highly accessible, sunlit, main-floor lobby location at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center on April 5, 2010. With about 1,000 square feet, Amy says, the center has room for up to 15 children at a time, ages six weeks to 10 years. It is a licensed child-care center with play zones to accommodate different developmental stages. And, most important for families, it’s free to all patients (not just those with cancer) receiving care at the hospital as well as to patients’ visitors. Staffed by professional caregivers, the center is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays on a drop-in and reservation basis.

The children and the families served by the daycare center continue to inspire Amy. Grateful parents continually share their relief and their thanks, finally able to attend to their own medical needs while assured that their children’s needs are also being met. “We hope that this first My Little Waiting Room will be a demonstration model that will inspire other hospitals and communities to adopt a similar offering,” Amy says. “We hope to share our best practices so that others can learn from us. We believe something like this should be in every hospital.”

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