The new Sniffles 'N Such day care separates itself from the average Indianapolis nursery in subtle ways, but working parents say the relief it provides is anything but minor.
Day Nursery Association opened the care center for sick children earlier this year near Methodist Hospital. The nursery provides an invaluable service for parents through a child-care niche that can be tough to maintain, according to those in the field.
The center is for mildly ill children who may be too sick for regular child care or school, but not sick enough to be admitted to a hospital. The not-for-profit association operates it in partnership with Clarian Health Partners.
Sniffles 'N Such resembles any other child-care center on the surface. But it also stands apart in many ways. It uses a ventilation system and entrance separate from the regular Day Nursery Clarian building it resides in, said Carolyn Dederer, Day Nursery Association's executive director.
It employs a nurse to monitor the conditions of guests throughout the morning. Care providers keep the refrigerator stocked with gentle foods such as applesauce and ginger ale. Blue tiles and a lack of rugs make it easy to swab up whatever a sick child deposits on the floor.
"Everything in here is very washable," Dederer said.
Sniffles 'N Such started accepting children ages 3 months to 11 years in late February. Each morning, child-care providers open the doors, never knowing how many sick children they may get that day.
They can take 12 children, but have had days when none showed up.
The center is open to Clarian employees as well as the general public, but customers can't walk in off the street. Sniffles 'N Such prefers reservations, and it has to have a medical file for each child, Dederer said.
Parents must drop their kids off before noon, so a nurse can evaluate their condition and make sure they're not too sick for Sniffles 'N Such.
Once they're enrolled, children can play with puzzles or other quiet activities, or read a book that gets sprayed with a sanitary solution after they finish using it.
The two-room day care separates children with respiratory problems from those with something such as a stomach bug, and tries to prevent its customers from becoming sicker.
"The way you control that the best you can is by washing hands and washing equipment and bleach, bleach, bleach," Dederer said.
The price for an average, eight-hour stay hovers around the cost of regular day care, Dederer said. For instance, a 3-yearold child might cost $21 to $36.
Christine Aldridge gladly paid that price when the flu kept her son, Quinn, home from a week of school. Aldridge and her husband had already missed a couple days of work to care for Quinn, and she couldn't afford to take more time off.
The Methodist Hospital nurse loaded Quinn's backpack with DVDs and homework and dropped him off. Then she returned to visit on her lunch break.
"He had the whole place to himself," she said. "It's a wonderful thing, especially for full-time [working] parents."
Sniffles 'N Such provides the only day care for sick children downtown and Dederer believes it is the only local option open to the general public.
Marsha Hearn-Lindsey sees plenty of demand for this type of day care, but she said there's a simple reason why the options are slim. Hearn-Lindsey serves as program director for Childcare Answers, an Indianapolis not-for-profit that provides child-care information for parents.
Day care for sick kids offers a poor business model on many levels. Operators have to staff it every day, even though they never know for certain if they will have children to watch. That fluctuating population leads to an unsteady income.
Most in Indiana are attached to hospitals, so nurses and other employees can still work if their children become ill, Hearn-Lindsey said.
"It's more of a human capital investment than a financial investment," she said.