How child care program Pete's Place is impacting parents

Pete's Place.jpg
Posted at 6:24 PM, Feb 21, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-21 20:24:10-05

HELENA — St. Peter’s Health is investing in expanding its child care facility into the Ray Bjork Learning Center.

“It makes me happier. It makes me happier at work. It makes me less stressed at work. I know if anything's going on, the teachers will call me. And I don't have to worry about what, where they are or what they're doing. I know they're happy. I know they're safe. I know they're learning and having fun,” says Registered Nurse, Shannon Eckhart.

Eckhart has been at St. Peter’s for about 10 years. Born and raised in Helena, Eckhart returned after a stint in Bozeman, Billings, and Portland, Oregon. She has 2 kids: a 4-year-old girl and a 2-year-old boy.

Her family was on the wait list at Pete’s Place, St. Peter’s childcare facility for employees, for about four years. During that time, she went through a couple of different daycares, one of which had multiple price increases.

“I mean, we paid more for our child care than we did for our mortgage and now that's not the case,” says Eckhart.

Since getting child care through her employer she’s been far happier. Pete’s Place offers affordable and reliable child care all while working with her schedule, allowing her to only pay for the time her child is actually there.

“It never changes. Everyone there is consistent, and you can count on them. And we have relationships with them. And they're just, they're so good,” says Eckhart.

And Pete's Place is expanding. They're going to be moving into the Ray Bjork Learning Center just down the road.

St. Peter’s hopes this expansion will be open by August 1 and should house 180 0-6 year old children of St. Peter’s employees.

This decision makes an impact on all parents in the Helena area by providing for St. Peter’s employees and opening up spots in other facilities when they switch. This is especially needed in Montana which is a child care desert for infants. And in Lewis and Clark County, 36% of children are not receiving licensed child care.

Do note, that due to data availability, DLI was not able to include in their analysis any unlicensed child care providers.

This shift in employee-provided child care is part of a larger trend according to Amy Watson, the State Economist with the Montana Department of Labor and Industry.

“We’ve seen a lot of engagement from the business community to be able to be a partner in resolving some of these issues,” says Watson.

This is a trend that St. Peter’s has been ahead of for quite a few years. Stormy Lantz oversees operations in specialty clinics at St. Peter’s and has 2 children in Pete’s Place. She says her husband was cared for at Pete’s Place when his mother worked in a lab over 3 decades ago. She says that the quality of care for the community can hinge upon child care.

“It’s one of the biggest reasons why we lose people is because they can no longer support their schedule because they've lost daycare, or their daycare doesn't work for the schedule here. And so, opening this up allows us to really strengthen the care that we can provide by being able to support those parents that want to work,” says Lantz.