ST. PETER — River’s Edge Hospital in St. Peter will launch a child care program for staff working through the COVID-19 pandemic Tuesday.

The program will have flexible hours and be free for any staff. The idea came about after employees expressed concerns about finding child care to cover non-traditional hours — the hospital’s emergency care is open 24/7.

Known as Kids Edge, the child care will be available to staff through at least the end of August, said Jackie Kimmet, chief human resources officer at River’s Edge.

“Once COVID came around, right away we were thinking what can we do for our employees and how can we relieve that stress for them and help them so we can help the patients,” she said.

Going through the licensure process, hiring child care providers and preparing the space took about a month. The hospital connected with St. Peter Business Services Owner Brad DeVos, who has experience helping child care facilities launch, to get the project moving.

DeVos, also a City Council member, referred the hospital to a former colleague of his, Melony Ramsey, to direct the child care project. The two previously worked at the St. Peter Community Childcare Center — Ramsey as director and DeVos as treasurer.

They first called local child care centers to see what hours and availability they had. None could accommodate the non-traditional hours, DeVos said.

So the hospital opted to offer its own, on-site option for school-age children — roughly ages zero to 10 or 11. Kimmet sent out emails to staff letting them know about it, encouraging them to submit their schedules and let her know what age children would need the service.

Pulling the project together in such a short time frame took quick thinking and creativity, Ramsey said. She said the county and the state Department of Human Services helped the team navigate through the special licensure.

“We’re all learning,” she said. “This is a little uncharted territory, so we had a lot of help from Nicollet County and DHS.”

“Unconventional” is how the group described the project Thursday. There won’t necessarily be set hours, but rather hours based on need. If a worker has a 2 a.m. to 10 a.m. shift, child care staff would adjust accordingly.

Different parts of the child care room used to be pharmacy space and break rooms. After already planned renovations, it was going to be a conference room.

Now the room is filled with donated toys and other child care supplies. It has enough room for up to 10 children at a time, and two staff will be on site.

Chairs and a conference table still need to be cleared before Tuesday, but it’s otherwise ready to go. Ramsey said two children are signed up for child care on day one.

Although running through at least August, Kimmet said it could continue longer depending on what happens with the pandemic.

“We’re letting employees know we’ll evaluate it on a regular basis,” she said. “We’ll give them at least a month’s notice before ending so employees can make arrangements.”

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArola

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