Local experts in child care service report that there’s a crisis in the industry, with child care companies around La Crosse declining in large numbers due to a lack of workers and other factors. Now, Gundersen Health System and the VARC agency of Vernon County are working together to reverse that downward trend.
VARC has purchased the Preschool Childcare Center in north La Crosse, and Gundersen region president Heather Schimmers says her company will provide needed financial support.
“We’re going to support operating dollars to the child care center for at least three years,” Schimmers announced at a news conference inside the Parenting Place, which has helped VARC and Gundersen plan the project.
“Approximately 30 spots at the center will be dedicated to the children of Gundersen staff,” said Schimmers. “Priority will be given to the families who are currently on our own Gundersen child care center wait list.”
Parenting Place director Jodi Widuch says the number of businesses in La Crosse County providing child care has dropped about 75 per cent since 1999, from over 400 local agencies at that time to fewer than 100 companies offering that service now.
Liz Filter, the CEO of VARC, says the child care project is a natural fit for her organization. “It is aligned with our mission, in that we have historically served kids with developmental and physical disabilities, and kids with mental health diagnoses, in an after-school and summer program,” said Filter. That mission is being expanded with the purchase of Preschool Childcare Center.
Noting that Gundersen is La Crosse’s largest employer, Schimmers says a lack of child care can intensify challenges for many families with small children.