Childcare essential

Christy Nix picks up her children at St. Luke’s Children’s Center in Edmond on Monday.

EDMOND, Okla. — Christy Nix can’t miss work. That means her young children can’t stay home. And that means that if it weren’t for her child care provider, Nix’s patients would not be getting the physical therapy they desperately need.

Twenty states ordered child care businesses to close unless they’re serving the children of essential workers. Twenty-nine states, including Oklahoma, allowed child care businesses to stay open, according to Child Care Aware of America.

Nix is a partner at Physical Therapy Central and runs a clinic in Edmond.

“We’ve stayed open for people who had surgery and needed therapy after that or people in acute pain who couldn’t get surgery.”

Nix’s husband, Jonathan Nix, is also a physical therapist, and without child care, one who would have to be home with their son and daughter. Their children have attended St. Luke’s Children’s Care Center in Edmond for three years.

“It would have really been a problem for my husband and me,” Christy Nix said. “We would have had to alternate schedules and there would have been a lot of patients who wouldn’t have received care.”

Some essential workers haven’t been as fortunate as the Nixes. Despite being in a state that allowed child care providers to remain open, attendance plummeted throughout the state as parents stayed home and kept their children with them. That put an insurmountable financial strain on some operators who were forced to close temporarily; others closed voluntarily to help reduce the risk of spreading the virus. Several hundred of the state’s nearly 3,000 child care centers are shuttered.

“We’ve stayed open because we have first responders, doctors and nurses, people who needed to bring their children and be there for work on the front lines,” said Gabby Moon, the St. Luke’s Children’s Center executive director. 

Moon said everyone on her staff wanted to keep working and adopted a flexible attitude, filling in wherever needed and cleaning every bit of glass, carpet and countertop.

“They didn’t care what they had to do,” Moon said. “They did everything.”

But St. Luke’s was not immune. Attendance dropped more than 70% during the first week of the shutdown. The organization provides child care for 650 children at four campuses including the 194 children enrolled in Edmond. St. Luke’s Executive Pastor of Administration Rev. Phil Greenwald said payroll for the Children’s Center staff makes up about 60% of the church’s budget. Thanks to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Payroll Protection Plan, there were no layoffs.

“The backing of the Payroll Protection Plan gave us the confidence to say, ‘If we can continue providing the service and have this backstop we’ll keep going,’” Greenwald said. “If we hadn’t had that backstop it would have been a very different calculation for us.”

Moon said she and her staff have learned a lot and adapted quickly to the circumstances, adopting new cleaning standards and new protocols to keep the children and staff safe. Parents no longer walk their children into their classrooms and a staff member checks everyone’s temperatures before they enter each day. Teachers even incorporated hygiene into the curriculum, finding fun ways to teach good hand-washing habits. A mistake could be costly for the Children’s Center and the parents who rely on it; the state requires child care centers to shut down for a minimum of 14 days if anyone at the facility comes down with COVID-19.

“At the end of the day it’s a risk with them going to child care,” Christy Nix said. “But we had confidence in St. Luke’s and we really wanted to be there for our patients. We’re very grateful for them and the way they’ve taken care of our kids.”

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