Early childcare was already an issue in Marquette when the pandemic forced businesses, schools and public institutions to shut down in Michigan.
Working as a school-based and pediatric outpatient occupational therapist, Britta Carlson noticed that many children were behind in developmental and social skills, likely the result of being at home for months without a structured educational plan, limited or no access to play or interaction with other children, and no access to related services like pediatric therapy.
Carlson first launched Med Pros Share, a pediatric therapy clinic which also includes an online component. This patented database includes searchable, peer reviewed content available to practicing medical professionals and therapists and is currently in venture capitalist fundraising.
With more than 70 percent of speech, physical and occupational therapists being female, she developed a new concept to meet the childcare and educational needs of the community to reintegrate women back into the workforce who had been pushed out due to lack of childcare.
She created EPIC: Educational Partnership in the Community -- and partnered with Med Pros Share & SOAR: Early Childhood & Fitness -- into a new facility in Marquette. The new location allows for community-based therapists and educators to provide services under one roof with access to childcare that is also open to the public.
The need for childcare:
While many children were at home with their remote-working parents during the months-long shutdown, the lack of structured education and socialization, among other things, had a huge impact on children. Carlson observed the lack of skills in socialization, a child having difficulty sharing a toy or being around other children. The lack of school readiness skills also were evident, such as the ability to use scissors, color and paste, rudimentary skills. Many children have suffered setbacks in developmental skills and abilities; speech skills in particular are an urgent concern, Carlson says.
“If you cover your mouth, imitating a mask, you’re not going to be able to understand how to appropriately use your speech due to lack of ability to see how the mouth forms those words,” she says. This also results in adverse responses from children, due to the masks creating a still-face response. A quick search can educate on the work of the still-face experiment by Psychologist Dr. Edward Tronik. Carlson continues, “We feel it is our obligation as educated content experts in childhood development to catch these kids up by providing education, childcare, and therapy in one location, allowing us to do so at a faster rate and with a greater impact using an all-inclusive group setting.”
In addition, Carlson also saw a need for infant care; as a result EPIC has pivoted to provide more infant care slots. “We have refocused our efforts on making sure that we can provide for the needs of the community so we can get women to reintegrate back into the workforce easier,” she says.
The lack of childcare in the community is underscored by the reaction of the mothers inquiring about space at EPIC. In many instances, they’ve been on waitlists for a long time; a returned phone call from EPIC often brings them to tears. Carlson’s team compiled the data and discovered there were 916 children sitting on child care waitlists in Marquette County alone.
“People don’t realize that if we don’t provide care for our kids, these people leave our community,” Carlson says. “If we don’t provide care for the people that work in our hospitals, universities, etc., our community suffers.”
How Med Pros Share and EPIC work:
The new facility is sectioned into two parts under one roof. Pediatric therapy (occupational, physical and speech therapy), : behavioral therapy, tutoring and mental health are offered on one side of the facility; childcare on the other.
The new setup allows for community-based therapists and educators to provide services in one location simultaneously while the childcare program provides services, monitoring each child’s developmental growth.
EPIC offers part-time, half-day AM or PM care, as well as full-time childcare and is also offering after school programs in local districts.
EPIC is advocating for local government and state support to assist in meeting the community needs and efforts of expansion to accommodate more children. Furthermore, Carlson wants to leverage the knowledge and support rural healthcare innovation. Med Pros Share is seeking venture capitalist support. So far, business experts and mentors include Innovate Marquette and the SmartZone, where she secured a $10,000 grant through the Business Accelerator Fund,
supported by the MEDC’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation initiative and administered by the Small Business Development Center
How families pay:
As for therapy services at Med Pros Share, budget-based care is available for the various therapies. Families can pay what they afford each month for therapy services and are given support at a level that fits their family. As for childcare, families pay for half or full day care at a rate of $10 per hour.
One family’s response:
Ashley Eibin of Marquette initially enrolled her daughter in a summer program held by EPIC, impressed with sensory and development aspects. Her daughter’s success with that program led her to enroll in the childcare program. “For my daughter who is an only child, she was able to be exposed socially in a safe environment that was monitored and tracked,” Eibin says. “Then she came home happy and easy going. That’s something super important when you lose control over the safety of your child, when you don’t have control over the things you want to have control over.”
Med Pros Share plans to expand into other U.P. communities.
Med Pros Share and EPIC is located at 106 Coles Drive, Marquette. Visit them at medprosshare.com or call 906-629-1003.