A free child watch program for TRICARE beneficiaries attending medical appointments at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center is now available, courtesy of the Armed Forces YMCA-sponsored Children's Waiting Room.

The waiting room, which officially opened for business June 13 following a ribbon-cutting ceremony, provides up to two hours of free child supervision for military parents while they go to medical appointments at the Fort Hood hospital.

According to Sheri Yerrington, executive director of the Killeen Armed Services YMCA, access to child care is a major stressor for military families.

"Sixty-six percent of military families have difficulties finding flexible and affordable support in daily child care," she said. "We hope this program will help relieve some of that stress."

Providing access to child care is one way to reduce that stress, according to retired Navy Vice Adm. William French, president and CEO of the Armed Services YMCA.

"We want to be part of the solution in taking care of Army Soldiers and their Families on post," he said during the ribbon-cutting ceremony, adding that the new program has impacted medical appointment access at Camp Pendleton. "After five months, the no-show rate for appointments dropped by 30 percent."

No-show rates are costly in both lost access and monetary dollars across all military treatment facilities.

"Every time one appointment is missed, it impacts three appointments," said Col. David R, Gibson, CRDAMC commander. "We have a 5 or 8 percent no show rate right now, which means we waste about $500,000 a month in terms of missed opportunities."

Removing the burden of child care is huge, said Lt. Col. Joseph Hudak, pediatrics department chief.

"Now you can plan your appointment around when you need it as opposed to when you might be able to secure child care," he said, stressing that since children aren't allowed in certain clinical areas, patients often have to cancel appointments when child care falls through. "You've got someone who needs an ultrasound done, but you can't bring your child into radiology. If you don't have daycare, you can't get that study done."

Col. Karin Nicholson, deputy commander, medical services, applauded the new service because care is impacted if the patient has a child in tow.

"It impacts the ability to see the patient more appropriately because the patient is more worried about taking care of the kid who's running around," said Nicholson.

Nicholson knows from experience difficulties parents face when child care plans fall through.

"There were a lot of times where I could not secure child care and had a specialty appointment," she said. "It can then take up to 28 days or more to get an appointment. Now they can secure child care within 24 hours and be able to keep that appointment."

The new program also is a bonus for family therapy sessions, said Janet Harden, Child and Family Behavior Health administrator.

"It does impact Family readiness," she said. "Sometimes couples show up with their children, and we have to reschedule them because the kids can't be in there with them. It's not good for the kids and too distracting for the couples."

The Children's Waiting Room is one of several Armed Services YMCA core programs that is offered exclusively to active-duty Soldiers and their families and provides two hours of child supervision while they attend appointments. This is the third location in Central Texas. Reservations are required and can be made by calling 254-458-1015. The service is for children ages 6 months to 12 years. The last appointment slot each day is 1 p.m. The YMCA program's operating hours are 7:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.

(Story originally appeared in the June 27 edition of the Fort Hood Sentinel)