By Anna Fiorentino
Broad postdoctoral fellow Inbal Benhar had been balancing her work as a neuroimmunology researcher with being a parent of three young children, when COVID-19 cases began rising in Massachusetts. Her Broad lab shut down, along with most labs in the Boston area. The Somerville public school, where her five-year-old daughter attended pre-kindergarten, was also closed, and her twin two-year-old sons were at home with her as well. Suddenly, juggling life became a lot more challenging.
Finally, in early June, Benhar and dozens of other Broadies got a well-deserved break. As the Broad began allowing researchers safely back into labs, the institute also launched a pilot childcare center in Kendall Square — in collaboration with Bright Horizons — for children of Broad employees. At the Broad’s Bright Horizons facility — one of only a few in the state operating for essential workers at the time — all Broad parents using the facility and 18 childcare staff members are provided with on-site COVID-19 testing every four days, with next-day results. The Broad subsidizes testing costs, and parents pay a nominal fee for care.
“Since the childcare center opening coincided with the labs reopening, it has made it much easier to go back to work and actually focus on work, rather than worry about what was going on at home, or feel pressed for time,” said Benhar. “It was clear how much my daughter needed to engage with children her age and to have a change of scenery. She's excited to go every time, and comes back so happy.”
Within an hour of announcing the center on June 3, 31 Broadies working from home and in the lab had enrolled their children. Since its June 8 launch, the childcare center has filled to capacity of 40 children, five days a week. The pilot was so popular that the Broad’s Bright Horizons program was extended through the end of the summer.
The idea for the childcare center started with the arrival of Broad’s new Chief People Officer, Frances Brooks Taplett, who wanted to make a difference for parents of young children, like herself. Taplett’s first day on the job was April 20, working remotely; together, with two other parents in HR, Chelsea Bodenstab and Donielle Buie, the team hit the ground running.
Taplett and the team surveyed Broadies about how they were coping with the pandemic. How were they feeling, and what was their financial situation, food security, and stress level? Hundreds of caregivers took the survey, and about 80 percent of them said they were struggling to manage both their career and their children full-time at home.
In response to the survey, Taplett, supported by Eric Lander, Broad’s president and founding director, and other Broad leaders proposed a childcare center and reached out to the CEO of Bright Horizons, Stephen Kramer, to establish a partnership. With Bright Horizons on board, Taplett, Bodenstab, and Buie worked around the clock to land an essential business permit, decipher cost and operational logistics, finalize a contract with Bright Horizons, and coordinate COVID-19 testing with the Broad’s diagnostic facility, all in less than two weeks. “Testing the childcare staff, as well as the parents that came to the facility, gave us confidence that everyone was healthy and it showed us what a future world during the coronavirus could look like,” said Taplett.
Bodenstab helped set up the center and is also using it for her 2-year-old daughter and 9-month-old son. “It’s allowed me to have a full day of work without needing to balance childcare at the same time, and it’s given my kids the social interaction they needed,” said Bodenstab.
“When you drop your child off and see them light up, that tells you about the impact of this and the importance of social connection,” added Buie, who is using the center this summer for her children.
Other Broadies who have used the center have ranged from scientists doing COVID-19 research to staff processing work visas for employees. “It’s been thrilling to hear from people about how relieved they are that their kids have a safe place to go, and how happy their kids are,” said Taplett. She and her team have also spoken with other research institutions in the Boston area that are interested in adopting this model of childcare for their workers in the COVID-19 era.
“It was impressive how HR actively sought out feedback on how Broadie parents were doing and what could help us, and very rapidly acted to come up with this great solution,” said Benhar. “We are very grateful for it and hoping for similar initiatives when the program comes to an end.”
While no one knows exactly what the fall will bring, Taplett envisions the childcare center opening after summer on an as-needed basis as the overall pandemic response continues.