Renita Williams Thomas always wanted to change the life of children. Feeling called to pursue a career in pediatrics, she returned to college when she was 30 years old to earn her nursing degree, and later worked for OLOL Children’s Hospital, Capital City Family Health Center, Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center, and the Department of Health and Hospitals. Pediatric day cares for medically fragile children are relatively new to Louisiana, and Thomas helped open Pediatria Healthcare for Kids in 2011, which previously operated on Airline Highway. “Once in the business, I fell in love with the concept, but my vision was different.” After only eight months with the company, she decided her philosophical differences were too large to ignore, so she struck out on her own in 2012 with In Loving Arms Pediatric Day Health Center.
As a nurse and mother of a child with a complex medical condition, Thomas brings a unique perspective to her business. Children can attend her facility for up to 12 hours a day and receive nursing services, personal care and developmental therapies. One of the toughest challenges she faces is getting people to understand that her business is a medical facility and not simply a day care center. “We’ve had to evolve, balancing what moms ask for versus what the child needs versus what the state mandates.” She’s also had to grapple with the rapid growth of clients. Starting out in a building licensed for 14 children, the business outgrew the facility in two years. Closures of other similar facilities in the area, compounded with advances in neonatal care, has led to a doubling of patients.
Moving forward, Thomas is preparing her business for its third move, this time to a new 7,500-square-foot facility on Harding Boulevard that she hopes to relocate to by August. With the expansion, her staff—which she’s doubling—will be able to care for more children, and there will be adapted play equipment, a therapy suite and updated conference room for families. Aside from providing the medical care that’s needed, Thomas also places emphasis on making sure her patients are part of a friendly social network. “We’re going to continue to make sure Baton Rouge has a great concept so we can be a resource to moms, the community and physicians to provide the services that are needed for these kids.”