Children may not go to work with Mom and Dad, but they greatly affect their parents' job performance.

So says Intermountain Health Care, one of many corporations that recently realized that child-care problems have a definite impact on employees' performance - and thus, operations.IHC has proof. A 1987 survey of nurses - 40 percent of whom are single mothers - revealed that a total 1,405 shifts had been lost due to a lack of child care. Nurses are only one segment of IHC's 14,000 employees, of whom 80 percent are women.

Faced with these statistics, IHC in July opened its own day-care facility.

Designed to meet the needs of IHC employees, the center is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with hourly rates. Drop-offs and children as young as 6 weeks are welcome. There is no upper age limit, and no sick child (unless he has a contagious disease) is sent home. Instead, a licensed practical nurse cares for ailing children in a special area within the center. A nurse practitioner and a pediatrician are just a call away.

"We are excited about the child-care center, not only in terms of the conveniences offered, but also in terms of the quality of care that's provided," said Kerma N. Jones, IHC vice president of human resources.

Jones said to attract quality providers, IHC pays better than competitive wages and provides the benefits available to other IHC employees. "While these salaries and benefits are almost unheard of in child care, we want to attempt to prevent the turnover that is so typical in the field." Virtually all employees have college degrees in child care, and children, regardless of age, are taught skills in programmed learning classes.

Innovative features include a tricycle track that the children can ride on, three identical sets of toys that are cleaned and maintained after each shift, and a sparkling clean bathtub where children who play especially hard during the day can be bathed before going home.

Jones said employees pay for the service at rates that are competitive with other child-care facilities in the community. But because of the special features provided, the center is more expensive to operate.

"The operation is heavily subsidized by the company, but we estimate that the start-up costs will be covered after three years of operation. On-going operations will continue to cost the company money."

Jones is confident the company will reap benefits. The center, she said, will help tremendously in recruiting and retaining employees, meeting staffing schedules and, most importantly, improving employee relations.

"It sends a message to the employees that we really do care about them. It proves that we do listen to employees and respond to their needs and suggestions."

Besides, Jones maintains that when compared with medical care, dental care, eye care, retirement and other types of benefits, company-sponsored child care is relatively cheap.

"Companies can afford to offer it," she said.