Why we should all be thankful for OZ this year | By Nick Holekamp, MD

For most young children, organized, educational programs like preschool are a given. But that’s not true for children with complex medical conditions–a fact that can have a drastic impact on a child’s development. 

That’s why we created OZ, short for Optimization Zone, an innovative in-hospital program, similar to a preschool, for medically complex kids age 5 and younger.

How hospitalization affects a child’s development

Studies show the longer kids are hospitalized, the more they fall behind developmentally. In a study of recently discharged children with tracheostomies and ventilators, nearly 80% performed below the fifth percentile in developmental activity and mobility.

Why we created OZ

My research team and I wanted to know more about the reasons why hospitalized children are more at risk for developmental delay, so we did our own study, the first of its kind to track the movements and interactions of children in a hospital setting. 

The results of our study were recently published in the peer-reviewed journal, Child: Care, Health & Development. (You can read more about the research in my previous blog post.)

As part of the study, we identified five ways to enrich programming to help with young patients’ neurodevelopment, such as more face-to-face contact and more time spent out of their hospital rooms.

The findings inspired us to create OZ to give children with complex medical conditions the opportunity to play in an environment that maximizes development of social skills, mobility, and more.

Since launching OZ, we’ve nearly doubled the time our youngest patients spend outside of their hospital rooms, and we’ve seen patient improvement in a variety of areas including social skills, communication skills, emotional development, sleep quality, acceleration in meeting therapy goals, and more.

What the medical community can learn from OZ

A program like OZ is vital for children 0-5 because the critical developmental period of early childhood serves as the foundation for the rest of a child’s life.

Programs like OZ should become the standard operating procedure for hospitals treating young children with complex medical conditions.

That’s why my team and I at Ranken Jordan are committed to doing more research around this issue and sharing our findings with the wider medical community.

How you can help make OZ even better

So this Thanksgiving, I’m particularly thankful for OZ and the opportunities it gives our youngest patients.

If you want to learn more or donate, please visit our website. I also encourage you to watch my TEDxTalk from TEDxStLouis which explains more about OZ.

Programs like OZ are critical because all children should have the opportunity to play and spend time with other kids. It shouldn’t be any different for a child with a complex medical condition.

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