No parent wants to consider that a child may have to contend with a debilitating illness or injury, but it’s an unavoidable fact that some children’s days are filled with medical treatments and procedures rather than playing with friends or going to school. Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital is dedicated to making the transition between hospitals and home as smooth as possible. It’s the area’s first and only pediatric bridge hospital, and its model of care allows young patients to play, grow, learn and interact with others.

The hospital refers to its treatment model as “Care Beyond the Bedside.” It allows for experiences that more closely mirror school, daycare or home by getting patients out of their rooms and into play spaces, activity areas, therapy rooms and the hospital grounds. “One of the biggest challenges young patients face is making the transition home,” says special events coordinator Lynsey Wehrenberg. “Many of them have been in care so long they’ve only known being hospitalized, and they face physical and mental developmental delays. To help them have normal experiences, we focus on getting them out of their beds so they can engage with others and have fun playing.”

The latest advancement in Ranken Jordan’s approach to care is the Optimization Zone (OZ). The play-based learning program was designed to serve newborn to 5-year-old patients due to their critical developmental stage. “We believe that our patients benefit from a more robust outcome-driven approach to combating the negative effects of prolonged hospitalization on typical child development,” Wehrenberg notes. “The OZ offers traditional preschool experiences, such as socializing with a peer, listening to a story at circle time or enjoying free play. It makes these things less scary
or stressful.”

The program serves three groups: Preschool, which focuses on patients developmentally 2 years or older; Early Explorers for those developmentally 6 months to 2 years old; and Care & Comfort, which is for those who are developmentally age 6 months old and below. Each group experiences a structured 90-minute session two to four times a week. Along with play and circle time, they get to participate in arts and crafts and music activities with Ranken Jordan’s art and music therapy programs. The OZ program launched in February 2022, and Wehrenberg notes that its success is evident even within a year. “We’ve seen patient time out of room increase by 85%, and interactions with peers have risen by 241%,” she says.

One of the most impactful items in the OZ space is the light table, according to Wehrenberg. She notes that it has encouraged many patients to support themselves standing up or to take independent steps to explore the lights. Alonzo and A’rari are two OZ participants who have experienced great growth engaging with the table. “While Alonzo’s mobility is limited by his medical condition, his playful spirit is not,” she explains. “He has begun using a brand-new adaptive seating system in the OZ—he can now sit right at the light table with his peers and enjoy the lights, colors and antics of his friends. A’rari began standing consistently in the OZ at the light table, distracted by spinning toys and able to stand longer each session. Now A’rari is most often seen strolling around Ranken Jordan, exploring a whole new world using a walker!”

Despite having opened in 1941, Ranken Jordan may not be a household name for many St. Louisans. One of the ways the hospital raises public awareness and funds is the annual Ranken Jordan Beyond Gala. This year’s event will be held May 20 at The Chase Park Royal Sonesta. Guests can look forward to an evening of cocktails, dinner, live and silent auctions, and a celebration of the children the hospital has served, with stories from CEO Shawn Dryden and chief medical officer Dr. Nick Holekamp. The event will be emceed by Mike Bush of KSDK, and Bill and Shannon Willhite will be recognized with the Outstanding Service to Children award.

“Ranken Jordan’s annual Beyond Gala is a major source of donations that help our patients be able to play and develop,” Wehrenberg says. “As the effect of OZ grows and expands, the needs for it also grow. Donations support our efforts by providing more opportunities for OZ sessions, creating a dedicated space in the hospital for OZ programming and increasing the number of dedicated staff that can be fully focused on helping develop our patients through this program. The gala will be a fantastic evening that will support the children and families who are healing at Ranken Jordan.”

Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital provides care between traditional hospital treatment and home for children from birth to age 21. The Ranken Jordan Beyond Gala is May 20 at The Chase Park Plaza Royal Sonesta. Pictured on the cover: Gala chairs Dawn and Mike Andrew with Ranken Jordan patients. For more information, call 314.872.6544 or visit

Cover design by Julie Streiler
Cover photo by Bill Barrett

Pictured above: Dawn Andrew works at the light table with Ranken Jordan patient Jack.
Photo of courtesy of Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital