The Kidz Club: A Safe Place for Medically Fragile Kids

Three-year-old Jack Adams all but bounces into the main room at The Kidz Club in Lexington with a mile-wide smile on his little face as he greets the staff and all his daycare pals.

He hugs Director Tammy Vice and then joins his buddies in the morning activities.

“He loves social situations and he’s everybody’s best friend,” said Jack’s mother, Karen. “He’s just such a happy kid.”

And a resilient, brave one, too. Jack was born with Down syndrome and a heart defect. He had his first major surgery at 7 months and in June underwent his seventh operation – airway reconstruction surgery.

He has a pacemaker, a tracheostomy, is fed exclusively with a feeding tube, and is developmentally delayed by about a year.

And he’s as joyful as any other 3-year-old.

A good hunk of that joy is courtesy of The Kidz Club, a full-day program that provides skilled nursing services in a daycare setting for children who are medically fragile.

“People who know us think this is the greatest program ever,” Karen Adams said. “We know that our son is safe and will be well taken care of by people who know to handle his medical needs. This gives us peace of mind.

“There is nothing else like it around.”

The Kidz Club is a one-of-its-kind facility in Central Kentucky. The company has five centers – four in Kentucky including the one in Lexington.

Kentucky is a nationwide leader in offering this option to families. In 1989 the state mandated that the Cabinet for Human Resources provide standards for Prescribed Pediatric Extended Care.

But it wasn’t until CEO Lee Zimmerman founded The Kidz Club and opened his first center in Louisville that full-day care for children who are medically fragile became a reality.

In August 2009, The Kidz Club expanded into Lexington and now serves 55 preschool and school-aged children.

Children play, do crafts, sing songs and attend education classes in the 4,500 square feet of space in the center, which is staffed by a director, a teacher, a dozen registered nurses plus a group of state registered nursing assistants and caregivers.

The ratio of children to staff is approximately 3 to 1.

The Kidz Club is a medical facility but looks for all the world like a typical preschool/daycare center. “The kids don’t know this is a medical facility,” Vice said.

They’re also too young to appreciate the tremendous cost savings this kind of care provides the state.

The majority of funding for the program comes through Medicaid, the state-administered health program that helps people with disabilities along with low-income adults and their children.

The Kidz Club saves money for Medicaid by greatly reducing the need for emergency room visits and expensive in-home health care.

The program also rescues families from potential financial ruin by allowing parents – freed from 24-7 care of a disabled child – to hold down jobs.

In fact, it’s a requirement of the program that parents work or attend school while their children are at The Kidz Club.

“If not for The Kidz Club, I wouldn’t be able to keep my job at the Horse Park,” said Adams, who is an executive assistant for the U.S. Equestrian Federation.

“Care for Jack would totally consume me. It’s good for him to have his own place to go and good for our family that we know he is being cared for during the day.”

Jack not only has been taken care of, he has thrived at The Kidz Club because of the individual medical attention he receives from professionals all day long.

His physical, occupational and speech therapists visit him once a week, and then those lessons are reinforced by The Kidz Club staff.

Vastly improved outcomes for children are routine at The Kidz Club. While receiving medical attention, children also benefit from interaction with their peers, beating the social isolation that confronts too many children who are medically fragile.

“There is no motivator greater for these children than other kids,” Vice said. “The kids act as role models and inspiration for each other.

“I love this job because it’s incredible to see a child do something that doctors said he would never do.”

Jody Rogers, Vice President of Nursing who has worked with Kidz Club for eight years, shares that sentiment. He recalls a powerful moment for a child born with spina bifida.

“We just knew that one day very soon this boy was finally going to walk,” he said. “He was playing with a toy and another kid came and stole it.

“The boy got really mad and all of a sudden, he stood up. He was still mad but he was also so proud that he had stood up on his own for the first time.”

For Rogers, Vice and other staff members, those memories make Kidz Club a compelling place to work.

“When I came to interview for this job, I knew nothing about Kidz Club,” said Vice, who has 32 years experience as a nurse, the previous six years in home health care.

“I was blown away by this fantastic concept of community nursing. This is a nurses-run business, and the holistic approach provides children with opportunities to take risks in a safe environment so they can improve so dramatically.”

Rogers derives similar satisfactions, saying, “I have seen children that I didn’t think could live and now they are on their way to being typical kids. These kids are tougher than I could ever be.

“It’s gratifying to have played a hand in capturing that falling child and helping them and their family.”