Healing gardens benefit hospital patients, families, staff

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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The manicured gardens and green space at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center didn’t appear by happenstance.

Every shrub, tree and flower was planted with a purpose. The benches, pathways and waterfalls were included for a reason.

The goal of the hint of nature is the same as the goal for many of the services the hospital provides: to help people heal.

Research has shown that people who interact with nature have a brighter outlook, a positive attitude and more energy. Outdoor settings can also have a calming effect, resulting in decreased blood pressure and lower stress levels.

“It’s kind of hard to have a therapeutic affect without nature,” said Teresia Hazen, registered horticultural therapist for Legacy Health.

In a hospital setting, when the visit isn’t always a happy occasion, having places for patients and family members to stop and catch their breath can be a sanity-saver, Hazen said.

“You don’t really have to think about anything,” she said. “You can just be in nature.”

At Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center, patients, visitors and staff have a few locations where they can experience the healing effects of nature.

Visitors are welcomed to the campus with a lush, colorful healing garden.

Leafy, light green trees, dark green bushes and bare branches frame the garden. A waterfall sends slow-moving water flowing down one side of the space, drowning out the noise of hospital traffic. Red, yellow and purple tulips bring a pop of color. A gravel pathway lets visitors wander; benches give them a place to rest.

On one side of the garden sits the hospital building, on another is the medical offices building and on yet another side is the parking structure. Skybridges connect the three structures and encompass the garden, giving patients, families and staff a view from above.

The hospital building houses another garden, this one on a large outdoor balcony outside of the intensive care unit.

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The garden offers reprieve for families with loved ones in the intensive care unit, fresh air for hospital employees and a place for kids to burn extra energy, Hazen said.

Legacy Health built its first healing garden in 1996 at Good Samaritan Medical Center. At that time, healing gardens were a novel idea. Since then, they’ve become fixtures at hospitals across the country, Hazen said.

PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center is among the hundreds of hospitals with gardens on their campuses.

The medical center made green space and gardens a priority because they show patients they are entering a nurturing place, said Jean Rahn, executive director of the PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center Foundation.

“It’s been proven that if you provide healing spaces that are nurturing, calming, offer some privacy, that it’s good for not only the patients but the families,” Rahn said. “Healing is more than just medical treatment. It’s the environment in which the medical treatment takes place.”

A few years ago, the medical center transformed the Family Birth Center courtyard, which had been overgrown with tangled bushes and trees, into a serene garden. The healing garden was built in philanthropist Dollie Lynch’s honor.

“It has been amazing what that space has done,” Rahn said. “It’s just calming to look at.”

The courtyard is used by anxious expectant fathers, restless children and families mourning children who don’t survive, she said.

PeaceHealth Southwest also has a garden outside the Firstenburg Tower lobby and a private garden for hospital employees to relax on their breaks, Rahn said.

“It’s just a little place to retreat and have some moments of quiet,” she said.

In addition to the mental and emotion benefits of the gardens, being outdoors has positive physical effects, Hazen said.

People walk through the gardens and patients use the areas for physical therapy. The gardens also get people exposed to fresh air and vitamin D and encourage people to build their own gardens at home.

“This is a pretty cheap intervention for health,” Hazen said. “Every one of us need that nature experience for our health and wellness.”

Marissa Harshman:360-735-4546; http://twitter.com/col_health;http://facebook.com/reporterharshman;marissa.harshman@columbian.com.