A Positive Distraction

The connection between nature and healing has been known for more than a thousand years.

A hospital garden can have healing properties.

Asian cultures were the first to recognize how lush gardens could induce tranquility and healing. Later, in the Middle Ages, European monasteries featured elaborate gardens to comfort and provide solitude to people under the monks’ care.

And even until the late 1800s, U.S. and European hospitals, too, tended private gardens, where patients could sit closer to nature to expedite the natural healing process.

By the early 1900s, however, the focus of hospitals shifted to a more science-oriented approach. Advances in medicine created an awareness of infections, and the need for sanitary conditions prevailed. The inside space in hospitals became the focus, and hospital designers sought more space in buildings for medical and lab equipment.

Soon, hospitals began to look and feel more like institutions–cold, sterile, and stark. By century’s end, an even newer trend emerged: managed healthcare. One by one, small community hospitals gave way to networks of corporate-managed facilities. In search of higher profits, cost-cutting and consolidation prevailed.

The Pendulum Swings Back

But the pendulum has begun to swing back, giving nature-based care a second look.

With antibiotics and modern drugs able to control infections, hospital designers have re-discovered the benefits of quiet hospital gardens. With competition growing for patient care, administrators are taking a patient-centered approach to boost patient satisfaction rates, a determining factor for repeat business.

Geoff Roehll, a landscape architect with Hitchcock Design Group, based in Naperville, Ill., well understands how hospital gardens have come full-circle. With more than two dozen Midwest hospital and healthcare healing-garden designs to his credit, he recently spoke on this topic to a group of 40 nurses at an Illinois Nurses Association-sponsored forum.

“It’s no surprise that a patient who heals faster saves money for everyone,” observes Roehll, a senior vice president for the firm.

“Healing gardens have been shown to improve medical outcomes by reducing a patient’s stress.”

His garden designs include the Wings of Hope Angel Garden at Edward Hospital in suburban Chicago. The garden was inspired by four local moms who had lost babies during childbirth.

Historically, grieving mothers were instructed to “forget about it” and get on with their lives, but these four women sought something different: They wanted a special place where they could reflect and mourn.

They inspired Roehll to create a special garden for them at the hospital.

A garden\’s peaceful atmosphere can soothe stressed patients and staff.

Unveiled last summer, the Wings of Hope Angel Garden has become a favorite place for hospital patients, their families, and the nursing staff. Modeled after a quiet English manor garden, its features include cedar pergolas in a brick-column frame, along with fountains and a pool. Accent lighting illuminates the garden for evening visits.

The response to this “healing” garden has been overwhelming.

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