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CMN Hospitals grant provides therapy garden for young Behavioral Health patients

Behavioral Health garden for teens

Adolescents served by Via Christi Behavioral Health Center now can enjoy a peaceful therapeutic garden thanks to a grant from the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals at Via Christi. The Center received the $5,000 grant in December, and staff worked all spring to create an inviting outdoor living space.

The once bland, cement patio is now brimming with colorful plants, two small greenhouses, a fountain and rocker gliders. It allows the patients – 11- to 17-year-olds in need of crisis stabilization and short-term hospitalization – to get out and unwind.

“Kids are better at sharing in an informal setting, so having the garden is very helpful in making patients feel comfortable enough to discuss their issues,” says Michelle Hook, clinical care coordinator for Adolescent Care at the Behavioral Health Center in Wichita. “If they are stressed or have anxiety, the gliders and water trickling are soothing.”

Previously, the patio, which is enclosed by a high wood privacy fence, contained only a solitary table; it was once a smoking area when the unit served adult patients. It was drab and uninviting, Hook says. Two years ago the wood fence was painted with black chalkboard paint, which allowed the young patients to write and draw with colorful chalk, but the area was still not utilized. Staff always knew it could be more than it was.

When Hook heard about the CMN Hospitals grant program, which can help health agencies purchase equipment they could not otherwise afford, Hook gathered staff to brainstorm ideas for the patio. A therapeutic garden – designed to nurture the psychological and spiritual needs of patients – was the unanimous desire. The Center received the grant and soon the idea started becoming a reality.

The nursing staff all jumped in to help. Judy Christensen, recreation therapist and the “unofficial green thumb” says Hook, helped select plants that were indigenous to Kansas to create color and life in the garden.

Four large planters are filled with colorful flowers and plants which will be alternated each season so there will be plants in the garden year round. One of the planters contains an herbal garden with mint and cilantro.

A garden gnome, a solar-powered glass butterfly that glows at night and other items provide a sense of warmth and playfulness.

The happiest surprise of the whole garden, Hook says, was the purchase of two rocker gliders, which are used frequently through the day and patients relax in the new living space.

“We really wanted color,” says Julie Robison, RN, of the nearly-complete garden. “And we wanted patients to be able to do things with their hands.”

Ultimately, the plan is for each patient to plant a seed when they arrive and then take home a plant – a continuing circle of life – after their typical three- to five-day stay.

Future plans include creating a Zen garden in one of the terrariums featuring colored sand, and special sand to mold and shape, as well as glass balls, figurines and small rakes for the patients create a calming landscape.

“It’s very therapeutic to play with,” Robison says.

Robison says she tries to bring the young patients out to the patio as much as possible to get fresh air and have a snack. Occasionally she invites an early riser to come out and help her water in the morning. She encourages young patients to participate in caring for the garden. Staff members work under the premise that “if the patients are involved with it, they will treat it well,” Robison says.

“The kids enjoy it, and it’s been a learning experience for all of us,” she says. Eventually staff would like to add a new table and umbrella. “It’s a work in progress,” adds Robison.

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