Green Houses? So Why Not Green Hospitals? …and Free Wireless, too

Here’s an interesting article, Crown Sky Garden Grows at New Children’s Hospital. It describes how a hospital in Chicago is trying to be green, emphasizing wellness over sickness and open, airy, and calm spaces without noises and incessant interruptions. The sky garden sounds amazing, and I hope this hospital administration can translate the peacefulness of the garden spaces into other parts of the hospital. I know from experience that changes of this type can accelerate healing. The Los Angeles Times Booster Shots blog this week also features a post on green hospitals, Does a Green Hospital Mean Happier Patients?

This past year I spent two nights, one at each of two hospitals — unusual for me. The two visits were not particularly serious, but doctors wanted to be sure that the healing was progressing at a good pace before sending me home. The two experiences were at opposite poles in terms of environment. Given my experiences in these two settings, it is certainly more acute for aging adults. Read my post, Aging Parents, Hospitals, and Noise.

Experience #1

At Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore, my night was peaceful.

The spaces outside my bedroom were airy and light-filled where I saw colors, plants, art, and even painted murals.

  • Doors closed quietly. During each shift the staff seemed to make a comprehensive sweep so that people were not constantly barging into my room. I appreciated that they tried hard not to cause too many interruptions.
  • When I had trouble sleeping — though not a beep, computer boot-up sound, slamming door, phone, or high-pitched voice made this difficult — I walked around a bit, enjoying the occasional greenery and the lounges. People smiled and waved quietly.
  • A nearly surreptitious, middle-of-the-night blood pressure and temperature check occurred when a nurse tiptoed into the room, confirmed my name in a whisper, and took her stats. I barely opened an eye.
  • People who entered my room, washed or sanitized their hands. Near the end of my 24 hours I finally realized that the step was automatic, and I did not need to be on alert the whole time.
  • With Hopkins’ free wireless I was able to send e-mail, alert relatives about my condition, check in with my job,  and read the newspaper.

In the morning I left the hospital, feeling aware of my small incision, but rested, energized, alert, and feeling good despite my surgery 24 hours earlier. I had what I call a “healing head start.”

Experience #2

Contrast this with my 24-hour experience at a community facility, a place that I like and really want to use near my house, in the Northern Virginia/Washington, DC area.

  • Seven people came into my room during the first hour, so every time I dozed, another person arrived, calling my name. One person even made me get out of bed to be weighed at what seemed to be the middle of the night.
  • A stairwell door, just yards from my room opened, closed, and slammed every few minutes — loud even with my door closed. Sometimes I could even hear staff members as they went into nearby rooms with patients much sicker than I was.
  • The family and patient lobby areas, while nice, had no plants, nothing to read, and little to make them welcoming.
  • The hospital’s wireless cost $9.95 a day — an exorbitant fee, given that the administration already has wireless networks and could easily designate a bit of bandwidth for patients like me to use without extra fees. I did not sign up for the service, and my husband and I were both irritated that we could not check in at work.
  • Though I was only in a room for part of the night, I was unable to sleep because so much was going on hour after hour.

I left the hospital tired, irritable, and even fell asleep in the car on the way home. It was two days before I felt like myself again.

My Thoughts

I am not especially critical of my local hospital, just puzzled. With a sparkling new facility, why not lean over backward to do a few things that make patients leave energized rather than exhausted? An article from Environmental Science and Technology investigates the benefits of exercising around green plants and light. The abstract concludes, “This study confirms that the environment provides an important health service.”

I’ve written about the green house homes movement for seniors, communities that will support the wellness of aging parents rather than emphasizing declining health. Imagine if hospitals were able to adopt just a few of these policies for patients and especially for aging seniors.

Moreover, how wonderful for adult children, who want to stay as much as possible with their hospitalized parents and family members to know that a hospital’s environment is peaceful, non-intrusive, and even provides opportunities for people to telecommute to jobs — without extra charges. I can just picture my dad enjoying his iPad.

Would healing accelerate if hospitals paid attention to these small but important environmental factors? I think so.

Examples of Hospitals Offering Complimentary Wireless for Patients and Families

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