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The role of horticultural therapy and indoor plants in health care facilities - 4
by Mary Jane Gilhooley
Health Facilities Management, February 2002
Article reference: Green Plants for Green Buildings
First impressions are important, especially when a patient is entering a health care facility. Studies out of England’s Oxford Brookes University show that indoor plants offer a guarantee of positively enhancing perception and contributing to well being. The same set of studies concludes that people perceive a building with interior plantings as more welcoming and more relaxed.
Conversely, the studies show that people’s perceptions of a building are less positive in the absence of indoor house plants. Plants, then, are likely to enhance patient perceptions of their surroundings upon entering a health care facility. Their perception of their health care facility as a welcoming and relaxed green environment will help them to be more relaxed themselves, speeding the healing process. Also, health care employees who see their surroundings as welcoming and relaxed are much more likely to be satisfied with their working conditions.
Case in point: The Continuum Center for Health and Healing
The Continuum Center for Health and Healing is a state-of-the-art initiative located in New York, N.Y., offering fully integrated care that combines biomedical science with complementary and alternative medicine. With the help of John Mini Indoor Landscapes (City Island, N.Y.), the Center has installed exotic plants throughout its main waiting area, entrance way and treatment areas. According to Barbara Glickstein, Director of Community Education and Community Outreach for the Center, the exotic plants have had a positive effect on both patients and employees. “We are a health care facility trying to educate individuals, families and the community about the role the green environment plays with regard to their health,” says Glickstein. “Clients and employees really appreciate the natural green environment and its beauty, and our space has been called a healing sanctuary. We are working with a group of environmental artists to bring even more natural beauty to our Center.”
Case in point: Hackensack University Medical Center
Hackensack University Medical Center, located in Hackensack, N.J., is a 635-bed, regional care teaching and research hospital that provides the largest number of inpatient and outpatient services in the state of New Jersey. Working with John Mini Indoor Landscapes, the Center has completed multiple installations of interior plants in public and patient care areas in order to brighten the spirits of patients, visitors and employees.
“Studies have shown the positive effects nature has on the speed at which a patient recovers, “says Suzen Heeley, Director of Design and Construction for the Center. “Not always able to provide a view of nature, we try to include plants in every area possible as a means to bring nature to patients, visitors and employees.” According to Heeley, interior plants are also having a calming effect at the Center. “Our plants are uplifting the spirits of those without visual access to the outdoors, which gives life to the Center’s environment and relaxes stressed patients and employees.”
The last thing a healing patient needs is to breathe in toxic air. But common and dangerous toxins do exist all around us, lurking in materials such as fibers, carpet, fabric, wall coverings) and solvents (wallboard, paints, varnishes and furniture). Research shows that rooms with indoor plants contain fewer airborne molds and bacteria than rooms without plants. For almost twenty years, Dr. Bill C. Wolverton and his aids in the Environmental Research Laboratory of John C. Stennis Space Center (NASA) have been conducting innovative horticulture therapy research employing natural biological processes for air purification.
“Plants have been found to suck chemicals out of the air,” says Wolverton. According to Wolverton, houseplants clean contaminated air in two ways. They absorb pollutants into their leaves and transmit the toxins to their roots, where they are transformed into a source of food for the plant. Plants also emit water vapors that create a pumping action, pulling dirty air down around the roots, where it is once again converted into food for the plant.
It may be hard to believe that something as simple and inexpensive as a plant could have such a positive effect on the air we breathe. However, according to Jay Naar, author of Design for a Livable Planet: How You Can Help Clean Up the Environment (Harper & Row, 1990), 15 to 20 plants are enough to clean the air in a 1,500 square-foot area. In one study involving workers in a hospital radiology department, interior plants were shown to have pronounced effects on worker health when added to a room with no windows and no natural light. In the study, 23 containers with one or more commonly used indoor foliage plants were added to the room, which was used for the examination of x-rays.
Radiology workers who spent time in the room were surveyed over the course of four months, and all showed significant improvements in health after the plants had been added. In particular, workers reported less experiences with the following symptoms: fatigue, feeling heavy-headed, headaches, dry or hoarse throats, and hands with dry, itching or red skin. With plants around them and leaner air to breathe, patients may have an easier time with the healing process. And with plants incorporated into their working environment, health care employees may experience fewer instances of work-related illnesses.
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