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Legacy Health's Goats and Gardens

May 03, 2022

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Whenever lovable goats are involved, the rest of the world will follow.

That’s what happened recently when the “People Fixing the World” show and podcast — produced by the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) — highlighted Legacy Health’s goats and gardens project.

This particular episode by the BBC show that seeks “brilliant solutions to the world’s problems” focused broadly on how interactions with gardens and nature can reduce stress for patients, their families and hospital staff.

For patients, the benefits of stress reduction are an elevated immune system and better responses to treatment. Ultimately, this means better overall medical outcomes.

For staff, the benefits are similar: Stress reduction helps lessen the impacts of working in a hospital. This often results in greater staff satisfaction and less turnover.

But the show thoughtfully wondered: Most hospitals are located in urban locations or areas removed from nature. So how can patients, families and staff in hospitals interact with nature? Sometimes, you have to bring nature to the hospitals.

As it happens, Legacy has 12 specially designed therapeutic gardens at different locations. Each is an oasis of beauty, inspiration and space for recovery and restoration for patients, staff and visitors. In a world where hospitals aren’t usually near nature, Legacy has made it a point to bring nature to its hospital community.

In recent years, research has revealed the positive benefits of gardens on mental and physical health. Even two-dimensional photos or images of water and gardens— peaceful imagery — can have a deeply calming effect on people. Simply, human beings think more clearly while in nature; it recharges metabolic energy.

But perhaps the best-known advocate regarding nature and healing is Roger Ulrich, an academic based in Sweden. Ulrich’s extensive research finds that spending time in gardens and nature is indeed stress reducing and healing— for everyone, not just people in hospitals. And every day, not just stressful situations.

Last year, when Legacy Emanuel Medical Center invited a group of delightful baby goats to its campus garden, the idea of nature as a healing force was given extra boost. And a nice public lift, to boot.

Hence the story by the internationally acclaimed BBC show and podcast. In the show, patients and staff at the hospital took time to stroll the gardens and hang out with goats. What  was apparent was a soothing collective joy, a sense of calm. It was as if the air had suddenly reached the perfect temperature.

“It can be pretty stressful working here at the hospital,” one hospital staffer said, cradling a baby goat while stroking its head. “So this is the perfect stress release.”

Theresa Hazen, who led Legacy’s therapeutic garden program for roughly 30 years before retiring recently, was interviewed: “(Gardens) are designed to be a stress coping resource for our patients, their families and our employees, 24/7,” she said. “The most important characteristic is that they are plant-rich places for all 12 months and for all four seasons.”

Minot Cleveland, Legacy’s medical director for employee health, highlighted the day’s special guests — the goats.

“The biggest thing is: It’s (about) the touch,” he said. “People have had to use protective equipment, which is necessary to prevent infection but (it’s) also isolating for them. Goats are something they can hold, touch. It’s warm.”

One could argue that the idea of nature as a vehicle for healing is far from recent. As the BBC points out, it was Florence Nightingale — the Victorian-era social reformer regarded as the founder of modern nursing — who said: “Nature heals the wound.”

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