Planting Seeds of Hope for Patients

5/27/2014

Aidan Warner always has his own ideas for his Charter School Projects, but his mom asked him a favor, so this time, he did something for her. Warner is an 8th Grade Student at the Island City Academy in Cumberland, WI. His mother, Dr. Colleen Erb, is a Clinical Psychologist and Program Director for ARMC’s Behavioral Health Center in Amery, WI.

“We have been looking for a planter that we could use on our inpatient behavioral health unit, but I haven’t been able to find one that fit our needs so I asked Aidan if he would build us one,” stated Erb. “I needed one that was a height that patients in wheelchairs could comfortably use, was built with no sharp edges or materials that might injure patients, and that was on wheels and of a size that we could move it easily on and off the unit when needed.” Warner agreed to build such a planter as a school project.

The Inpatient Behavioral Health Unit which is located at the West Campus of Amery Regional Medical Center is a 10 bed, acute stay unit for persons 45 and older experiencing a mental health crisis. “Patients who come to our unit are experiencing severe symptoms due to mental illnesses such as Depression, Manic-Depression, Schizophrenia, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Because we focus on the mental health needs of older adults, over half of our patients have Dementia due to diseases like Alzheimer’s. They come to us because they are suicidal, have become aggressive with others, or are otherwise unable to be cared for in the community due to the severity of their symptoms. These are brain disorders and they require medical treatment just like other physical illnesses” said Erb.

“Due to the safety needs of our patients, our unit is locked, and we currently do not have a secured outdoor space, so especially this time of the year, patients miss the opportunity to plant in a garden or work with nature” said Erb. Thus, Erb asked her son Aidan to help by building a planter that patients can use for therapeutic activities. Warner met with the unit Occupational Therapist, Kathy Beran, the Director of Facilities Management, Bob Janis, and the Hospital Horticulturalist, Nathan Prokop to plan the project.

“The planter will allow us to have a safe way for patients to safely interact with plants and nature which we know to be therapeutic,” said Kathy Beran, OTR. “In addition to the beauty of the plants patients will enjoy, horticultural therapy provides sensory stimulation that is soothing to the brain. The tactile input of digging in the dirt, the smell of the dirt and plants, the visual stimuli of the plants, and the birds the planter will attract, are all healing sensory inputs. Furthermore, the activity provides opportunities for our older adult patients to reminisce about their gardens and other outdoor activities.”

Warner is doing research on horticultural therapy in the treatment of dementia and mental illnesses and will be presenting his project and paper at the Island City Academy Gallery Walk on May 29th from 1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the Cumberland Middle School. The Island City Academy focuses on project based learning and students have the option of doing one service project each year. While meeting to plan the planter project, Facilities Director, Bob Janis, happened to mention that the hospital needed more outdoor benches, so Aidan also built a bench for the hospital as his National Junior Honor Society service project. The Bench and the Planter will have plaques honoring the patients and staff of the Behavioral Health Center.

“I want the plaques to remind people who see them that people with mental illness deserve the same great medical care as those with other diseases. The greatest part of the project for me has been to see Aidan learn about dementia and mental illness and have a better appreciation of why I go to work each day” stated Erb. “I want him to understand that people with mental illness deserve respect and have a disease just as someone with cancer or heart disease.”

“We had hoped to build an outdoor space for our patients, but due to egress and security issues have found the project much more costly than we had hoped and thus, it will require substantial fund raising efforts. In the meantime, Aidan’s planter will help us bring the outdoors in. It will bring pleasure to people who may be experiencing little joy in their life due to their brain disease.”

To learn more about the Island City Academy go to www.islandcityacademy.org. To learn more about mental illness and dementia go to www.nami.org or www.alz.org. To learn more about ARMC’s Behavioral Health Center, or to make a referral, call 715-268-0060. If you would like to make a donation for the building of an outdoor space for the center, you may send contributions to the ARMC Foundation, 265 Griffin Street, Amery, WI, 54001.

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