Therapeutic Gardens Complement Healing at NGMC 

Published: Sunday, December 7, 2014

While walking through her neighborhood one day, Daphne David came up with an idea that has blossomed into a one-of-a-kind outdoor park at Northeast Georgia Medical Center (NGMC).

Thanks to a signature gift from Daphne and her husband, Murray, to The Medical Center Foundation, NGMC will be one of the few hospitals in the country to offer patients an intimate experience to be comforted by their own pet. The project complements a long-standing inpatient pet therapy program at the Medical Center.

It is also the latest way NGMC will be using therapeutic gardens as a complement to traditional medicine in the healing process. The pet park will be the sixth therapeutic garden made possible by philanthropy at the Medical Center. Others include Nell’s Prayer Garden, the Wilheit-Keys Peace Garden, Anne’s Garden, the Auxiliary Love Light Garden and the Pope Family Garden.

“The gardens provide a tranquil place that has proven effective in helping reduce anxiety and stress for both patients and their families,” said Karen Watts, vice president of patient care services.

“A garden is a peaceful place that can allow patients and their families to escape for a short time and reconnect with their spirits,” Watts said. “Having a place to get away from the healthcare environment allows for relaxation and the potential benefit of less stress and improved healing.  It also allows families to have a retreat to escape to as they struggle themselves with anxiety.”

Chaplain Jeff Thompson said he often sees that patients and their families feel a loss of control over what is happening to them when they come to the hospital, and that stress sometimes makes the medical condition worse. To him, the gardens provide that place where patients and families can find some much-needed breathing space.

“I’ve always thought it was meaningful that at the very beginning of Scripture, there is a garden,” Thompson said. “These are places where you can be close to life and see the beauty of creation. They are places for quietness and contemplation, away from the clinical environment of the hospital. We’ve made it as nice as we can make it. But it is wonderful that we offer our patients and their families this quiet place of beauty.”

And now NGMC’s established donor gardens will be joined by the new pet park, set to open in the spring. It will be located outside the South Tower, near the inpatient rehabilitation unit. The 3,200-square-foot garden area will feature a five-foot fence and a controlled-access gate. It will also include handicapped access, a fresh water station and lots of shade for pets and patients. The Davids’ donation includes a maintenance endowment that will allow for the long-term upkeep of the park.

David said she got the idea for the park when thinking about some friends who had been in the hospital for a long period of time without being able to interact with their four-legged friends.

“I was seeing more and more people I knew having longer hospital stays,” she said. “Family members can always be there. But dogs are such an important part of our lives, and there’s so much research on the therapeutic nature of being around dogs. This idea just seemed to make so much sense.”

Her long-term goal for the garden is simple.

“If just one person is able to get a face licked by a puppy and it helps with their recovery and it helps bring about some healing, then (the park) will have done its job.”

Watts believes all the gardens serve an important purpose.

“Therapeutic gardens may be seen by some as a luxury,” she said. “But indeed they are an adjunct to care and a gift that aids in holistic care and healing as we engage the body, mind and spirit as one.”