It’s all part of a budding trend in medical care, one that believes nature can speed up the healing process, particularly with children, where the stress of hospital stays can be much greater. (Nemours eliminates stress wherever it can. Dr. Donnelly points out that the hospital room ceilings are matte, not metallic or glossy like most medical facilities. “When the children are in bed, they don’t like to look at themselves attached to tubes and machines,” he notes.)
This “it’s what’s outside that counts” philosophy first gained attention in 1984 with Robert Ulrich’s pioneering “window view” study. Surgery patients at a Pennsylvania hospital were assigned to two types of rooms: One had a window facing a brick wall; the other faced a tree-filled landscape. The study found that the patients with the verdant view healed a day faster, needed less pain medication, and had fewer postsurgical complications.
More recently, a 2005 study conducted at a Pittsburgh hospital focused on the effect sunlight has on patients recovering from surgery. Those who had bright, naturally lit rooms experienced less stress, less pain, and required less medication than those in dimly lit rooms.
Nemours isn’t the only new children’s hospital prescribing sunshine and serenity. The Ann and Robert Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago recently launched a study to understand the effect healing spaces have on kids. The study’s laboratory is the hospital’s own Crown Sky Garden, a 5,000-square-foot respite 11 floors above Chicago Avenue. It’s a soaring greenhouse flanked by skyscrapers, and outfitted with bamboo trees, carved wooden benches and an interactive light wall.
“The day after Lurie Children’s opened, I visited the Crown Sky Garden at about 7 o'clock in the evening,” says Bruce Komiske, chief of new hospital design and construction. “I saw a family seated on the wooden benches near the windows—a patient, a mother, and a father huddled around a jigsaw puzzle and their dinner. It looked just like a beautiful family setting in a park.”