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More hospitals planting healing gardens

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By Beth Lucas -- East Valley Tribune

MESA, Ariz. (AP) - Mercy Gilbert Medical Center is seeking donations from the community to build a healing garden to enhance peace and serenity at the domed hospital complex.

The planned Gila River Indian Community Healing Garden would be open to the public as well as patients, visitors and staff, and would feature lush acacia, orchid, blue palo verde, palo brea and mesquite trees, and art and other features telling the story of the Gila community's focus on healing.

''We want people to feel they can use it, walk through it and find peace,'' said Marianne Pekala, Mercy Gilbert's director of major gifts. ''We want people to come to our hospital when they're not sick, to feel comfortable with that. And, of course, if they're here visiting, we want them to have a quiet, serene place where they can think and contemplate.''

Colorful and relaxing healing gardens with soft music and flowing or reflecting water are being incorporated into hospitals nationwide to aid the ill, their families and even the staff.

Gilbert's two largest hospitals were both built with a focus on healing environments that invite natural light and have soothing music, soft water features and the gardens.

It's a trend growing nationally and becoming a part of plans for many newer hospitals. Several studies say it works: One from the Center for Health Systems and Design at Texas A&M University found that surgical patients took less pain medication when they had a healing garden nearby to walk through as they recovered.

Mercy Gilbert has begun an effort to raise $1 million to build its garden, which will be named the Gila River Indian Community Healing Garden.

The Gila community donated $1 million toward the hospital's campaign to raise $10 million to complete the hospital's second wing, which opened earlier this year. The shared money was part of the community's gaming compact with the state.

Mercy Gilbert's garden will incorporate aspects of American Indian culture and will have a ceremonial healing area, pathways and a fountain. It will have an amphitheater where live musicians will be invited to play.

At the center will be a bronze ''tree of life'' sculpture where donors can have a message or name engraved on leaves. Donors also can have their name or a message engraved on a bench, a tree or an amphitheater tile.

''We really are a holistic hospital - the mind, body and spirit of a person,'' Pekala said.

The hospital is designated a healing hospital by the Baptist Healing Trust in Nashville, Tenn.

Banner Gateway Medical Center opened in September with gardens surrounding the campus, as part of the ''researched-based'' design that took into account 600 studies focusing on improving healing and safety.

The building is designed to mimic a canyon, with blue windows cascading down toward a water feature at the front entrance, and then a central ''canyon'' area with a dining section surrounded by a canyon garden, and an adjacent path to a reflecting garden. A meditation garden outside of the chapel has a long flowing reflecting pool.

A xeriscape garden outside of the hospital's emergency department allows patients or their family to wait outside, in silver-colored chairs, or take a walk along a paved pathway. Money to build the $75,000 garden was donated by volunteers from the now-closed Banner Mesa Medical Center.

The hospital is now completing a women's garden that will be accessed only by families and staff in the women's department.

It includes a unique rope-climbing jungle gym and play area for kids as they await a birth, and a quieter area with mesquite trees now covered in yellow flowers, and a wall with softly falling water. The $278,000 garden was donated by McCarthy Construction and its subcontractors.

Hospital facilities director Roy Tuttle said visitors have at times been surprised by the design. ''I've had people say that - 'is this a hospital?''' he said.

Banner staff said the garden is reassuring to visitors whose family members or friends are ill, and allows staff a chance to clear their heads.

''Since we work in a very high-stress job, it really does help to come and get away,'' said Glenda Meskin, a nurse and information technology clinical liaison, as she and coworker Rob Adriaansz ate lunch in the garden.

''This is a beautiful day to be out here,'' Adriaansz said.