In December 2016, a group of architects, doctors, nurses and parents met to begin planning an outdoor play area that would rest on a rooftop of the new MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital.
The architects passed out sheets of paper and asked everyone to write down words describing what they’d want people to feel upon walking into this space.
The architects taped the pages to the wall. The team, surrounded by the words they’d written, rolled up their sleeves and got to work.
Over the next few days, those words grew into a thick stack of notes, ideas and colorful sketches that will finally come to life in an outdoor playground and healing garden when the new hospital opens its doors in 2019.
That the team used “feelings” to guide their work was no accident.
“None of this was accident. It’s very intentional in its design,” said Robin Mutz, the hospital’s executive nursing director. The space’s purpose, she said, is to leverage feelings of peace, happiness and fun into better patient outcomes.
“Healing isn’t always about medicine and drugs,” she continued. “Research has shown that children heal better when they feel happy and relaxed. That’s why the concept of family-centered care is built into the design of the entire hospital.”
The idea, she said, is to create a “safe haven,” away from the sometimes stressful environment associated with patient care. “This will be a totally safe place, with no pain, no procedures and nobody interrupting them to do things to them.”
The area will represent family-centered care at its very best. It will provide a place where children can enjoy fresh air, sunshine and the sights, sounds and scents of the surrounding saltmarsh and Charleston landscape, all in a safe and secure setting.
The playground and healing garden will have three zones: one for active play, another for community activities and a third for quiet reflection. It will be a place of fun, healing, serenity and wonder, filled with playground equipment, trees, flowers and gardens, along with rocking chairs, picnic tables and private areas for quiet reflection. It also will include a large screen for movie nights and stage for live performances and other group activities. The design team even set aside an elevated area where doctors, nurses and other caregivers can enjoy a quick breath of fresh air between patient visits.
But it will be much more than a physical setting. The hospital’s Child Life team will leverage the area’s therapeutic potential with activities designed to promote physical movement, intellectual stimulation and emotional well-being, all of which play an important role in the healing process.
“The idea is to create normal childhood experiences for patients who wouldn’t normally have that in a hospital setting,” said Dr. Mark Scheurer, the hospital’s medical director. “I believe this will add a whole new dimension to their care, in a fun and uniquely therapeutic way.”