Hospitals are uninviting by nature, assaulting one’s senses almost immediately upon entry. The inescapable odor of antiseptic wafting through the corridors, the glaring fluorescent lights overhead that accentuate startlingly white walls, and the constant wailing beeps of machines that give the impression that someone is in mortal peril every 1.2 seconds tend to make even the healthiest of visitor feel as though their heart might explode.
A recent visit to the hospital saw my father rushed into a very serious emergency surgery. As I paced the floors of the Shapiro Cardiovascular Center, a facility that is part of the world-renowned Brigham and Women’s Hospital, I felt overcome with the extreme anxiety provoked by the fear of losing a loved one. At the time I was too preoccupied with hand-wrenching, constant clock checking, and nervous wood knocking to notice that this anxiety was in any way abnormal. Worrying yourself sick is to be expected in these type of scenarios, what was notable, in retrospect, was that this anxiety was in no way punctuated by the normal agitating factors of a “normal” hospital environment. The air smelled fresh. The waiting room – even though located next to a busy street- was as quiet as a church on a Friday night. The walls were painted with a soft palate, the kind of hues that make you want to curl up with your favorite blanket and a good read. Not the typical institutional white that would ever leave someone remarking to their realtor, “Gosh Linda, it looks like a hospital in here!”, unless that sentence was followed up by, “And I love it! Let me go put on my jammies.”
Thankfully, my father pulled through his surgery. He spent his recovery in a room that if it were to be stripped of its adjustable bed and monitors would easily be mistaken for a high-end loft apartment. The spacious room had breathtaking views of the city, hard wood floors and stainless steel appliances. The furthest thing from my mind at this time was this hospitals eco-friendliness, so grateful was I to see my father make it through a complicated surgery, I could have been told then that this magical place was run on the tear drops of children and been entirely fine with that knowledge. ( Hey- it was a rough time, in my defense,I would have sent these alleged children candy. Thanks imaginary crying children, you have made a huge difference. Now, remember, there is no Santa…try to cry towards the generators.)
As a couple of months passed and my rational, less-selfish side was again accessed, I noticed an informative wall mural as I entered the Shapiro Center with my father for a follow-up visit. In a rush, due to a morning traffic jam, I only could read a few words of this educational section of wall…”Green…Hospital…Taco Friday”, as I made my way to the second floor. Well I may be mistaken by some of what I gleaned, I made a mental note to look into this hospital’s green attributes when I returned home that evening.
A week and half later I did a Google search. What I discovered made me love this hospital even more than I had before, a cherry on a sundae of awesome. The Shapiro Cardiovascular Center is not only one of the most advanced cardiovascular care facilities in the world, but it is also the first Green Hospital building in all of New England.
From its inception, the Shapiro Center kept eco-friendly construction and practices in mind. The Center is not only LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified, but followed The Green Guide for Health Care meticulously in its construction. Low emitting adhesives, carpets and paints were used. More than 90 percent of construction waste was recycled. Over 75 percent of the interior is exposed to natural light, which, while helping cut down on energy costs, also promotes positive mental health for quicker recoveries. The roof is painted white to deflect heat. Forgoing the use of the commonly used and toxin-emitting vinyl, the floors of this building are constructed of rubber. Staff also, whenever possible, use the least harmful cleaners available.
A little more Google style detective work and I discovered that The Shapiro Center is also a member of the non-profit organization, Healthcare Without Harm, which focuses on implementing change in how the Health Care industry operates. Elaborating on the pledge physicians take to do no harm, Healthcare without Harm is attempting to amend this oath to apply to the environment as well as patients, encouraging its members to see the impact one has on the other. As their mission statement surmises, “ Together with our partners around the world, Health Care Without Harm shares a vision of a health care sector that does no harm, and instead promotes the health of people and the environment.”
I for one can attest for the effectiveness of this movement. While gorgeous views, plentiful sunlight and lack of irritants in the air can not take the place of knowledgeable surgeons and skillful nurses, it does play an important role in the recovery process. Beyond the benefits of an environment that discourages depression and other mental issues that can slow or sometimes even halt recovery times, healthy air is an invaluable benefit for most patients. My father suffers from COPD, a chronic respiratory condition. It is a complication that factors into any and all health problems he has. A hospital that provides nearly pollutant-free air for his battered lungs is priceless to his overall well-being and his success in the recovery process.
Green Hospitals are not yet the norm, but hopefully the benefit of such institutions will soon be seen. A building that promotes the health of its employees, patients, and visitors while keeping an eye out for mother earth is almost enough to make up for the fact they run this place on the tears of children….oh, right, it doesn’t.
Sorry about the Santa Claus thing, kiddies. He is totally real, the Easter Bunny too, they hang out on weekends and talk about what a good kid you are. Honest. (No children were harmed in the making of this blog.)