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Wellness Gardens Earn Community Innovation Award

Research Medical Center August 16, 2013

Sue Funk, rehabilitation specialist and eMAR Coordinator, co-founder of Wellness Gardens

by Linda Friedel | Reprinted courtesy of KC Nursing News

The American Heart Association honored Research Medical Center and its Wellness Garden with the AHA Community Innovation Award this summer.

“It’s a huge deal,” said Carli Keling, corporate events director with the American Heart Association Kansas City chapter.

Keling presented the Community Innovation Award to Sue Funk, rehabilitation specialist, eMAR coordinator at Research Medical Center, who co-founded the Wellness Garden project. Keling said 17 corporations, many of them health care institutions in the Midwest, applied for the award. Only two passed the rigorous criteria for the award, she said.

“It’s a huge honor that they were recognized,” Funk said. “It’s commendable on their part.”

Funk said the garden project demonstrates community involvement. Research Medical Center partnered with Kansas City Community Garden and Plant Operations to build 48 raised beds on the west side of Research’s campus. The Wellness Garden encourages community participation, is health-based and promotes healthy eating, Funk said.

“Those are all heart-healthy activities,” she said. “It’s a de-stressor. It’s an important part of leading a heart-healthy life.”

The American Heart Association honors companies and organizations with the AHA Community Innovation Award on an annual basis, she said. The award is valid for one year. Institutions must re-apply annually for consideration. Gardens are popular initiatives, Funk said, as are walking paths and biking clubs. Companies that promote these kinds of health-centered programs speak to future employees, she said. Employees are starting to think about health-related programs that potential employers can offer, she said.

“They know that particular employer is going to go above and beyond to lead a healthy lifestyle,” she said. “It’s like a benefits package.”

The Wellness Gardens are available to Research staff members and its surrounding neighbors. The hospital provides the beds and water source. Gardners maintain their individual gardens.

Debbie Jines, RN, BSN, CRRN, staff nurse in Inpatient Rehabilitation at Research Medical

Center, cares for a garden in the Wellness Garden program. Jines says she does not have the space at home to garden. This allows her to grow fresh food where she otherwise would not, she said.

“It’s good to grow fresh food,” Jines said. “This provides a place for me to have one.”

Jines makes time to pull weeds and water her flower and vegetable garden before and after work. She grows lettuce, cilantro, basil, radishes, onions and sunflowers. This is her third year to manage a garden. Jines said it gives her a chance to meet with fellow employees who enjoy gardening and meet families from the surrounding neighborhoods.

“They are appreciative,” she said of the community members. “They’re grateful to have a place to garden.”

This is the third year for the Wellness Garden program. The project is a result of the hospital’s Healthy Habits Committee of which Funk is a member. The committee initiates all manner of activities employees might be interested in joining such as dancing, Tai Chi and Weight Watchers programs, she said. Funk said she was supportive of the Wellness Garden initiative immediately when the idea was passed to the committee. She saw community-building with various nonprofits as an integral part of the effort.

“We could do that in conjunction with Kansas City Community Gardens,” she said. “I thought it was a very great idea. We got really good support from our COO.”

The hospital dedicated several acres of sunny land on the west side of the hospital’s main building. It is also the starting point of the Research Campus walking trail, also noted as an American Heart Association project. Funk said the gardening program was popular from the beginning, when she sent the e-mail blast to employees across the system. Approximately half the gardens are earmarked for community members and the other half are up for grabs among employees, she said. Every year there is a waiting list for the 48 garden plots, Funk said. Funk said criteria for the raised beds lies in motivation.

“We want to make sure they really take advantage of it,” she said.

Some co-workers share a raised bed, she said. Gardners watch out for one another, Funk said. They share tips and produce, water for one another when someone is unable and enjoy getting to know one another, whether they are co-workers or neighbors, she said. Funk grows cucumbers, lettuce, kale, tomatoes and eggplant.

“We want to live within our community,” Funk said. “It’s not just for employees. We talk to everybody. It’s a great social interaction out there. We take care of each other.”

Gardners range from nurses, pharmacists, physicians and therapists to employees who are on the business side of the hospital. Linda Silva, co-ethics and compliance officer, and quality coordinator at the Psychiatric Center of Research Medical Center and co-worker and friend, Tavia Farris care for several beds jointly. One bed is dedicated to vegetables such as squash, beans, okra, cucumbers, corn and broccoli. The other has black berries and raspberry plants. Silva and Farris give away all their produce to Re-Start, which in turn donates food to homeless families trying to get back on their feet, Silva said.

“It’s just a humbling, amazing experience,” Silva said. “We wanted to give to the organization to help them. It’s healthy fun for the individuals. It’s fresh.”

Growers can tend their gardens any time they choose, Funk said. There are two water sources plus multiple hoses available. Most of the growers use the vegetables for their own consumption, she said. The hospital planted several fruit trees nearby. There are apricot, apple and peach trees, Funk said.

“I love it,” she said. “You get to know a lot of people you wouldn’t get to know. Everybody’s the same level out there. We’re out there digging.”

Jennifer Miles, MS, CNMT, NCT, clinical coordinator at the School of Nuclear Medicine Technology at Research Medical Center, is a member of the Healthy Habits Committee but does not garden.

“I have a black thumb,” Miles said. “Growing is not my forte. Admiration is my role in this.”

Miles does, however, take advantage of the half-mile trail which starts in the garden area. She walks it several days each week. Miles lost 60 pounds eight years ago when she joined the hospital’s Weight Watchers program the committee launched several years ago.

“I’ve kept off most of it,” she said. “That promoted my interest in healthy habits.”

Photo by Linda Friedel | The Kansas City Nursing News

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