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Therapeutic gardens offer nurses respite at Legacy Health

Burnout was an issue for nurses before the pandemic. Now, on the front line of COVID-19, it’s more important than ever for nurses to find respite.

PORTLAND, Ore. — “We’re really going above and beyond trying to make this work in a very difficult situation for everybody,” said Registered Nurse, Bridget Martin.  

Martin is a hero. Instead of a cape, she suits up in scrubs and PPE to care for patients at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center's COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit.

“These people are very sick,” she said. “They require a lot of care. They’re really, really sick patients.”

Caring for severely ill patients, in addition to the constant worry of exposure, Martin and other nurses carry a heavy burden.

“All of that has really added stress, along with just the fear of maybe getting this pandemic,” Martin said.

That is why Martin appreciates the chance to trade the fluorescent lights and constant chaos of the ICU for even just five minutes of peaceful serenity in the garden at Legacy Emanuel.

“It takes you to such a different place that it’s so refreshing to your spirit and your soul and your psyche,” Martin said.

Each Legacy Health hospital has at least one therapeutic healing garden to provide a place for tranquility outside of a building filled with uncertainty.

“These spaces are designed for four seasons of sensory stimulation. These green spaces are designed to support our employees 24/7,” said Theresia Hazen, Coordinator of Therapeutic Gardens.

Hazen says the gardens have traditionally been a place of calm for patients and their families, but right now it’s the outdoor break room nurses need.

“The key use of these gardens, the amazing function is the respite and restoration for our very stressed employees,” Hazen said.

From the rustling of leaves in the breeze to the smell of blooming flowers, nature has proven to have a positive impact on nurses.

A study from Legacy found taking daily work breaks in an outdoor garden may help prevent burnout among nurses working in hospital environments.

Something that is more crucial now than ever.

“Burnout in healthcare is at an all-time high. And this was all before COVID-19. So, now it has added a layer of challenge and stress that in my nearly forty years of medical practice I had never seen before,” said Dr. Minot Cleveland, Legacy Medical Director of Employee Health.

Dr. Cleveland said nurses are the heart of patient care. While our nurses are caring for us, they too need a way to recoup and heal.

“Our nurses by the bedside are working to take care of very sick patients. Our employee nurses are working all the time to make sure our employees and medical staff are safe,” he said. 

While Martin barely has time to take a breath, let alone stop and smell the roses, she and her colleagues are using nature to recharge and recoup so they can continue to focus on saving lives.

“It is transformational for me. It really is,” Martin said. “Just to even get five minutes in the garden, you shift your paradigm. You’re no longer thinking about the hospital. You’re looking at the plants, you’re smelling the herbs that are growing here, you’re seeing the sunshine.”

To her patients, Martin is that sunshine, bringing a warmth and a hope for recovery.