Hospitals Adding Rooftop Gardens to Improve Patient Care

As hospitals around the country increasingly adopt a patient-centered care model, these institutions are finding new ways to incorporate care into the built environment. One of the fastest growing trends is the installation of green roofs, or roof gardens, to create tranquil oases of otherwise barren rooftop space.

On Chicago’s West side, the Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital decided on a green roof to provide horticultural therapy benefits and to allow its patients to practice real life skills, all within the secure confines of the facility.  

Schwab’s goal was to create a useful outdoor space that serves as an extension of the care that takes place inside the hospital. The hospital believes that access to beautiful outdoor space relieves tension and provides the restorative properties of nature. The green roof also works well for staff to conduct special therapy programs, where patients can heal without feeling trapped inside a medical institution.  

At the Betty H. Cameron Women’s & Children’s Hospital in Wilmington, N.C., a green roof was installed to provide refuge, fresh air and sunshine to children and their families. The hospital chose a green roof based on research and human experience that demonstrates that spending time outside helps people relax, and assists patients and families in the healing and coping process.

Most recently, the Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, N.J., opened a green roof as part of its newly unveiled $130 million cancer center. The entire center, from the built environment to the patient care, is designed to make cancer treatment as peaceful and stress-free as possible.  

HUMC tapped Midland Park, N.J.-based R & S Landscaping to install the 4,000-square-foot green roof and demonstration vegetable garden. The garden will provide patients with access to green, open space where they can sit, relax and learn about gardening as they wait for treatment.

HUMC's rooftop garden. In addition, patients and staff indoors will have an aesthetically pleasing view, rather than that of an unappealing blacktop roof.  Psychological studies have shown that the restorative effect of a natural view holds the viewer's attention, diverts one's awareness away from themselves and from worrisome thoughts, thereby improving health.

It has also been documented that access to views and the outdoors increases employee productivity — happier and more productive hospital staff translates into better patient care.

Beyond the direct medical and mental health benefits for patients and families, green roofs provide many environmental and economic benefits that ultimately serve patients and entire communities.  In fact, green roofs can help hospitals achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.

The environmental and economic benefits include decreased storm water runoff. Runoff carries pollutants and adds sediment to natural waterways.  It is estimated that a green roof will retain 70 to 90 percent of the precipitation that falls on it during summer, and 35 to 40 percent during winter.

Green roofs also save on heating and cooling costs, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants. Studies have found that a six-inch extensive green roof reduces heat gain by 95 percent and heat loss by 26 percent.  These savings are further increased by the ability of a green roof to reduce "heat island effect," a major cause of increased air temperatures in urban areas.

A roof garden will not only absorb heat, but also improves local air quality by filtering the air moving across it and exchanging carbon dioxide for oxygen through the process of photosynthesis.

In addition to cutting energy costs, green roofs also protect the roof membrane, resulting in a longer roof lifespan.  Green Roofs for Healthy Cities estimates that green roofs will last up to twice as long as conventional roofs, resulting in decreased maintenance and savings in replacement costs.

Hospitals constantly struggle to balance ever-tightening financial positions with quality medical services.  Green roofs are gaining more recognition as an innovative solution to managing costs and serving patients.  Better access to the outdoors, reduced impact on the environment, and economic savings, all add up to better patient care.  

Learn more about R & S Landscaping.

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