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"Phase II" Therapeutic Garden and Recreation Area Coming Soon

Posted Dec 16, 2008

Phase II Therapeutic Garden and Recreation Area:   

Recreational Areas Promote Physical, Mental, and Social Health 

For decades, various government and privately sponsored research organizations have been documenting the positive effects of outdoor recreation activities.  One well-known example of such research is the “Healthy People 2000” statement of national opportunities to improve health, which was coordinated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and involved a coalition of 22 expert working groups.  This study specifically recommended

“…  increases in community availability and accessibility of physical activity and fitness facilities.  These include hiking … and fitness trails … and acres of park and recreation open space”.This same report indicated that“… there is increasing evidence that light to moderate physical activity, often associated with recreation behavior, can have significant health benefits.  The report recommends several appropriate actions, including significant investments in recreation resources, such as areas for hiking and biking.”

In March 2005, the California Outdoor Recreation Planning Program published a 48 page paper called:  “The Health and Social Benefits of Recreation”.  This report documents the positive impacts that outdoor recreational areas have on the physical, mental, and social health of individuals.  Specifically, this report indicates that park-like settings with walking trails and other opportunities for physical activity“aid in reducing depression, relieving stress, improving self esteem, and personal growth.”Obviously these are key therapeutic goals for the wounded being treated at Fort Sam Houston as well.  The report goes on to say that “social bonds are improved when families recreate together… and individuals with disabilities are actively engaged in recreation activities.  Recreation and park facilities help promote social bonds by uniting families.”            Access to garden and park-like recreation areas has proven beneficial in numerous communities across our nation, where the majority are facing only “average” life stressors.  It stands to reason that for our nations wounded, many who are significantly disabled, often relearning the most basic of life skills, and for their families, that such areas may in fact prove to be a vital component to their physical, mental, and social recovery.

    Purpose of Phase II Therapeutic Garden and Recreation Area 

The purpose of the “Phase II Therapeutic Garden and Recreation Area”, is to further expand the primary mission of Returning Heroes Home, Inc., which is to provide the best possible healing environment for our nation’s wounded and their families.  The focus of the board, as well as the staff of the new WFSC, is to provide a place for social and emotional healing, which is best served outside of the sterile medical environment necessary for many of the medical treatments and therapies that are required for the bodily healing of our wounded.  The mission is also to serve the families of the wounded who spend months or more supporting their loved ones in an inpatient facility during uncertain times in ICU, or extended hospital recoveries for ongoing surgeries that can span the course of years.The medical environment, while necessary, is not sufficient to the total healing and recovery of our wounded warriors.  Families too can exhaust their emotional resources going back and forth between living quarters and hospital, with no convenient, revitalizing, outdoor environments to recharge in.  RHH has been given the opportunity to utilize the property immediately surrounding the new WFSC and has engaged an internationally renowned landscape architect to design a therapeutic garden that will soon be available to the wounded and their families.  In the process of design, the board helped to coordinate numerous meetings with individuals from the WFSC, BAMC, and the Center for the Intrepid, including medical staff, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and recreational therapists for consultation regarding the needs of the wounded and their families.  Through these meetings, the landscape architect was able to customize the garden areas to suit these needs, and was able to determine which elements would be actively used by the therapists as part of the recovery for the wounded.  It was broadly agreed, that these outdoor garden areas would provide a vital supplement to the state-of-the-art medical facilities currently located at Fort Sam Houston.Brian Bainnson, ASLA, was engaged by the board to design both the therapeutic garden areas surrounding the new WFSC, as well as the therapeutic garden and recreation area in Phase II.  Mr. Bainnson’s credentials have included the design of numerous hospital-based therapeutic gardens, including a garden located on the campus of the Oregon Burn Center at Legacy Emmanuel Hospital in Portland, Oregon.  This garden, designed by Mr. Bainnson specifically to accommodate the unique needs of burn patients, was awarded the Therapeutic Garden Design Award from the American Horticultural Therapy Association in 2006 (see attached article).   His experience with this garden as well as one designed specifically for total brain injury and stroke victims, made him especially well qualified for the design of the therapeutic areas in support of the WFSC.  Some specific design elements taken into account included:

Respite from Hospital/Medical Environment.  While admittedly experiencing state of the art treatments, the wounded recovering at Fort Sam Houston are often in need of respite from the sterile medical environments they spend so much time in.Scenarios experienced by our wounded and their families may include months spent in a burn unit, which is one of the most sterile environments in the medical world due to patient susceptibility to infection.  With nursing and therapy staff wearing full body gowns, gloves, and masks to protect their patients during treatments, patients clearly feel a sense of isolation and distance from others, clearly a far cry from the “natural” environment that a garden can provide.Another scenario may be one faced with recoveries due to amputations, spending months or more in physical therapy and fittings for prosthetics at the Center for the Intrepid (CFI).  But how do the wounded spend the hours of the day when not in therapy?  With its high tech opportunities, the CFI is nonetheless medical in nature – those being treated are there with a mission, pushing their bodies to their physical limits, and are not likely to find a place to simply recharge.  Or maybe you are a parent or a spouse who spends each waking moment attending to your loved ones needs, or sometimes anxiously waiting for a unit to open to visitors.  If your loved one is in the burn unit, you are not able to be by their side until after noon.  If the only place you have to find peace in those morning hours is a hotel room, how prepared will you be for the challenges of the day?

The intent of the therapeutic garden and recreation area is to fill the varied social and emotional needs of these wounded and their families, while offering a low-tech alternative for physically therapeutic activities.

   Shade and Protection from Outdoor Elements:  While providing a much needed place for peace and healing, the outdoors in San Antonio can be quite hot and uncomfortable for most anyone, but especially if you have suffered burns, are unable to tolerate sun light or heat, and are unable to sweat to self-regulate your body temperature.  As a result, both the Phase I and Phase II Therapeutic Garden and Recreation Area take advantage of existing trees for shade.  In addition, covered structures are spaced throughout, with ceiling fans for air circulation to help keep cool those who are ready to venture into the therapeutic areas.  There are several covered picnic areas placed throughout the area to offer a place for families to reconnect and find some quiet time together.

Accessibility and Therapeutic Resources:  The design of the Phase II therapeutic garden and recreation area was developed with the special needs of our wounded in mind.  All garden and therapeutic areas will be accessible by wheelchair, while providing therapeutic elements to allow those who wish to advance in their mobility skills to practice either wheelchair, or new prosthetic skills on various walking surfaces.  One of the main therapeutic elements is a large multi-use pavilion which will typically have picnic tables for small group gatherings, or for a family picnic for those who are ready to venture past the immediate grounds of the new WFSC.  This pavilion will provide a place for small group concerts, with a grassy amphitheater for seating.  The pavilion was designed so that those facing the pavilion would be facing east and would have the sun at their back in the event of an evening performance.Other therapeutic elements include walking trails with varied surfaces, and two distinct fitness trails with physical fitness elements that will be designed to accommodate those in wheelchairs as well as those at typical standing heights.  These two trails will be set up as an easy/moderate trail for those just beginning to test their physical limits, and a moderate/hard trail for those who are advanced in their therapy.  Each trail will have ten different elements suited for various skill levels.  The trail elements will have well marked signage demonstrating the use of each element.  Each trail will be designed to provide a well-balanced physical fitness routine for the entire body.  Individual stations with exercise apparatus will be placed along a walking/jogging path.  The trails will provide an ideal alternative to facility-based therapeutic exercises, and will provide an activity that a family member could participate in as well.  The self-paced nature of these trails, as well as the strategically placed shade structures will allow for numerous therapeutic opportunities.Another therapeutic element in the area will be a large open grassy “field” for group activities such as Frisbee, putting practice, “field” day activities, star gazing, or other numerous possibilities currently unavailable to the therapeutic staff.The therapeutic areas are within walking distance from the Soldier Barracks, the Powless Guest House, the Fisher Houses, and the Center for the Intrepid.  These areas will be located immediately surrounding the new SFAC and the new WFSC, each of which have a primary mission of serving the wounded and their families.  There is no better location for these therapeutic areas, especially given that there is so much new construction underway, and in the planning stages at Fort Sam Houston.  The board wishes to take advantage of the opportunity to maximize the existing green space, and to capitalize on the established trees to provide a lush environment that will be a key component to the physician, social, and emotional healing of our wounded and their families. 


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