Cooped up in a hospital room for a week, one patient at Henry Ford West Bloomfield was feeling depressed, longing for the geraniums in her garden and the freedom of home life.
So hospital staff brought the patient to the nearby 1,500-square-foot greenhouse outside. The visit, says Michelle Lutz, the resident farmer at West Bloomfield, perked her right up.
"She told me before she left how good it made her feel, and she thanked me for getting her out of a funk," Lutz says. "When you're sitting in a hospital room, even though our patients have the most beautiful views, sometimes just getting out of that room and being part of something makes you feel good. That's exactly what it did for her."
As the wheel of reform turns in health care and reimbursements increasingly are tied to customer satisfaction, hospitals are finding unorthodox ways to please the patient. At West Bloomfield, that meant bringing aboard President and CEO Gerard van Grinsven, who spent more than 25 years in the hospitality industry, opening 20 Ritz-Carlton hotels around the globe.
A $360 million new facility geared toward hospitality opened in 2008 with rooms overlooking an outdoor pond, wireless Internet and flat-screen TVs, and comfy furniture for visitors. West Bloomfield invested about $1 million from an anonymous donor to build the new greenhouse and adjoining education center, which debuted in September.
But the garden is about more than just patient satisfaction, says van Grinsven. Greens grown year-round there will be used in the hospital restaurant, Henry's. And patients and neighborhood children can learn about growing and eating healthy food.
"If you combine all these elements together, we are now using food as medicine. We are using food as healing. That's the way food was in the old days," van Grinsven says. "Today, food, unfortunately, is not helping us to live a healthier life, because we are so busy. Mr. Pizza Man is a regular guest in your and my home; our freezers are filled with processed food because we are too busy to cook. And so we felt this was a great opportunity to really become a mentor and a health coach to the communities and the patients."
Lutz estimates that the greenhouse is producing 27 different varieties of plants, everything from tomatoes and eggplant to okra, strawberries and beets. Within a month of being up and running, the hospital stopped ordering basil from outside vendors. And when there are any leftovers, West Bloomfield holds a farmers market and sells them off.
If all goes smoothly, Henry Ford Health System may explore expanding the greenhouse concept to other hospitals in the network, maybe even metro Detroit, Lutz says. Dan Carmody, president of the massive Eastern Market Corp. in Detroit and a partner in the farmers market, says he'd love to see the concept throughout the city.
"The closer people are and get more engaged in seeing where carrots come from, the more likely they are to pick a carrot rather than a Twinkie," he says.