The pandemic era is a strange time to be a tree manager on a healthcare campus. "Eerie" was a word that multiple tree and sustainability professionals in healthcare settings used to describe the feeling on campus at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This summer, I gathered virtually with leaders from facilities in the Tree Campus Healthcare network, an Arbor Day Foundation program that celebrates leadership in wellness and community engagement through trees. For many of them, priorities and programming naturally shifted as the pandemic first struck.
At Masonic Homes Kentucky – Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky, for example, grounds management staff quickly changed focus from maintaining a beautiful campus landscape to performing daily temperature checks on their fellow staff members.
At Atrium Health Mercy in Charlotte, North Carolina, maintaining momentum while rolling out a facility green team program without in-person engagement became a sudden challenge.
At UK HealthCare in Lexington, Kentucky, a long history of collaboration with the university campus and local non-profits on community tree planting events felt interrupted.
In spite of the changes to everyday life that the pandemic has forced, trees emerged as more essential than ever.
On healthcare campuses, trees provide areas of solitude and respite for patients, their families, and for staff facing burnout. In communities, trees create cool spaces to for people to exercise and for students to learn in outdoor classrooms. Around the globe, people are turning to trees and green spaces to deal with the mental and physical toll of isolation.
It's this importance of trees to human health―and, the growing body of research that supports this―that served as the impetus for launching the Tree Campus Healthcare program in 2019. Built with the same model as other successful recognition programs like Tree City USA and Tree Campus Higher Education, healthcare institutions earn this recognition by demonstrating a commitment to improving community wellness through tree planting, education, and community engagement.
In a calendar year, an inpatient healthcare facility must meet five program standards: the formation of an advisory committee, development of a tree care plan, participation in a community forestry project, sponsorship of a celebration event or education campaign, and a suggested commitment to financial investment in tree projects, education events, and/or community outreach.
Sixteen diverse facilities around the country represented the inaugural cohort to earn recognition for their efforts in 2019, which included community hospitals, academic medical centers, veterans medical centers, a children's hospital, and a residential care facility. The smallest of these facilities has 290 full-time employees; the largest has 31,703. I consider this a testament to the fact that healthcare facilities of any size can lead the way on their campus and in their community when it comes to using trees to improve health.
In spite of the challenges they faced in 2020, these leaders pressed forward. At Masonic Homes Kentucky – Louisville, staff created virtual tree tours of campus for residents unable to spend time outdoors or with their families.
At Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania, the grounds management team and staff volunteers joined forces, masks on, to plant 100 trees on campus. And, at CHRISTUS Mother Frances Hospital – Tyler in Tyler, Texas, executive leadership labeled their Tree Campus Healthcare recognition "some good news in the pandemic" and proudly shared their news with community leaders.
We can't afford to let investment in trees and their health benefits wane―we need trees more than ever.
Fortunately, healthcare facilities all over the country are making a difference on their campuses and within their communities.
If you know of an inpatient healthcare facility that deserves recognition for their commitment to trees and health, encourage them to apply for recognition by December 31.
For more information about Tree Campus Healthcare, visit www.TreeCampusHealthcare.org.
Blog by Logan Donahoo, Program Manager, Arbor Day Foundation