READ: Hospital Expansion Threatens Beloved Patient Garden

Hospital Expansion Threatens Beloved Patient Garden

By Marianne Aiello
May 18, 2016
HealthLeaders Media

Boston Children's Hospital is bursting at capacity, but plans to build an 11-story expansion over Prouty Garden have prompted a lawsuit from area residents and patients' advocates.

Gardens have been a mainstay at hospitals, even before research backed up widely held views that being in nature had a calming and healing effect on patients.

Lately, hospitals across the country have poured more resources into their gardens, with some planting vegetable crops that are incorporated into patient meals.

At one hospital in Massachusetts, however, this spring might be the last for its garden,' and the community is outraged.

Uprooting a Beloved Patient Space

Patients, families, and staff have enjoyed Boston Children's Hospital's Prouty Garden since it was established on the Longwood Campus in 1956. Since then, the 404-bed hospital has grown to the point where expansion is necessary—and leadership decided that planting a building on top of the garden is the most cost-effective solution.

We have reached the limits," Sandra L. Fenwick, Children's CEO, said during a Department of Public Health hearing in February. "Our partners, our patients, and the families and staff lie at the very heart of the plans we brought to you today. To increase our capacity to heal, we must modernize."

The $1 billion proposed expansion includes plans for an 11-story, 575,000-square-foot building that would boost the patient experience by eliminating all of the hospital's current double-bed rooms, enhancing privacy, sleeping spaces, and showers.

The new space would also feature more operating rooms, a NICU, a pediatric heart center, and a rooftop garden.

Growing Opposition

While the need for expansion is evident, many believe the hospital shouldn't raze the garden to do so.

In April, a group advocating to save the Prouty Garden sued the hospital, alleged that the hospital had illegally begun construction ahead of receiving Department of Public Health approval.

A judge denied to grant an injunction to stop the project, but the case remains open, meaning the judge could reconsider the ruling if the group provides further evidence.

"There are people like me who walk through the doors of Children's Hospital every day and are going to hear something they don't want to hear," said Gus Murby, a supporter whose 17-year-old son died in the garden in 2007, after battling leukemia.

"If Prouty Garden is not here for them," said Murby, "it's going to be a much darker experience."

Murby, who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit, and other garden supporters have launched an aggressive public awareness campaign. So far, the "Preserve Prouty Garden" petition on has acquired more than 16,000 signatures, and more than 500 people have donated a total of $77,000 to the Save the Prouty Garden GoFundMe campaign.

"For many, this garden is the spiritual refreshment that sustains us through another day of hospitalization, the weeks away from home or a long 12-hour shift. Bulldozing the garden also violates our promise to Mrs. Prouty and the intent of her generous gift," the petition states.

"We do not have to choose between hospital expansion and the garden. Let's pursue other architectural options and save the Prouty Garden's beauty, healing, and heritage. It is priceless."

Additionally, a blog, created by "an extended group of concerned volunteers who are connected to the Boston Children's Hospital family in one way or another," advocates for preservation of the garden.

Looking Forward

The fate of the Prouty Garden remains uncertain. Children's Department of Public Health approval is pending, and the hospital said it will not permanently close the garden until the approval process is complete.

As part of the process, public health officials have asked the hospital to submit an independent cost analysis of the proposed expansion, and demonstrate that its plans are in-line with the state's efforts to contain healthcare costs.

Garden supporters have honed in on that detail, recently publishing a report alleging that Children's—one of the most expensive hospitals in Massachusetts—is retreating from caring for the poor.

According to the report, which the Friends of the Prouty Garden submitted to the Department of Public Health, the expansion "would further restrict access to quality pediatric services for Massachusetts Medicaid patients and indigent children, while expanding services to wealthy, private-paying international patients, according to a new report analyzing BCH's efforts to create a massive new complex in the Longwood Medical Area of Boston."

Children's proposal to improve the patient experience by building over a beloved patient space has put the hospital in a tough spot. Moving to a rooftop garden will do little' to quell the negative publicity.

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