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Published on May 09, 2018

Rehabilitation patients plant, tend and harvest

Enriching Recovery: Rehabilitation patients plant, tend and harvest

Inpatient Rehabilitation patients at Gundersen Health System didn't always have the option to enjoy the outdoors by planting, tending and harvesting vegetables as part of their treatment plan.

For years, it was something that certified occupational therapy assistant Stacey Koenig and her co-workers had talked about—knowing that an outdoor space could brighten many patients' days—but it wasn't until the Gundersen La Crosse Hospital's patient and visitor terrace garden was completed in 2014 that their vision became reality.

"It had always been a dream," Stacey says. For some patients, the garden offers an opportunity to incorporate an activity that they've long loved—and miss—into their recovery.

From prepping the garden beds and planting in the spring, to watering and pulling weeds in the summer, the variety of tasks involved in maintaining a garden are ideal for helping patients regain balance, strength, endurance, coordination and more.

Moreover, when patients spend extended amounts of time in rehabilitation, they can see the fruits of their labor—harvesting tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs and other produce after caring for the plants for weeks or even months.

The crop can then be used in other rehabilitation exercises, either by the patients who grew the vegetables or others. For example, one patient used tomatoes harvested from the garden to make fried green tomatoes as part of his treatment last fall. Another used cucumbers to make refrigerator pickles.

For those who enjoy gardening, having the opportunity to get their hands dirty can make a long recovery more enjoyable.

"When we take them outside by the garden, the patients really light up," Stacey says.

Gundersen's fully accredited Inpatient Rehabilitation program uses Gundersen Envision® Udderly Green potting soil in its garden beds, making the project a collaborative and sustainable effort to enrich every life.

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