The Arbor Health Center at Galloway Ridge recently underwent an expansion that included the creation of carefully planned therapeutic outdoor spaces with lovely courtyards, fountains and raised gardens and flower beds for resident use. Doug Oliver, Associate ED/Administrator, commented that he wanted much more than “just outdoor space.” He envisioned spaces that are therapeutic and would lure residents, family members, visitors and staff to the outside for fresh air, sunshine and socialization.

Toni Scirica-Rowe, Director of Dining Services, Cari Owens, Recreational Therapist, and Executive Chef Michael Ahern seized the opportunity to use the raised garden beds to provide horticultural therapy as part of Galloway Ridge’s Whole Person Resident Wellness Program. Galloway Ridge has partnered with the North Carolina Botanical Gardens at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to implement horticultural therapy for Arbor residents. The benefits of horticultural therapy are well known; they include promoting physical, mental, psychological and social wellbeing, addressing the needs of the whole person: body, mind and spirit.

The resident “Green Thumbs” gardening group planted, tended, cultivated and harvested vegetables and herbs that will be integrated into the health center’s dining program. Toni Scirica-Rowe commented that residents continually ask for locally grown produce but it was always questionable whether current regulations governing nursing homes allowed the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers or if the facility could grow produce in facilitymaintained gardens for resident use.

On September 7, 2011, the Centersfor Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) sent a memo, CMS Transmittal #11-38-NH, to state surveying agencies and facilities clarifying the use of produce from facility-maintained gardens. CMS acknowledges that residents benefit from having a variety of fresh foods and that facility gardens are compliant with federal regulations as long as the facility has and follows policies and procedures for maintaining the gardens and that the dangers of food-borne illness are mitigated to the greatest extent possible and safe food handling practices are maintained once foods are harvested and brought to the kitchen for preparation.

The gardening program has created tremendous results, not only by producing fresh, delicious vegetables and herbs that can be used in the residents’ dining program, but also by fostering the great sense of pride residents have shown in their garden.

Cari Owens observes that “we have found horticultural therapy to be a low-cost, effective, and versatile way to meet therapeutic goals of both individuals and groups.” Gardening tasks can be adapted and the environment modified to suit individual needs, so most residents can enjoy gardening activities that instill a sense of productivity and self-satisfaction, and a spiritual connection with life.