“Do care facilities care? Stats on the implementation of therapeutic landscapes.” Guest post by Tanya Goertzen

Montgomery Place Retirement Community Chicago, Illinois. Photo by Naomi Sachs

Montgomery Place Retirement Community, Chicago, Illinois. Photo by Naomi Sachs

This guest blog post is by Tanya Goertzen, Principal of People Places. Tanya initially posed the question to the TLN Group on Land8Lounge, and then took the initiative to do some research of her own. This blog post is a result of that research.

Do care facilities care? Stats on the implementation of therapeutic landscapes

When planning to undertake a specialization like therapeutic design, the additional investment of education to get there is a big commitment.  Keeping up to speed on current research and trends, conferences, publication reviews, etc. takes time and money.  So, is it worth it? We may be passionate about what we do, but does our target market see the value? The answer is a resounding “sometimes,” but the good news is, it’s likely an emerging trend that is growing.

Although no one specific study answers the question, data on the use of design research can help paint a picture.

The Center for Health Design (CHD) conducted surveys[1] in 2009 and 2010 of design research in healthcare settings. In both years, approximately 33% of respondents indicated they always implemented healing gardens. Sounds great, but unfortunately the results are skewed too positively by limited sampling, and are not representative of the health care market as a whole. As a benchmark, the 2010 survey indicated 41.6% always used design research to make design decisions; quite high when compared with the 2010 Health Facilities Management survey[2], in which only 16% always used design research. The latter survey is probably more representative of general trends because of broader sampling.

What is trending positively is the occasional use of design research, and possibly implementation of healing gardens. The occasional use of design research increased increased in the HFM survey from 25% in 2008, to 40% in 2009, and 60% in 2010. What may be closer to reality is around 33% of projects implemented healing gardens occasionally in 2010; an increase of 6.9% from 2009. While the trending is positive, those numbers are indeed small.

Looking to the future, that could all change. If, for example, “sometimes” means 50% of the time, then 16.5% of projects implemented healing gardens in 2010. If the growth rate continues, then that would be 51% in 2015.  Combine this with an aging population, and we could see a big increase in demand. In Canada alone, the number of seniors will more then double by 2036[3], and 3.4% (353 000) of those will likely live in seniors care facilities.[4]

A case can also be made that trends in therapeutic site design are not only represented by healing gardens, but also by trends in healing environments. A person’s outdoor experience of a facility is not just in gardens; wayfinding, loading, parking, waiting, socializing, exercising, etc., can all happen outside of gardens, and all influence stress reduction.[5] According to the CHD survey, the top feature being incorporated all of the time is healing environments that are nurturing, therapeutic, and reduce stress. All things, evidence suggests, supported by therapeutic landscapes. This seems to suggest that other members of the consultant design team, providers, vendors, and business developers may not understand that connection, so it remains up to the therapeutic site designer to educate, at least for the time being.

The future of therapeutic site design looks promising. No doubt, as the Center for Health Design continues its ground breaking work, and evidence-based design continues to grow, we can put aside the lofty guesswork above, and turn to better data.

Tanya Goertzen has been practicing site planning and design for 10 years, is a licensed member of the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects, and principal of People Places, a site planning and design firm for health care, educational and community places.  She holds a Bachelor of Environmental Design and a Master of Landscape Architecture, and is the recipient of the Award of Excellence in the study of Landscape Architecture; the Mennonite Student Travel Scholarship for her graduate work on community settlement patterns; and a winning exhibitor in the B.C. Drawing on the Land Exhibition; and has been featured in Sitelines.

Many thanks to Tanya for this guest blog post. I would love to see some comments and good discussion about this. I’ll be following up next week with some more thoughts.

[1] http://www.healthdesign.org/chd/research

[2] http://www.hfmmagazine.com/hfmmagazine/html/HFMsurveys.html

[3] http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/070227/dq070227b-eng.htm

[4] http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/83-237-x/83-237-x2006001-eng.htm

[5] Healing Gardens, Therapeutic Benefits and Design Recommendations, Clare Cooper Marcus, New York Wiley, 1999.