When illness strikes, the first thing that typically comes to mind is a visit to the doctor. For King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital, healing means much more than just prescription pads and pills.
Old trees and landscaped green areas in the hospital’s land.
Yes, well-trained professionals handing out the right doses and treatments are essential in any hospital, but there is also an emphasis on the healing role nature can play with patients.
Hospital director Assoc Prof Dr Sophon Napathorn explained that spending time among nature and in green spaces has been shown to be generally good for well-being.
"So, our hospital decided to revive the practice of using hospital green spaces as part of the healing process and also for health improvement among our staff," Dr Sophon said.
Assist Prof Dr Sukanya Chaikittisilpa, assistant director of King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital's environmental and building affairs, said: "We believe that hospital gardens are naturally the best therapy. We need to have a nature experience to have good health."
The hospital has collaborated with Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Architecture and the Big Trees Project to develop an action plan to add green spaces and gardens to the grounds. A survey showed there are now more than 600 big trees in the hospital surrounds, plus several small gardens that account for about 13% of the 136 rai of land.
"And we expect green spaces in the hospital neighbourhood to increase by 30% in the next decade." Dr Sophon said.
The hospital's deputy director of administrative affairs, Assoc Prof Dr Prasert Trivijitsilp, noted that green spaces and gardens should be considered as a counterbalance to the hospital itself.
During its history, King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital has enjoyed gardens and plants as main features.
However, for nearly a century many additional hospital buildings have been scattered among them to serve an ever-increasing numbers of patients.
Dr Prasert said each building was developed in line with a masterplan through a careful process of cadastral surveys and examinations of soil materials and wind direction.
This was done to optimise space for staff and patients. However, by doing so, trees were cut down and garden spaces were lost.
"That has caused a steady decrease of green spaces and natural beauty in the hospital. And trees became less visible," said Dr Prasert.
Congested buildings have also affected the hospital's environment, including air quality and an increase in temperatures that has led to higher energy consumption.
As part of the project's consultation process, Dr Sukanya said some old hospital buildings may be demolished in favour of modern and efficient high-rises that can accommodate the latest medical technology. Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Architecture has developed a sustainable landscape architecture design of green outdoor spaces that connect hospital buildings to the natural environment.
It has been carried out with the needs of patients, doctors, staff and visitors in mind. Big Trees Project has cooperated to handle garbage reduction and growing and nurturing trees and plants. Under the plan, a number of pathways and bicycle parking spaces will be added, and new recreational facilities will be developed.
"The development of walking and cycling pathways within our hospital is top of our mission as we want to encourage people visiting our hospital to reduce the use of cars," said Dr Sukanya. "You know, our hospital is located near Silom intersection, which generates a high level of air pollutants and other toxic elements.
The hospital staff are involved in growing and nurturing trees.
"We hope that our hospital gardens will help restore a healthy green environment to our urban hospital and provide inviting areas for patients and people to relax, so it helps improve people's quality of life in urbanised areas. Good places, better health." Dr Sukanya noted that the therapeutic effects on patients can aid rehabilitation, as well as help with mental health.
"A view from a hospital room overlooking green spaces is much better than a view of a concrete wall. Looking at natural scenes is more than just a nice panorama. It can give a pleasant, soothing distraction to the ill," he said.
"Waiting in long queues in order to receive medical services from our hospital can make outpatients stressed. And you know, looking at gardens and plants can help reduce the levels of stress and anxiety and simply make them feel happy.
"Doctors, nurses and other staff working at the hospital sites are able to take advantage of the green areas to get some fresh air during the working day and feel better. So let the fresh air fill their lungs." Assoc Prof Chamree Arayanimitskul, from Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Architecture, said trees and shrubs give a host of environmental benefits. Trees help reduce glare and reflection, absorb some of the water from rainfall and reduce carbon dioxide and pollution from the air. Foliage can also affect wind speed and direction.
"Trees can be home to city animals like green snakes, and squirrels are attracted to the area," Chamree said. "When we are standing in the shade of trees, we are not exposed to the sunlight and of course are cooler. On top of that, shade can give protection for people and buildings.
"Trees make life more pleasant. They make us feel restful and serene in a busy city."
Dr Sukanya said: "We have already planted more than 40 standing timbers within the hospital grounds so far. We are now focusing on cultivating awareness among our staff and people about the importance of trees and plants to our health and well-being. We also encourage people's involvement so that they can witness the benefits."
To bolster environmentally sustainable development long into the future, Dr Sukanya said the plan is to create a green hospital for the city. That means a wide range of ecologically sound activities will be carried out, including garbage management in order to help reduce waste, recycling materials, reduction in the use of energy and resources and saving water.
"We are trying to reduce the total amount of waste as much as possible in order to be a 'near zero waste' hospital," she said.
Plans to add green spaces and gardens to King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital’s grounds.
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- Writer: Sukhumaporn Laiyok