As the COVID-19 pandemic progressed in Israel, it soon became clear that it was not only the afflicted patients that were suffering. Healthcare workers at hospitals around the country were comparing the conditions to a war zone. They quickly discovered that they were short-staffed and overwhelmed by the numbers of severely sick patients who needed intensive care. Many hospital workers complained that the crises had caused them high levels of stress and anxiety and was taking a toll on their own health.
Family members of hospitalized COVID patients also reported high levels of frustration and psychological distress. They were barred from approaching their isolated relatives for days on end and limited to overcrowded waiting rooms or corridors. The lucky ones were able to communicate with their loved ones through a glass window.
It was this situation that led KKL-JNF to partnering with hospitals and medical centers
to create open-air relaxation areas for the benefit of hospital staff, guests, and patients that were allowed to venture out. Medical research has shown that patients who are more relaxed are able to recover faster, and similarly, reducing stress for staff and family members leads to better treatment.
Even a short outdoor visit for a chat or a cup of coffee has a beneficial effect. Researcher Liisa Tyrvainen of the Finnish Forest Research Institute, for example, found that people began to feel psychologically restored after just 15 minutes of sitting outside, in both the park and the forest.
KKL-JNF created relaxation corners in the courtyards of 24 medical centers operating COVID-19 wards around Israel. Each green corner provides seating, a table, and shade, and is surrounded by potted flowers and plants. The seating is arranged to enable physical distancing In accordance with Health Ministry directives.
Each relaxation corner was designed by KKL-JNF architect Sharon Kaplan
. Kaplan said that it was important to make sure that the areas were also accessible to patients with mobility limitations
. “It was important for us to locate spots at the different hospitals that were evocative of sitting in nature, while at the same time not too far from the hospital wards.”
At the Shamir Medical Center (Assaf Harofeh) in Rishon Lezion, the outdoor equipment was installed behind the Emergency Ward, on a grassy lawn surrounded by trees. "A patient's mental resilience is significantly related to the quality of his or her relationship with family members,” noted Dr. Adam Darnell, director of the hospital’s psychiatric department. “Proper conditions for the visiting family contribute to a conducive therapeutic environment and positively affect a patient's recuperation.”
Chief Engineer at the Shamir Medical Center, Eli Cohen, said that he was pleased to announce the completion of the project, the culmination of months of close collaboration with KKL-JNF. “Over the past year, we held discussions with KKL-JNF representatives about the visibility and location of these corners," Cohen said. “The goal was to create corners where visitors and patients could sit, which would be accessible, shaded, and close to the hospital buildings. I thank KKL-JNF for joining the project and working with us. I am sure it will now be more pleasant for patients and their families to sit in the open air."
At some hospitals, the relaxation corners were already in use just moments after the facilities were installed. It was an ambulance crew that inaugurated the spot at Assuta Hospital in Ashdod for their lunch break. They had just delivered a patient to the emergency room when the KKL-JNF crew completed the installation. “You can’t imagine what a boost this is for us,” the ambulance driver said. “Up to now, my lunch table was my steering wheel. Hat tip to Assuta Hospital and KKL-JNF for this welcome gesture.”
Assuta Hospital spokesman Ohad Yehezkeli warmly thanked KKL-JNF for the heartfelt support. “This is an example of how small details are what matter most of all. The relaxation area constructed in the garden outside our emergency room was an overnight success. It is a meeting spot , a resting place, and a refuge for renewing the strength of our medical personnel and our patients.”
At Soroka Hospital in Be’er Sheva, a special area was prepared near the maternity ward. While overseeing the installation of the facilities, the manager of the hospital gardens, Meir Fachima, told KKL-JNF architect Sharon Kaplan that he was convinced that the hospital will soon be contacting KKL-JNF for a second relaxation corner.