Edgerton Hospital Healthy Village spearheads outdoor wellness
View the garden plan
Click here to view a high-resolution map of the healing garden landscape plan.
EDGERTON As Edgerton Hospital CEO Jim Pernau pointed out his favorite noon-hour walking path, a cardinal sang from the treetops.
Farther down a hillside shaded by old growth timber, a wild turkey crossed and disappeared into the underbrush.
With fresh limestone gravel crunching under his shoes, Pernau folded his suit jacket over his forearm arm and hunched over to climb a steep hill overlooking a pond.
“This hill will really test what kind of shape you’re in,” Pernau said.
Pernau was just a few hundred yards west of Edgerton Hospital on new wooded public walking trails the hospital unveiled last month.
It’s part of the hospital’s Healthy Village campus, a more than 100-acre outdoor complex of public hiking paths, community gardens and an outdoor healing garden geared for patient recovery and public wellness.
Crews are constructing a healing garden on the southwest side of the hospital. The area will include wheelchair accessible walkways, landscaped gardens, exercise and relaxation areas, a pond and even a labyrinth.
Parts of the $410,000 healing garden, a centerpiece of the Healthy Village plan, will be finished later this year, hospital officials said.
Hospital officials say the healing garden, walking trails and community garden are part of a multipronged approach to healthy living, including diet, exercise and even something intangible—a person’s spirit.
“It’s going to be way more than flowers that look pretty,” hospital spokeswoman Sunny Bowditch said.
The Healthy Village plan is viewed, in part, as a boon for cardiac patients and others recovering at the hospital.
Bowditch said the hospital planned the outdoor amenities because studies show contact with nature can speed recovery for patients, decrease the need for pain medication and reduce stress for families dealing with illness.
But a major purpose of the Healthy Village is to offer the community ways to prevent illness.
Pernau said health experts blame the nationwide rise in obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease for the majority of spiraling healthcare costs.
Those diseases are “linked to people’s habits, what they eat, what they drink, what they smoke,” Pernau said. He said those issues and lack of physical activity are the root of a health crisis that threatens the healthcare system.
“It behooves us as a nation and as communities to address these healthcare issues before they push us over the brink,” Pernau said. “You can’t just talk about it. You have to do something.”
The hospital is offering change in an outdoor package. It’s as simple as hospital-sponsored yoga classes in the future healing gardens, or a half-hour hike through the woods on the hospital’s groomed walking trails.
Pernau couldn’t hide his pride as he showed off the hospital’s new 30-acre community gardens, which are in a farm field on the south end of the hospital grounds.
Dozens of mini-plots are available there for a small fee or a few hours of volunteer labor. People can grow their own food and even take classes in organic gardening.
Such amenities are becoming the norm at new hospitals on the coasts but are unusual at smaller hospitals, said Pernau and SSM Health Care spokesman Steve Van Dinter.
SSM has affiliations with Edgerton Hospital and St. Mary’s Janesville Hospital.
Van Dinter said Edgerton’s Healthy Village is the first of its kind for a hospital in southern Wisconsin, and “probably the first in the state at a community-based hospital the size of Edgerton.”
The amenities are possible because Edgerton Hospital is adjacent to almost 80 acres of woods and farmland. The hospital purchased the bulk of that land on an option during development of the hospital with plans to develop outdoor wellness areas.
What does it cost?
Most of the programming and amenities will be free. For instance, the wooded walk paths are open to the public.
The hospital hosts “walk and talk” groups, but people can use the trails for solo walks or jogging. They’re even open for classroom hikes or winter cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
The trails loop past the community gardens and a wheat field that will someday be a seven-acre fruit orchard, or as Pernau calls it, a “food forest.” He said patients or families at the hospital will be able to pick fruit from trees in the orchard and eat it for free.
The amenities do come with a cost. For instance, the hospital will have to staff master gardeners and experts to run exercise and organic gardening programs and to maintain walking trails and garden areas.
The hospital’s capital foundation is working to raise $265,000 to complete the healing gardens, said Bonnie Robinson, said the foundation’s director.
Van Dinter said St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison has similar outdoor amenities, and operations and maintenance there are handled largely through volunteer labor.
The Edgerton hospital had volunteers plant 10 plots of vegetables in the community gardens. The food will be used at the hospital and donated to a local food pantry.
Pernau said the wooded walking paths were built largely with donated labor and materials. He said local Boy Scouts plan to help clear brush and improve the area.