Healing more than the body at Ashland Community Hospital

You're about to have surgery or you are recovering from it. They offer you massage, reiki (Japanese hands-on stress reduction), aromatherapy and healing touch. You have your choice of guided-imagery CDs, live music and good, locally grown food, how and when you want it.

No, this isn't some New Age, touchy-feely resort. This is the latest development in health care at Ashland Community Hospital, where all staff follow the Planetree model, a patient-centric approach that integrates human caring with the best of scientific medicine and complementary healing traditions, says nurse Kathi Wilcox, vice president for organizational transformation.

"It's a way to treat the whole person," says Wilcox. "People are more than their body. We're recognizing the body, mind and spirit as part of the healing environment."

The Planetree model addresses the personal and spiritual needs not just of patients but also their families. Its tools include artists-in-residence and art carts (with CD music, art supplies and books), which are brought to bedsides and waiting rooms, which, by the way, now are called "comfort zones" and are equipped with big-screen TVs with cable, Internet, pull-out couches and a fridge full of microwaveable meals.

In larger comfort zones, depending on what day of the week it is, you'll find someone softly playing a harp or guitar. And a health-information center allows patients and family to research medical questions in depth in a library and at an Internet station, as well as send e-mails and Facebook postings.

But perhaps the biggest surprise is when you open your bill and you don't find any of these comforting services listed. It's all done by volunteers, including professionals in the alternative healing fields.

All 435 ACH employees attend quarterly, eight-hour retreats at EdenVale Winery to get brought up to date on alternative therapies.

ACH staff members get the healing treatments themselves — on a regular basis — so they will understand their benefits and be mindful of integrating them into their daily services, says Wilcox.

While these therapies may sound exotic, they're nothing new to a lot of Ashland patients, some of whom have used them in their daily lives for years, says intensive care nurse and reiki master Judy Hilyard, a co-facilitator of the ACH complementary therapy team.

"These are ways to treat the whole person. Scientific medicine is wonderful, and we don't try to do without it in any way," says Hilyard. "But people are a lot more than their physical bodies. They need a healing environment that recognizes things like color, lighting, comfort of seating and taking care of family members.

While most hospital food has fallen short of gourmet over the decades, ACH aims to break that stereotype, noting in its brochure on patient-centered care that nutrition is a key to healing — and food must be a source of pleasure, comfort and familiarity.

"You can eat what you want, when you want it," the brochure states.

The hospital recognizes a broad range of spiritual approaches, offering a meditation room "for reflection and support of your spiritual needs."

The guided imagery CDs, spoken by nurse Jodine Turner, offer comfort and the soothing sound of ocean waves, while verbally suggesting relaxation, absence of anxiety, lessening of pain, speedy healing and reduced bleeding in surgery.

"The research says it cuts the hospital stay by one day," says Hilyard.

On a recent day, clinical aromatherapists Caryn Gehlmann and K.G. Stiles trained ACH staff members in the use of essential oils dabbed on cotton balls — ginger and peppermint for nausea, cedarwood or lavender for calming, bergamot or frankincense for comfort.

"It triggers neural-receptor response," says Gehlmann, adding that it makes patients feel better.

"The industry is seeing patients spending more money on alternatives like this, and CEOs are seeing the results. The bodies respond better in a calm state," she says.

"It results in less pain meds and quicker recovery time," adds Stiles.

The Planetree model, says its Web site, was created in 1978 as a holistic way to assure quality health care by using caring, compassion, freedom of choice, full knowledge of health information and addressing the needs, not just of the body, but of the mind and spirit, as well.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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