11/13/08 — Cherry patients gain skills in work therapy program

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Cherry patients gain skills in work therapy program

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on November 13, 2008 1:46 PM


Dawn Carr, rehab therapy tech at Cherry Hospital stands in one of the hospital's two greenhouses used for its work therapy program. In addition to assorted plants grown by patients em-ployed in the program, and later sold to the public, hanging ferns like those pictured are part of the plant rental program.

Cherry Hospital has found a way to provide job-training for patients while creating a business that replenishes funds for the program.

Back in the early days of the hospital, the work therapy program encompassed a working farm and enlisted patients to care for the animals and crops.

These days opportunities center around a workshop program or being employed at Cherry's carwash, canteen or greenhouse.

Getting a job is voluntary, but it's also part of a treatment plan.

But more importantly, officials say, it's a way to learn job skills that will be helpful after being discharged from Cherry -- skills like being responsible, adapting to a work schedule and what it means to earn a paycheck.

An estimated 65 to 70 patients currently participate in some aspect of the work therapy program. Of those, 10 assist in the greenhouse.

As any gardener will attest, the quiet solitude of working with plants can be very therapeutic, said Dawn Carr, a rehab therapy tech. On average, most patients work less than 20 hours a week.

Their routine varies, she said, but centers around growing plants from seeds. Houseplants, bedding plants and ferns, as well as seasonal items like poinsettias and mums, are later sold to the public, with proceeds going to support the work therapy program.

While there aren't set hours, the greenhouse is typically open weekdays from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m.

Most of the patients who work there are high-functioning and could be employed there from a month up to two years, said Lolita Green, work therapy supervisor.

"The opportunity that we give our patients, No. 1, is a really good experience for them in this type of area," she said.

In addition to shoring up customer service skills, she said the experience also provides them with a sense of independence and confidence.

"One thing I notice, they all want to be a part of something," she said. "I see just a lot of self-pride, self-worth, and it increases their self-esteem a whole lot. Even though they're in a hospital, they're also able to take part in something. It's a good reinforcer."

Whether they return to their respective homes or go to a group home, Ms. Green said the vocational skills received are invaluable.

In addition to raising plants from seedlings, the program continues to expand its product offerings. Last year, a second greenhouse building was added and is already at capacity.

The original greenhouse contains assorted plants while the second one is entirely filled with ferns, which are part of a "plant rental program."

Terry Benton, rehabilitation services director, got the idea after having rented large hanging baskets of ferns and plants for a reception. She brought the suggestion back to Cherry and it became part of the program.

Ms. Benton said the effort has been especially popular for weddings and receptions as an alternative to spending a large amount on floral arrangements.

Another idea this year came from Paul Clark, community employment services representative. He suggested the program sell Christmas trees during the upcoming holiday period.

"We were just looking for other ideas for creating some more work for our patients and to raise a little money for our work therapy program," he said.

He ordered 100 Fraser fur trees -- from 6 to 8 feet tall -- from a tree farm in Boone, and they are expected to be delivered Nov. 22. Patients will assist in unloading the trees, setting them up and helping with the sale.

The trees will go on sale to the public beginning Nov. 24.

Clark is optimistic about the potential success of the tree sale, although feels that the current economy could have some effect on it.

"We just ordered a small amount of trees this time, but I do think it's going to go well," he said, adding that he is hopeful it will be something to build upon in future years.

For more information on the greenhouse program or products, call 731-3441.