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Partnering for a friendlier environment

July 1, 2008
by Heather W. Steel, MBA
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Carrier Clinic builds relationships to help renovate its adolescent unit

Carrier Clinic is one of the largest not-for-profit, private behavioral healthcare systems in New Jersey, treating adolescents, adults, and older adults on its Belle Mead campus. Even though all reimbursement is invested in operations and patient care, shorter lengths of stay and budget constraints have prohibited much needed renovations to create a warmer, more therapeutic patient environment.

Hospital settings take a lot of abuse. The Clinic's walls had been painted and new borders had been affixed, but the space was barren and neutral looking. This did not reflect the organization's new Caring Solutions Initiative, which involved implementing a cultural philosophy based in respect and tolerance to create a safe, healing environment for patients and staff. While we were making progress with the initiative clinically, the physical environment was missing the mark.

Finding Partners

The adolescent unit was identified early on as the unit that had the most to gain therapeutically. The goal was to transform the existing institutional space into a teen-friendly setting providing a best-practice therapeutic environment to improve outcomes for the more than 800 teens admitted each year.

Tiffany Malloy, APRN, BC, director of grant development, researched adolescent-friendly environments, therapeutic colors, and artwork. She could not find much research involving psychiatric settings, so she called nationally known and local art foundations, color experts, and institutional designers, soliciting their advice and support.

“I made dozens of calls, and sent out hundreds of e-mails and letters to generate interest and enthusiasm in this project,” she says. “Clearly communicating the need, with passion and enthusiasm, is essential when reaching out to people. I spent hours explaining to organizations how they could make a difference to our adolescents and the community as a whole—but also important, how their partnership with Carrier related positively to their core business.”

Employees from ortho-mcneil-janssen pharmaceuticals, inc., help paint part of the adolescent unit

Employees from Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., help paint part of the adolescent unit.

Transforming the Unit

It basically became a full-time job for Malloy to manage the project, with following up, scheduling, implementing, setting therapeutic goals, and educating everyone about the importance of outcome measures.

The project came together in May 2007, when Carrier participated in the Somerset County United Way's Day of Caring campaign, which matches local corporate volunteers with projects at nonprofit organizations. Because of the scale of Carrier's project (more than 12,000 square feet needed to be painted), the “day” became a weeklong “Paint Fest.” More than 150 volunteers from Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceutical Services painted 24 patient bedrooms and connected hallways, main hallways, three patient lounges, a group therapy room, a family waiting room, and a main lounge.

Carrier had not budgeted for the painting project, so Malloy reached out to the local Sherwin-Williams store. This location and five others donated the 120 gallons of paint used to cover the gray cinder-block walls. Because teens prefer bright, nonprimary colors, a local Sherwin-Williams interior designer developed a cheery color palette using colors with such uplifting names as Gleeful, June Day, Wisteria, Inspiring Lilac, Butter Up, and Exciting Orange.

Grant support from Janssen, LP, funded several large nature scene murals and the purchase of “skylight panels” (backlit displays of cloud scenes) to “open up” the enclosed space. The Foundation for Hospital Art provided many brightly painted canvases featuring birds and fish, which livened up the hallways and lounges. Grant support from sanofi-aventis funded the purchase of artwork for therapists' offices and new bed linens to coordinate with the newly painted rooms. TNT Educational Services provided funding for “safety framing” for the artwork. Finishing touches were provided by art therapist Rosalie Skakum, who handpainted murals on some of the remaining blank wall space.

A renovated patient lounge; note the “skylight” panel in the ceiling

A renovated patient lounge; note the “skylight” panel in the ceiling.

A Project-Within-a-Project

During the months of planning for the Paint Fest and the adolescent unit renovation, a new need had been exposed: The adolescent “library” had only a few tattered, outdated books. The room was drab and dull, so it was no surprise that no one used it.

“The library became my pet project-within-a-project,” explains Malloy. “We needed to have this room for a relaxing area that not only provided normalizing activities for the kids, but also to inspire reading on a variety of reading levels.”

June kunzman (l) and molly kunzman show off the mural they painted in the adolescent unit's library

June Kunzman (l) and Molly Kunzman show off the mural they painted in the adolescent unit's library.