Compassionate Care

Healing Space Makes the Place

Patients can take their newly fitted braces or prosthetic limbs for a spin at the Susan Goldstein and Steven Goldstein, M.D., Therapeutic and Medical Assessment Playground at Shriners Children’s Lexington.

In our special healing spaces, playtime is fun with a purpose

At Shriners Children’s, patients require special care and healing spaces. But our healing spaces don’t look stark and sterile. Instead, these healing environments exude a nurturing and therapeutic effect. They incite playfulness and provide hope.

Our care providers say a well-designed healing space can reduce patients’ anxiety and stress, accelerate recovery, shorten hospitalizations, reduce medication use, lessen pain and promote a sense of well-being. These surroundings can help calm patients and strengthen their ability to cope and recover.

Shriners Children’s Boston: Playroom and mural staircase

The mural staircase at Shriners Children’s Boston features paintings of different wildlife.

Tucked away in the stairwell at Shriners Children’s Boston is a magical and unexpected find – vibrant sea creatures, powerful bears and majestic woodland animals – all painted on the walls by a longtime inpatient unit nurse. Not only is the stairwell art inspiring to behold, but it also offers a unique motivational location for patients gaining strength and confidence after an injury. In addition to conducting a rehabilitation appointment in the gym, patients can incorporate the stairs in their sessions with staff therapists, completing important exercises in an imaginary forest or while exploring the depths of the ocean.

Along the stairwell, one of the doors leads to the hospital’s inpatient playroom, a kid-friendly space with a pool table, air hockey, foosball and toys. In addition to supporting medically appropriate play, the space is used for celebrations and special visitors. It is large enough for crafting, a game of pool and a soccer drill on a makeshift pitch – all simultaneously. The playroom is welcoming and calming. If patients prefer one-on-one engagement rather than a spirited air hockey game, the space easily accommodates. It’s not uncommon to see patients and families enjoying special festivities there, such as birthday parties.

Child life specialist Brooke Allen says the playroom is ideal for activities of all kinds. “Celebrating holidays and events that make being a kid so great are important – you only turn 8 once. We want to create positive memories for children, not just the operating room or the dressing changes.”

Shriners Children’s Erie: Aquatic therapy pool, feeding clinic room

The aquatic therapy pool at Shriners Children’s Erie supports kids with diverse orthopedic conditions at all levels of ability.

Healing spaces can take many forms. At Shriners Children’s Erie, an aquatic therapy pool provides opportunities for children with various orthopedic conditions and varying ability levels. The pool is 2.5 to 5 feet deep and maintained at 95 degrees to promote therapeutic benefits and deep muscle relaxation. Patients can experience an overall body workout and increased mobility in the warm water. A hydraulic lift chair allows safe transfer into the pool for children with higher impairment levels.

“I’ve used it to aid in muscle relaxation and strengthening in an environment that allows kids to do tasks that they can’t do on land due to the buoyancy of the water, as well as athletes to progress them through their programs in a safer environment with reduced joint stress,” said Laurie Hudson, PT, BS.

Another particular spot at Shriners Children’s Erie is the feeding clinic room, a welcoming space for kids who need nutritional interventions due to oral sensory motor issues, self-feeding difficulty, swallowing difficulty or other dietary needs that affect their bone growth and development.

The playful feeding clinic room at Shriners
Children’s Erie is designed as a fun place to help
children who need nutritional interventions.

Care providers offer a comprehensive, multidisciplinary clinic in this kid-friendly, welcoming space. A food play area serves a dual purpose: Child life specialists incorporate play therapy, providing a much-needed distraction, while the other clinical members of the team address caregivers’ concerns and review options for follow-up care.

“Child life services are integral to the success of our program,” said Kelly Kennelley, RD, LDN. “Without the food play area and the wonderful work of our child life specialists who work with our patients, our outcomes would not be as positive as they are.”

Shriners Children’s Hawaiʻi: Gardens

The care management team at Shriners Children’s Hawaiʻi always looks for ways to enhance their wrap-around and comprehensive care. A staff member’s trip to a local home improvement store led to a unique garden project – a way to provide for families staying at the hospital’s Family Center to grow and harvest fresh produce for their cooking needs.

When resource navigator Tina Humphries noticed some wilting plants being thrown away at the store, she asked if she could use them instead. The store allowed her to take the plants and donated some fresh ones. Soon, donations of soil and plants from another store and Shriners Children’s staff gave the care management team all they needed to bring their garden to life.

“Many of our keiki (children) receiving treatment are from other countries and are away from their homes for a substantial amount of time,” said Mano Kealoha, a resource navigator at Shriners Children’s Hawaiʻi. “This can be hard on not just the patient but the guardian as well. The garden is a great way for them to grow and harvest fresh vegetables to help them prepare dishes that bring them comfort, and it is also a therapeutic activity to take their minds off of things.”

Parents and staff volunteers spent a weekend creating garden beds just outside the Family Center building to ensure their crops of tomatoes, calamansi, eggplant and green onions would thrive. The garden’s bounty is plentiful. Besides having delicious and healthy vegetables, families enjoy fellowship, physical activity and outdoor time.

Kealoha said, “The families were able to be more physically active, but the boost to their emotional, mental and social well-being made this a success.”

Shriners Children’s New England: Outdoor space

Shriners Children’s New England’s adaptive playground helps patients like Evan boost their strength, endurance and gross motor skills.

Shriners Children’s New England features an outdoor space with an adaptive playground, grassy area and courtyard. Here, patients work to build strength, endurance and gross motor skills that can transfer to their play environments at home, school and in their communities.

As patients engage in exploratory play on the playground, therapists can assess their progress while helping to increase their comfort level and confidence. Many elements of a therapy session can be adapted into a game outdoors.

“Our outdoor area allows us to use guided therapeutic play to work toward specific goals in a patient’s care plan,” said Caryn France, rehabilitation department manager at Shriners Children’s New England. “It also allows our patients to perform large body movements in a more spacious and open setting than our rehab gym.”

On the adaptive playground, children of all ages and abilities can access features that help them build balance and strength, master movements on dynamic and uneven surfaces and improve overall coordination. Nearby, patients can play in the grass, practicing throwing, catching or kicking a ball. Patients can ride adaptive trikes through the surrounding courtyard, building endurance as they pedal on the paved paths and ramps. This healing space is also ideal for athletes engaged in return-to-sports protocol.

According to France, the ability to move outside the facility’s walls opens up new avenues for therapists and their patients. “Children will always get more out of therapy if they are highly engaged,” she said.

Shriners Children’s Mexico: Courtyard

After her parents were told she’d only survive a few days after birth, Camila, now 12, has a clear goal: to become a professional wheelchair racing athlete. This passion emerged in a particular space within the hospital where she has received care for most of her life: the central courtyard of Shriners Children’s Mexico.

Camila, a patient receiving treatment at Shriners Children’s Mexico, always makes time to visit her favorite spot: the central courtyard.

Camila’s story begins before her birth, when her mother, Tania, faced challenges during her pregnancy due to her epilepsy.

The initial diagnosis for Camila – myelomeningocele, clubfoot and hydrocephalus – predicted that she would be unlikely to walk. However, at Shriners Children’s, doctors discovered that Camila’s legs responded to stimuli and gave hope that her family would see her standing. “At other hospitals, they said she couldn’t walk,” Tania said. “At Shriners Children’s Mexico, she will achieve it.”

Camila has undergone nine surgical interventions and can now walk with the help of a walker. During each visit to the hospital, she makes sure to spend time in her favorite place: the central courtyard. This circular space, adorned with planters in the center and divided by ramps for patients in wheelchairs to slide, has been the setting for significant moments in Camila’s life. After all, it is here that she discovered her passion for speed, which drove her to pursue the dream of becoming a professional athlete.

Shriners Children’s Lexington: Medical Playground

Playground fun and world-class pediatric orthopedic care are sometimes one and the same at Shriners Children’s Lexington.

Here, patients practice walking on uneven ground, taking stairs, balancing, jumping, engaging in sensory integration, motor planning, and navigating a wheelchair, walker or crutches on the medical playground.

The Susan Goldstein and Steven Goldstein, M.D., Therapeutic and Medical Assessment Playground opened at Shriners Children’s Lexington in 2020 and functions as an assessment and therapy area for patients. It’s also a favorite stop for fun while visiting.

The playground is used by patients receiving rehabilitation services such as physical and occupational therapy. It is also the perfect place for the Pediatric Orthotic and Prosthetic Services (POPS) team to observe patients with newly fitted braces or prosthetic limbs.

“What better way to learn as a child than to play freely? Playgrounds can provide different opportunities to stimulate physical development for children of all ages,” said Tony Lewgood, administrator of Shriners Children’s Lexington.

The ADA-accessible playground features slides, stairs, balance beams, ramps, climbing walls and more.

Patients at Shriners Children’s
Lexington utilize the
playground for rehabilitation
services including physical and
occupational therapy.

Sara Bisher, an occupational therapist at Shriners Children’s Lexington, often brings her patients to the medical playground.

“The playground is used in so many ways,” Bisher said. “There are various materials used on the playground floor, requiring patients to navigate over different terrains.”

Patients can practice crawling, walking and climbing while on the playground.

“Ropes incorporate grip and upper body strengthening and bilateral coordination into climbing and balancing activities,” Bisher said. “Patients with sensory processing disorders can experience activities that challenge motor planning, visual motor processing, vestibular processing, transitioning between varying sensory inputs, proprioception, tactile and auditory processing.”

According to Bisher, with a therapist’s skills and creativity, the playground can address numerous deficits in a fun, non-threatening environment. Adding time on the playground into therapy appointments helps ease patients’ anxieties and allows them to gain skills they can use daily.

“Taking children to the playground takes their mind off therapy, and they see an environment of pure play,” she said. “So, the children do activities before realizing they are doing therapy. A playground is typically a familiar environment for children, allowing them to incorporate skills learned into their natural environments.”

Incorporating play can help reduce injuries and promote a healthy, active lifestyle while promoting independence. It’s truly wrap-around care, Bisher said.