It used to be the only outdoor area available to the San Francisco VA Medical Center’s (SFVAMC) inpatient Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) patients was a stark, often cold, fenced patio. Thanks to funding, donations, and the dedicated work of volunteers and patients, that has changed.
In weekly focus meetings at the PICU, Veteran patients were asked for their ideas on how to make their stay better. “They started brainstorming, talking about what they wanted,” said staff nurse Heather McCormick, RN. “Lots of folks didn’t want to visit the patio, saying it was too cold, or like a cage. We gathered their ideas and came up with a list, which we presented to Voluntary Service, Engineering and local chapters of the VFW, and they helped make our patio improvement project happen. Thanks to everyone’s generosity, we were able to get painting and gardening supplies, plants, benches, a real basketball hoop, picnic table, lots of paint and brushes.”
Veterans said they wanted a mural of waterfalls, of sunsets, a horse, mountains, and a cat. They requested plants, a view of the ocean, and a sign welcoming all who entered the patio, providing encouragement from all who had been there before, those who had once found themselves in a similar state of despair.
Medical Center volunteer, US Marine Corps Veteran and current art college student Laurie Kelsoe volunteered her services as Coordinating Muralist. She took Veterans’ ideas, fleshed them out, and designed the mural, which covers most of the patio walls.
“The plants and flowers were planted by our Veterans, and over 20 of them have painted parts of the mural since we started painting it a couple of weeks ago,” says McCormick. “Sometimes our folks have really rough days. We invite them out to the patio. It’s really humanizing to be holding a paint brush or to put your hands in some potting soil. We’ve encouraged each of our patients to make their mark; to put their heart into the process. Some have come out to the patio just to sit, relax, and give us their ideas, and some have picked up a paint brush.” There are blank frames on the wall onto which a patient can draw with colored chalk. Heat lamps now make the patio accessible when it’s chilly and during cool evenings. One SFVAMC chaplain holds Sunday services for PICU patients out on the refurbished patio.
An unveiling of the mural was held on August 27 to celebrate the completion of the PICU Patio Improvement Project. “We’ve been working for two years from inception to finish, and we thank everyone who has made this possible,” says McCormick. “Having a colorful, restful area to visit outdoors, with seats so our Veterans can enjoy a view of the ocean, or shoot a few baskets, or just enjoy the hanging flowers--this makes an enormously positive difference in their stay.”