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Celebrating the Individuals Who Enhance the Patient Experience

Posted By Bernadette Brady, Friday, May 24, 2013


Al and Eric

I know that the patient experience is about individuals as much as the organisation. I also know that in some organisations there are individuals who come up with really good ideas to improve the patient experience. Visiting a local hospital some months ago I walked past an enclosure containing birds and lizards. The bird song was piped into the corridor so as you walked along the corridor you could hear the birds chirping. It made me smile. There were individuals standing at the enclosure just having a quiet moment. Each time I visit there are people just enjoying the difference this enclosure brings to the usual hospital helter skelter. Often there are children there who are kept entertained while their parents make phone calls.

This enclosure was the brainchild of the gardener. He roped in the electrician to help. Together they have built the enclosure, lobbied for financial assistance to stock it and feed the occupants and continue to maintain it. They are very proud of their achievements.

Alastair is the gardener at Calvary Health Care in Canberra, Australia. Calvary is a fully accredited 250 bed public hospital. Services on this campus include emergency department, an intensive and coronary care unit, medical and surgical wards, a maternity unity, a voluntary psychiatric ward and ambulatory care and outreach facilities and services.

There are many visitors to this hospital each day, some of whom are fearful for themselves, some of whom are fearful for people they love. Hospitals are not somewhere we chose to go to.

Alastair has, over many years, tried to provide areas within the grounds of the hospital that will allow people to smile, to linger, to revive. His greatest venture to date though is an enclosure that is situated adjacent to one of the hospital’s busy thoroughfares. This enclosure takes up an open air space enclosed by three walls and the glassed corridor. Alastair has turned this area into an aviary with fish and lizards in the undergrowth.

The aviary is evident to all who walk these corridors. It provides a focal point for all who walk along the corridor.

Initially Alastair introduced some lizards, fish and a couple of quail to the enclosure but the crows kept taking the fish. That was when Alastair enlisted Eric’s assistance. Eric is the hospital electrician. He helped Alastair to put a net over the enclosure to keep the crows out. This of course meant they could keep birds in.

The Facilities Manager approved payment for the netting and the social club provided $220 towards buying birds.

About this time Eric saw an ad in all classifieds for finches for sale for $2 each. When he rang to say he would "take the lot” the person selling the birds asked why so many. When he heard where the birds were to go he donated "the lot”. Another man when he heard what they were doing donated quails. One man was overwhelmed by the aviary. He donated lizards.

Alastair and Eric have been impressed by the generosity of local businesses and the community in supporting their project. One woman donated speakers, a microphone and amplifier box so the bird song could be heard in the corridors. She then sent her son to install the equipment.

Alastair gets joy from the number of people who linger at the window. "There are always people standing there I have many thank you notes, We get to know the people who are coming into the hospital regularly. One particular lady who comes to chemo twice a week told me that coming to chemo she has a smile on her face and on her way out she has a triple smile, just listening to the birds.”

For Eric "it is about making it easier for the people who have to come here or the staff who just need somewhere to go and reflect sometimes. We love watching the reactions.”

So from one man’s desire to make a difference to patients a community has been formed with a common goal – to improve the patient experience.


Bernadette Brady, member of The Beryl Institute, has 40 years experience in the Australian health sector as a registered nurse, manager and change agent. She now works with health facilities to improve their knowledge of the patient experience and partnering with patients.

Tags:  Australia  Calvary Health Care  Canberra  Community  Gardening  Hospital  Patient Experience 

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