After 21 years as a horticultural therapist at Wesley Woods Hospital, a geriatric facility in Atlanta, Georgia, Kirk Hines is moving on. “It is not that they did not value the service, but there are always changes and budgetary cuts in hospitals,” he explains. As luck would have it, an administrator at Wesley Woods who happens to be the current CEO at A.G. Rhodes Health & Rehab had his eye on Hines’ HT program as well as on the music therapy program. He promptly hired the two therapists to start similar programs at A.G. Rhodes Health & Rehab, a not-for-profit long-term care facility for frail elderly patients founded in 1904. “It was heartbreaking to leave the program that I created and directed for 21 years but the new program at AGR has exciting potential.” In a deal between his former employer and his new one, he was able to take with him his greenhouses and funds he had raised, which will help him kickstart his new projects.
Designing gardens and programs for 3 facilities
“A couple years ago, I designed a garden for rehab patients at A.G. Rhodes with Marguerite Koepke, a retired landscape professor from the University of Georgia. We turned a courtyard into a therapeutic space used by therapists. But there was no horticultural therapist on staff until now,” Hines says. He is starting with a clean slate, designing an HT program for all three of A.G. Rhodes’ facilities around Atlanta. Since he was hired in November 2013, Hines has been educating the staff about horticultural therapy. “I explain how it can benefit residents and dovetail with other services.” Another important step is assessing needs. “We meet with the staff and residents to understand how they use those spaces and what their needs are.”
“I now have three facilities for which I’m designing horticultural therapy programs and gardens. Each of the three buildings has lots of potential,” Hines explains. “At one facility, a patio garden for dementia patients has been cleaned up and organized. We planted stuff we grew ourselves and I am doing therapy sessions”. His ultimate goal is to transform the general landscaping at the three facilities into entirely therapeutic landscapes he describes as “calm, welcoming, peaceful, healthy, lush and inviting.” Into those therapeutic landscapes, he wants to incorporate spaces for active therapy and outdoor meeting spaces for visitors. Fund raising will be essential in achieving his vision. He feels lucky that A.G. Rhodes has a full time development director ready to help him with this task.
Hines, who received a degree in ornamental horticulture with a concentration in horticultural therapy and interned at now-closed Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital, is passionate on the topic of HT training. “We need to align our academics with physical therapists and occupational therapists. They are less likely to get laid off…” he points out. He also shares his opinion about internships. “I would like to have interns here because there is more work than I can do alone at just one building, let alone three. I believe in traditional interns because you need a clinician to observe the intern. Allowing distance internships is overly accommodating.” For now, Hines feels incredibly lucky to have a new job and such an exciting challenge ahead of him.