Growing Gardens of Hope

We talk about diminishing disparities and improving health literacy for multilingual populations on a routine basis in this blog. Approaching this from a slightly different perspective, I’d like to share Patricia Leigh Brown’s article “Seeking Serenity in a Patch of California Land” that ran in the New York Times this week which highlights a California city’s innovative approach to wellness for immigrant families.

Fresno recently created seven community gardens for immigrants, refugees and residents of impoverished neighborhoods with mental health money from the state. Gardens include the Hmong Village Community Garden, the Slavic Community Garden, the Punjabi Sikh Sarbat Bhala Community Garden and more.

Patricia shares that spending state money this way has been controversial. While, some think of it as frivolous in an era of ever diminishing resources, others believe there is true healing power in the gardens:

The thinking of community leaders and health professionals is that gardens can help foster resiliency and a sense of purpose for refugees, especially older ones, who are often isolated by language and poverty and experiencing depression and post-traumatic stress. Immigrant families often struggle to meet insurance co-payments, and culturally attuned therapists are in short supply.

In addition, it may very well be a highly cost effective solution – as many immigrant and refugee cultures do not have a tradition of formal mental health treatment. The article quotes Rocco Cheng, a psychologist and a director of the California Reducing Disparities Project, a statewide policy study, who tells us “Therapy is a Western concept. The Hmong do not have a word for mental illness.”  But, he said, they are well able to grasp the idea of mental, physical, spiritual and emotional wellness.

As we redesign the healthcare delivery and reimbursement systems with a focus on outcomes over the next few years, I applaud new ideas and novel approaches to meeting all patients, regardless of their age, illness, language or culture, in a meaningful way. This truly is a unique way to look at patient engagement.


About the author:  Karen Donovan is the VP of Healthcare for VIA. Her background encompasses working with stakeholders across a wide range of the spectrum, providing strategic solutions for health systems, providers, vendors and insurers in today’s ever evolving US healthcare delivery system. Read more from this author


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