PFCC, Child & Family Life Connects Patients, Families with Nature

Many family members of UMHS patients spend countless hours at their loved one’s bedside. Parents stay at Mott Hospital with their children for days on end. They are exposed to trauma, stress, and heartbreak and, often, caregivers do not take time for themselves. Julie Piazza, Project Manager for PFCC and Child & Family Life, has witnessed this many times. Her concern led to a study and new initiative to try to get caregivers out of the hospital, even for a short while.

“We know that parents and loved ones often don’t want to leave their child or family member, yet it’s critical to take breaks and have moments away for replenishment to help reduce compassion fatigue,” Piazza said. “Parents and caregivers need to take breaks, but how are we communicating the importance of self-care and well-being?”

Piazza worked with unit hosts throughout Mott and partnered with the Mott Patient Family Advisory Committee to create a survey to build awareness about the various amenities available to our patients and families. Then Child & Family Life Community Intern Kailyn Wiersma, along with PFCC interns Katlyn Carlin and Heidi Droste administered the survey on all pediatric, post-partum and anti-partum inpatient units.

They asked about the challenges caregivers face in leaving the bedside and taking a break. Do they know about Nichols Arboretum, a natural resource opportunity, right across from the hospital? From those responses, they then created a flyer with QR Codes linking to virtual videos and to the Arb’s website.

“We’re trying to build upon our hospitals’ connection and close proximity to the Arb,” said Piazza. “Once our families know that it’s so accessible, right across the street, they think it’s really great. It gives them hope.” Studies have shown that “simple and brief interactions with nature can produce marked increases in cognitive control.” (Berman et al, 2008, The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting with Nature, Psychological Science). In another recent study, participants who took a 15-minute walk in woods had a 16 percent decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, a 2 percent drop in blood pressure, and a 4 percent drop in heart rate. (Bowler et al, 2010).

Another way Child & Family Life Program connects patients and families with nature is through the Butterfly Explorers Program. Some caterpillars arrive special delivery to Mott and others are raised in area school classrooms. Mott hosts butterfly releases twice each year, once in June and once in September.

“Patients come in wheelchairs from all over UMHS to watch the Monarchs come out of their chrysalis and take part in the butterfly releases,” said Piazza. “The Monarchs are tagged and our families and patients can track them as they migrate to Mexico.”

There were over 200 butterflies released at each celebration this year. Staff from Leslie Science and Nature Center and the “Wild About Nature” Arboretum volunteers attend the releases to provide hands-on nature activities and engage participants in their butterfly related programs.

“We’re continuing to look for new ways to encourage patients, families and staff to care for themselves body, mind and spirit utilizing the tools we have available to us in our health system and Ann Arbor,” said Piazza, who also mentioned that they are recruiting more gardeners to volunteer in the Mott Healing Garden beginning again in May, 2017.

For more information about these or other PFCC/Child and Family Life programs, contact Julie Piazza at 734-232-5629. If you would like to donate to the Healing Butterfly Program and Garden, please go to


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