Hospital Opens Doors to Wellness Institute

Posted on 17 September 2009

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On the Monday before Southampton Hospital’s new Ed and Phyllis Davis Wellness Institute is to open, director of rehabilitation Craig Homis and his team of employees are waiting for furniture to be delivered, a construction crew is putting the finishing touches on the revamped space and the custodial staff is still wiping down floors and walls.

Although it would appear that Homis is scrambling to ready the institute for its official opening and ribbon cutting ceremony on Thursday, September 17, he is surprisingly calm and unfazed by the flurry of activity around him. When Homis takes a moment out of his busy schedule to discuss the Wellness institute, an idea in the pipeline for nearly five years, the empty rooms seem to fill with their anticipated use. One can picture patients stretching together in the exercise room during a yoga class or another patient having an acupuncture treatment in an examining room with wide windows and plenty of light.

For Homis, the Wellness Institute is expanding upon an integrative form of medicine the hospital already uses with its patients who suffer from chronic illnesses. The institute will offer a wide array of classes, seminars and will feature a staff of wellness experts, including a massage therapist, nutritionist and acupuncturist, in the hopes of marrying traditional clinical practices with holistic medicine.

“All of our rehabilitative programs like massage, nutrition counseling and the cancer wellness program were already offered at the hospital, but now we will be able to incorporate things like yoga, Tai Chi and meditation,” explained Marsha Kenny, Southampton Hospital’s director of marketing and public affairs.

Five years ago, staff members Cynthia Grant, the supervisor of the massage therapy program, and Jessica Swiatocha, a nurse practitioner and supervisor of the Cardio-Pulmonary Clinic and Wellness Program, were trained at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Harvard University. The knowledge they gained from this course became a template for the integrative medical practices used at the hospital.

Kenny explains that patients suffering from chronic illnesses would undergo an eight week “mind body” course to help them manage stress during their difficult treatments. The Wellness Institute houses these services in one place and expands upon the concept of balance between the mind and the body by offering other courses, like yoga and Tai Chi. As Kenny explains, the institute is meant for both individuals with chronic illnesses and those simply wishing to adopt a healthier life-style.

With a change in leadership in December of 2007, hospital president and CEO Robert Chaloner was brought in around this time, the idea of a Wellness Institute shifted from a wish to a plan as the hospital started fundraising efforts and picked a location for the institute in early 2008. However, it took almost a year to find an off site location for the business office, which originally inhabited the space, and it took another eight months for the renovations to be completed.

The hospital’s construction crew started preliminary renovations eight months ago, but their work was staggered as they focused their efforts on completing the recently opened Ellen Hermanson Breast Institute. However, the end result is a Wellness Institute unique to the East End.

“I haven’t heard about other programs like ours,” remarked Homis. “Everyone has their own version of an integrative medical program … Others are more fitness based. But we are kind of special out here.”

The institute offers classes and programs catering to every need. From art therapy to cardiac rehabilitation, the institute has a little bit of everything. Many ongoing courses, however, are focused on specific illnesses, including “Yoga for Cancer Patients” and “Diabetes: Basics and Beyond.” Other services include EEG Biofeedback to help with concentration, sleep, mood and performance, and meditation and visualization sessions. Homis believes controlling stress and eating correctly are key components in a treatment program. The institute offers a stress management course and classes on nutrition, including “Nutritional Weight,” “Culinary Nutrition,” and “Eat Healthy Your Way.”

As the institute is founded on the principal of the mind-body connection, several support groups are also administered, including one on diabetes and an eight week weight loss class. The hospital’s 700 employees are also encouraged to take advantage of the institute and monthly employee yoga and meditation sessions will be offered. Homis added that some services are covered by insurance, while others like the yoga classes will be priced reasonably to make them available to all patients.

The facilities are as much of a draw as its concept and services. There are two examining rooms, a consultation room and a large open space, which can be divided, for support groups and exercise classes. The space was renovated from its former use as a business office into a warm oasis with faux wood floors, sage green painted walls and low recessed lighting. However, the piece de resistance at the institute are the several wide windows which stream in light throughout the day. For Homis, it was especially important to be sensitive to his patients. He used non-toxic paint for the walls, hired a Feng Shui consultant to help lay out the space, and chose vinyl faux wood flooring for easy clean up. The institute is also conveniently located next to the cardiac rehabilitation center.

On Monday, Ed Davis, who with his wife Phyllis helped fund a majority of the project, poked around the institute as the coordinator of wellness services Ragan Finalborgo organized papers on her newly-arrived dark wood desk. Construction workers tooled around with a bit of wiring in the exercise room, but almost everything appeared to be under control and ready for the opening reception on Thursday, much to Homis and Kenny’s delight.

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