Sigurd H. Ackerman, MD, president and medical director of the behavioral health facility, Silver Hill Hospital in Connecticut, arrived at the organization from the general hospital industry where behavioral health leaders often become accustomed to being housed in the least appealing settings. At the behavioral health-focused Silver Hill he would have an opportunity to strive for something better—not to create a spa-like environment for addiction and mental health patients, but to build on a setting intended to offer patients a dignified experience.
In the president’s message on the 82-year-old Silver Hill’s website, Ackerman states that “we wholeheartedly continue to embrace the belief that the environment of treatment is a powerful adjunct to the techniques of treatment.”
Silver Hill’s 43-acre campus provides many intrinsic advantages for patients, who, Ackerman says, arrive to treatment in a demoralized state and are not pleased with much that is happening in their lives. While clinical treatment for addictions and mental health disorders remains the cornerstone of the individual’s experience at Silver Hill, Ackerman adds in regard to the tranquil, suburban campus setting, “It’s amazing what sitting for a half hour beside a stream can do for someone.”
He adds, “When patients work in our garden, they gain a different perspective about their place in the world. Then when they go to groups they’re somewhat different people.”
Ackerman says that when he arrived at Silver Hill in 2003 the organization had completed acquisition of a number of houses to expand the hospital’s capacity, but he called the overall campus only “potentially beautiful” at the time because some buildings were in disrepair. The organization embarked on a major renovation of buildings and grounds in 2005, and since 2006, a total of six units that house patients have been refurbished.
At one point, leaders were considering making one treatment site considerably more appealing than the rest of the campus facilities, essentially creating a “high-end” treatment option within the operation. Yet Ackerman says that idea ultimately was rejected in favor of making all facilities equally attractive.
New Haven, Conn-based architect Richard Turlington has served as Silver Hill’s design consultant since the organization launched its renovation plans in 2005. Ackerman says Turlington’s work helped Silver Hill project a bright but still warm appearance in its renovations, using colors such as light blues and lime greens and featuring natural light through ample use of windows and skylights (many of the old houses on campus had low ceilings and were not particularly inviting spaces).
“The setting can have a profound impact on the recovery process,” Ackerman says. On the inpatient unit, in which most patients access their commercial insurance coverage for treatment, from an aesthetic standpoint “you wouldn’t know if you’re in an inpatient hospital or a hotel,” he says.
Campus amenities include a gym with a full-size basketball court, exercise equipment and a pool. But patients also derive a great deal from simpler features, such as the ample outdoor space for taking a quiet stroll with a buddy, or perhaps stopping momentarily at a bridge during the walk to dinner to watch trout swim.