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Christopher Doughterty: Understanding the hidden life of trees – and hospitals

This commentary is from Christopher J. Dougherty, President and CEO of Brattleboro Memorial Hospital.

Arguably, our big brains make human beings the most intelligent species on Earth. Yet it is only now that we are coming to a full scientific and perhaps even spiritual appreciation of the deep and interconnected relationship we have with the natural world.

As Peter Wohlleben’s 2015 book “The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries of a Secret World” teaches us, trees are actually smart! And not only do they play an invaluable role in keeping our planet healthy, but they have sophisticated survival strategies and coping mechanisms that are easily overlooked or taken for granted by the untrained eye.

I would argue that just as trees are essential to life and the future of the planet, community hospitals like Brattleboro Memorial Hospital have a similar role in the areas they serve. As such, we must nurture, support and guide these vital community assets or we put ourselves in jeopardy.

As Wohlleben explains, trees are the lungs of our planet. They remove carbon dioxide from the air, replace it with vital oxygen and thus ensure the continuity of the essential cycle of water and CO2 on Earth.

At Brattleboro Memorial, we do the same for our community. As a major employer and not-for-profit healthcare provider, we exist to promote and improve community health and provide essential lifeblood both as an economic driver and as a steward and promoter of quality of life. .

Fittingly, the Brattleboro Memorial Hospital logo design is based on a tree. And just like many living trees, Brattleboro Memorial has deep roots. These roots play a crucial role in keeping our community healthy, stable, and resistant to forces that would otherwise seek to erode our foundations.

I look to Brattleboro Memorial’s role in Southern Vermont’s battle against the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as a shining example of the importance of having deep, healthy roots. If we failed to maintain and nurture these roots, our community members would suffer, illness and injury would prevail, access to care would deteriorate, and jobs would be lost.

Wohlleben argues (and research supports) that trees are able to learn and adapt to both danger and injury. He also asserts that trees are social beings able to recognize their own relatives, share food and communicate with each other.

Likewise, Brattleboro Memorial is a social organization that is constantly learning, changing, adapting and evolving. As we emerge from the pandemic, for example, Brattleboro Memorial is poised to transform into a forward-thinking, values-driven healthcare system that prioritizes wellness and overall health. of the people we serve.

As a result of the pandemic and related challenges such as inflation and labor shortages, it’s fair to say that Brattleboro Memorial, like most hospitals across the country, has been hurt. Our current financial outlook is threatened; yet, like our beloved trees, we cope and adapt by devising new survival strategies.

To protect against further injury, Brattleboro Memorial has presented the Green Mountain Care Board with a proposed fiscal year 2023 budget that we believe is reasonable and responsible. This is because it is focused on stabilizing the Brattleboro Memorial and the long term continuity of our mission.

Part of the difficulty in understanding trees is that trees live in different time periods than we do. Most live decades or centuries longer than the average human being, which makes us think they are somehow permanent and immune to threats. Hospitals can suffer from the same misconception, and that’s why we need to take thoughtful steps to ensure they remain viable for our communities today and for future generations.

I’ll end with a final concept from Wohlleben’s book, which is that trees help each other. As such, they depend on their ecosystem, and their ecosystem depends on them. Brattleboro Memorial’s sole purpose is to serve this wonderful community. This community is extremely dependent on the hospital; and the hospital, in turn, is extremely dependent on this community.

Soon I will be meeting with the Green Mountain Care Board to review Brattleboro Memorial’s proposed budget and hopefully gain approval so we can stabilize our hospital. Just as we need the life-giving gifts of the beautiful trees around us, this community needs the Brattleboro Memorial to continue to serve as a treasured center of hope, health and healing.

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Tags: Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, budget proposal, Christopher Dougherty, Green Mountain Care Board, The Hidden Life of Trees

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