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Hospital's Garden of Sobriety May Sprout Rows of Cars

  • Subject: [cg] Hospital's Garden of Sobriety May Sprout Rows of Cars
  • From: adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Wed, 14 Jun 2006 11:19:12 -0400

Published: June 14, 2006
When Charles Flax talks about the small garden tucked just behind the Bellevue
Hospital Center, it becomes clear that the space is more than a few vegetable
beds and a tool shed.
It is one place where, Mr. Flax, 60, said, he has restored his dignity.
"You're working from the ground up with people who respect you, who share
knowledge with you, and they trust you," Mr. Flax said. "You're with people
who believe in growth."
Mr. Flax is a client of Bellevue's chemical dependency outpatient program, and
has spent about three months working to control an alcohol addiction. The
garden, he says, has been an integral part of his therapy.
But Mr. Flax is frustrated, along with other clients and some of the program's
staff members, because the garden as he knows it is threatened.
In mid-July, Bellevue Hospital plans to turn the green space into a parking
lot, expanding a lot that sits on the garden's west side.
And while there will be a smaller spot for the garden, in a more public
location, it will take quite a while to return it to its present state,
according to many of those who have put their sweat into it.
That's a sacrifice the hospital will make, its spokesman, James Saunders,
said, to make room for the East River Science Park, a commercial bioscience
park that he says will "put New York City on the map for biotech development."
Construction of the park is to begin this year east of First Avenue between
28th and 29th Streets.
The garden will be converted into a parking lot for some of the hospital's
clinical staff, he said, making up for spaces lost across the campus.
"This is a very sensitive balancing act you have to do," Mr. Saunders said.
"It's a wonderful program, and we recognize the therapeutic benefits of
participating in it.
"The other thing we recognize is that we have to get staff into the hospital
to care for those most vulnerable of patients," he said.
The hospital has offered a new space for the garden on First Avenue, where
there is a public green space at the hospital's entrance, but, Mr. Saunders
said, "it will probably not be the same size or scope of the existing
Annatina Miescher, 51, who is the director of the chemical dependency
outpatient program, started the garden in 1989, though it was moved from its
original location in December 2000, for the construction of another parking
lot. In July 2005, a section was dug up to replace underground diesel tanks.
But through the changes, Ms. Miescher has worked with the program's clients
most Saturdays and Sundays to maintain the garden, install an irrigation
system and build new beds, benches and trellises. She uses her own money to
pay a small stipend to those who help on weekends.
Ms. Miescher has also personally maintained the garden at the cost of about
$30,000 a year, according to clients and some hospital employees working in
the garden yesterday.
Ms. Miescher declined to be interviewed because she said she felt it might
jeopardize her job.
Bob Ferrell, 55, a client in the program for two years, said the garden is a
labor of love for Ms. Miescher, and for him it's far more.
"Being on my knees all day in the sun b it's like you're back to life
again," Mr. Ferrell said. "This place has saved my life."
Matt Neff, 42, a recovering drug addict, compared working in the garden to
conquering his addiction.
"I'm learning to nurture the plants like I nurture my disease," Mr. Neff said.
"I have to be on guard to keep it in line."
Mr. Neff said the hospital's staff enjoys the space as well.
"They talk with me and ask me questions. It's a haven for them," Mr. Neff
said. "When it's a parking lot, what are they going to do? Lean against a
Lyle Frank, chairman of the human services committee of Community Board 6,
which oversees the area, said the hospital's plan to move the garden is
expected to be discussed at a meeting next week. Among other points related to
the East River Science Park's construction, he said, the committee is looking
for a "good plan that's going to protect the sobriety garden."
Tonight, at Community Board 6's full board meeting, some of the program's
clients plan to present their case, as well.
"It's just a shame to lose it," Mr. Ferrell said. "Does Bellevue really need
another parking lot?"
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