Drive onto the Middletown campus of Connecticut Valley Hospital, the state’s major psychiatric and substance abuse treatment facility, you’ll notice several greenhouses and a vegetable garden.
Inside the greenhouses you’ll see hundreds of poinsettias that will soon be sold to the public in time for the holidays – a Technicolor testimonial to an unheralded but remarkably successful greenhouse operation that sharpens the vocational skills of hospital patients and seeds a self-sustaining patient activity fund.
“We teach our clients how to plant and harvest throughout the year,” said AFSCME Local 2663 member Paul Bellantuono, a vocational rehabilitation counselor at the hospital. “It’s a real boost to their self-esteem.”
Bellantuono, along with fellow counselors and Local 2663 members Scott Mason, Emily Mellon and Lisa Stillwell are among the CVH employees who oversee the CVH greenhouse program that sells plants and other holiday items throughout the year.
“This is real work. Our expectations [for patients] are high in order to mirror what they face when they transition back to the community,” Bellantuono said, noting that clients are paid the state minimum wage for their work.
Mason said the program is win-win all the way around. “We’re meeting the vocational needs of our patients while putting out a good product to appeal to the community,” he explained.
Proceeds from the sale of plants and related items (such as wreaths, log boxes and candle holders) subsidize the activity fund that provides recreational, therapeutic and educational activities for CVH patients -- thereby saving taxpayer dollars.
Mellon, who has a background in greenhouse work, sees a clear therapeutic value in the undertaking. “This program provides an excellent work experience for our patients. It takes them out of the office and into nature,” she noted. “It’s good for their recovery.”
The CVH greenhouse program has expanded to include vegetable gardening, with patient workers harvesting produce that is used in meals prepared in a small retail café located on campus.
“I’m so proud of our members,” Local 2663 Vice President Marybeth Hill said. “They’ve done a lot with a little.”