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St. Mary’s Hospital kids use recycling to recuperate

Excited youngsters at St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital in Bayside got the opportunity Friday to express their creative side through an arts-and-crafts activity that was therapeutic for both the patients and the environment.

Children in the hospital’s outpatient program spent the afternoon using recycled materials such as cans, water bottles, cardboard boxes, packing supplies and recycled paper into trash art.

City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), chairman of the Council’s Environmental Protection Committee, stopped by the hospital, at 29-01 216 St., to observe and participate in the art therapy program with those whom he called the next generation of environmental stewards.

“All of our children are so well-versed on issues of recycling and sustainability,” he said. “To the extent that kids are getting started so early, the government’s job gets that much easier.”

St. Mary’s provides long-term rehabilitation and special care for approximately 4,000 children in nine counties in the metropolitan area. They have 97 beds available for their in-patient program and the bulk of the care is done in-home to rehabilitate the children and educate their parents on their care needs. Many of the children suffer from complications stemming from premature birth.

The therapeutic recreation was planned by a group of 18- to 25-year-old patients who participate in the hospital’s young adult program while learning community service and life skills.

“It really correlates with civic responsibility. They’re learning life skills,” said Eileen Chisari, senior vice president of administration and organizational development.

Once completed, the trash art projects will go on display in the hospital’s lobby.

Tina Hess, chairwoman of the green team, said the hospital’s green initiatives began in 2005, when its workers began reporting suspicious health problems.

“We started noticing our staff had small respiratory issues related to typical cleaners, like asthma acting up. We figured if this is harmful to our staff, well, our kids are so fragile,” she said. “What else could we do?”

After replacing the harmful chemicals with green cleaners, Hess said she turned her attention toward mercury. In 2006, St. Mary’s reduced the amount of mercury in the hospital by more than 80 percent and in the process won the Making Medicine Mercury-Free award from Hospitals for a Healthy Environment.

In 2010, the hospital recycled 39.65 tons of paper, or the equivalent of 673 trees.

Right next door to the hospital, which was built in the 1950s, construction is underway on the new patient pavilion. While no additional beds will be added, Chisari said when it is completed in about 14 months, the new facility’s larger rooms will help significantly cut down on the number of four-bedroom rooms.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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