A Place for Healing

renovation of eating disorders unit

A newly renovated eating disorders unit will emphasize natural light and fresh air. 

An estimated 20 million women and 10 million men will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) Somerset offers one of only two inpatient programs in New Jersey. In addition to inpatient care, the hospital provides partial hospitalization (five hours per day, five days per week) and intensive outpatient services for patients ages 14 and older. A multidisciplinary team of psychiatrists, nurses, licensed clinical social workers, registered dietitians, occupational therapists, physical therapists and teachers works together to address patients’ medical problems, including physical and emotional concerns.

The hospital recently began a complete transformation of the Eating Disorders Unit. The new space will be warm and comfortable, and it will maximize natural light and fresh air. By moving outpatient care to a different building on the hospital campus, the inpatient unit will have 20 beds, up from 14. “The ambiance will be one of healing,” says Shirley Rajan, MD, a psychiatrist in the Eating Disorders Unit. “It will promote self-reflection.”

Meeting the needs of inpatients

The $89 million renovation will include a healing garden, which blends nature and fresh air. This is important for patients because it can motivate them to continue treatment, says Dr. Rajan. “Nature has a healing power,” she says. Patients will be able to plant a garden, watch it grow and learn about good nutrition, says Lysa Israel, Vice President of the Somerset Health Care Foundation.

There will also be quiet areas for small group therapy sessions and activities like yoga and meditation. “Patients with eating disorders often have other behavioral health problems, and research shows that meditation and medication are the most benefcial therapies,” says Dr. Rajan. The new space will also accommodate family members, who are an integral part of the treatment team. Adolescent and adult patients over the age of 18 will be placed in separate healing environments. “While both groups need nature and quiet time, their needs are different,” says Dr. Rajan. “Adults are dealing with work and life events, while adolescents are in school and may be coping with issues like bullying.”

The unit’s ambient lighting will reflect circadian rhythms, helping to promote sleep, which is important for healing. They will be at their lowest levels at night. The renovations are expected to be complete by the end of this year. “The space will feel homey and comfortable,” says Israel. The Foundation, which has already raised $1 million for the renovation, is aiming to raise $3 million more. “This will give us the ability to furnish the space and create the outdoor space,” says Israel. Dr. Rajan is most excited about the healing garden. “Greenery brings about peace within us,” she says.

For more information on how to support Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset’s Eating Disorders Program, call the Somerset Health Care Foundation at 908.685.2885.