Walk the Talk with Danna Olsen

March 19, 2012 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

One day as Danna Olsen was in her apartment, she noticed that her roof was leaking. After hearing about green roofs and seeing their beauty she wondered how feasible it would be for her roof to become a potential green roof. Little did she know that it was the beginning of an amazing journey that is still unfolding.

Danna works as a nursing assistant in the Neurosciences Unit working with many patients whom are bedridden and unable to get up without assistance. Many of these patients spend their days lying in bed, unable to move starring out the window at only gravel and cement. Her patient care experience and participation in UW Hospital’s Green Steps Committee, devoted to greening the hospital, inspired Danna to begin proposing a green roofing project at the hospital to benefit patients.  Her educational background is in Ecology but she has always been passionate about public health issues. This project was an opportunity to bring those two interests together. Exploring green roofs at UW Hospital is strongly supported by both the Green Steps Committee and the Health and Healing Committee, which provide integrative programs related to stress management like Sound Health (musical performances) and Dogs on Call (pet therapy).


Patient's View

Nearby the Neurosciences unit there is a small open air terrace with a few picnic tables and an outdated basketball hoop. Despite this area’s bleak appearance, patients and staff enjoy it as a place to get away. Patients enjoy the sun’s warmth, the break it provides from the commotion indoors, and others just enjoy relaxing in a new environment with fresh air and sunshine.

Fortunately, Danna has witnessed the importance of this small area firsthand. She described an experience she had with a patient last spring who had dementia and was recovering from a stroke.   She was confused and frustrated with the change in her routine and was wringing her hands and crying, wanting to go home. Danna decided to bring her to this terrace area. Within a few moments this patient was silently enjoying the sun’s rays, closing her eyes and smiling. They then began to shoot hoops from her wheelchair (she had been a basketball player when she was young). Danna described this experience with tears of joy in her eyes saying how much a difference these small moments can make on a patient’s day. It is moments like these that are always on the minds of those in the Health and Healing Committee.



The Haberman Solarium will be impacted by an upcoming renovation project.  As this rooftop is also due for replacement, there is the potential to explore replacing the existing roof with a garden style green roof in the future.  This is one of two sites identified as being suited for a green roof with patient access.  There is also a non-rooftop site by UW Hospital’s surgical waiting area and the Veteran’s Hospital’s rehabilitation area that could become a great site for a healing garden.


Danna was part of a subgroup of the Health and Healing Committee who work with University Landscape Architecture students under Professor Harrington to design plans for other spaces. Not only have these designs blown the committee away, but they have stirred up conversation around the topic.

These innovative designs have proven that these projects are feasible, safe, and beneficial to the patients and the environments. Some students’ designs incorporated rainwater drainage infrastructure, innovative rehabilitation areas, and unique plant choices for beauty and functionality. This partnership has catapulted the project closer and closer toward materializing.

These outdoor natural spaces give patients a reason to get out of bed and walk around which can improve their recovery and move up their release date. This small mode of motivation can improve their attitude daily, give them a less stressful stay, and the opportunity to truly relax and recover.

The next obstacle is financially funding the projects. Even though there are more people aware and excited for this project, there is still a need for funds to make it a reality. Danna is working with Erica Gill, Facilities Planner, on potential fundraising and grant options for the project as we speak. If you are interested in getting involved or donating to the cause visit http://www.uwhealth.org/health-and-healing/health-and-healing/27066 and click the red “Donate” or the “Contact Health and Healing” tab for more information.


Great example of the possibilities.

Danna’s passionate for green roofs and her patients are unbelievable and undeniable throughout our entire interview. I was fortunate enough to meet her and get to know about the projects that inspire her. Danna is also on the board of the Healthy Lawn Team and a member of the Downtown Community Gardens Group. For more information visit http://greeningmadison.com/.


Enact Intern Kelsey


Entry filed under: community, other, sustainability.

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