MGH Institute Fights Climate Change, One Tree at a Time

By Andrew Criscione

MGH Institute of Health Professions Professor Patrice Nicholas recently was taking a lunchtime walk in the Charlestown Navy Yard when she noticed there was a row of young trees along 8th Street, which runs adjacent to the school’s Catherine Filene Shouse academic building.

On the trees were small signs, placed by the Boston Parks and Recreation department, that read in part: “Help me grow strong. Newly planted trees require 15-20 gallons of water once a week during normal weather conditions, and twice a week during drought, for the first two years after planting.” It appeared to Dr. Nicholas that written pleas were going unheeded, since seven of the 22 trees were dying, and five already had died. It was a situation about which she felt compelled to do something.

“Here was an example of desperately needed advocacy about climate change, and right in our back yard,” said Nicholas, a nurse who is director of the school’s Center for Climate Change, Climate Justice, and Health, a first-of-its-kind nurse-led initiative that focuses on addressing ways health care professionals can respond to the impact of climate change.

As someone who has published research on the effects of global warming, as well as being co-author of the best-selling textbook Global Health Nursing in the 21st Century, Nicholas knows the issue has far-reaching ramifications. “It might seem like a small thing, but having healthy trees in the city are important because they help combat urban heat islands and air pollution,” she said.

Nicholas reached out around campus, looking for volunteers interested in participating in a watering effort. Thirteen students who are part of the student club Acts of Service (AOS) and two employees from the Staff Council stepped up. The student club used some of its funds to purchase plastic watering cans and the Office of Campus Services chipped in by providing an outside hose and storage space for the cans.

Watering each tree is no simple feat for the volunteers who have been assigned specific ones for which to care. It requires each person to lug a two-gallon watering can as many as 10 times and pour it into the burlap water holder bags at each base.

“As students in the health professions, there is an added importance of helping people be active in the community,” said Holly Ann Sullivan, SLP ’20, co-chair of the student service club. Added co-chair Courtney Perrigo, SLP ’20, “Thinking of all the ways climate affects people’s health, street trees are so important when it comes to walkability, clean air, and mental health. Sometimes they are the only greenery in a neighborhood.”

Other student volunteers are Sarah Blushi, SLP ’20; Bridget Carroll, OTD ’22; Caroline Colorusso, SLP ’20, Elise Gallegos, SLP ’20, Sarah Gutz, SHBT student; Tamsin Kennedy, DPT ’22, Maria McGurrin, MS-Nursing ’21, Grace Moran, OTD ’22, Hannah Margaret Rowold, OTD ’21; Allie Triola, DPT ’22; and Tri Vo, OTD ’22. Staffers Val Grande from the Office of Information Technology and Liz Pipes from the Office of the President also have volunteered.

“Our contractor is required to water, but when there’s a particularly hot summer it’s great to have this additional help,” said Greg Mosman, city arborist, superintendent of tree maintenance, and tree warden. “The trees need all they can get.” MGH Institute of Health Professions speech-language pathology students Holly Ann Sullivan (L) and Courtney Perrigo (R), water trees along 8th Street next to the school’s campus, accompanied by Professor of Nursing Patrice Nicholas.

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