San Franciscans familiar with Laguna Honda often describe the hospital’s impressive Spanish Colonial-style exterior, or the colorful 800-foot mural that surrounds it. But few—unless they’re a patient, staffer or family member—have actually stepped inside the 156-year-old public nursing home that now faces a federal order to shut down by Nov. 13.
We went inside and discovered a modern facility that belies the stately, 1920s-era exterior. We also met four goats, two pigs and many ducks that live on the property, plus toured the facility’s two indoor pools, art studio and hair salon.
Laguna Honda resident Chasity Smith, 43, has spent four and a half years at the facility, ever since she suffered a massive stroke that left her unable to care for herself. She’s now in the process of being discharged and preparing to live on her own. It’s the pools, Smith said, that most helped her regain mobility.
“My swimming classes helped me walk,” she said. “Swimming therapy teaches your body and your muscles to do more.”
After the interview, Smith headed to the break room to play some Bingo, another popular facility activity.
The farm animals—goats, pigs, rabbits and other creatures—are part of Laguna Honda’s therapeutic farm and garden. Residents visiting the animals are able to experience an emotional connection while practicing mobility skills under the guidance of the farm’s full-time activity therapist.
Other hospital amenities include an art studio where residents can craft, a hair salon and barbershop and a community garden with different types of terrain, ranging from old Muni tracks to cobblestone, so residents can practice walking or wheeling over ground types they’d encounter in the city.
The hospital also houses a pharmacy, a mock apartment so residents can practice living independently, medical clowns, a chapel and services, as well as fish tanks hospital-wide. Laguna Honda Hospital also offers 24/7 physician care.
As the hospital faces a federally-mandated closure, many of the people who work and live there say the institution’s existential crisis makes them cherish all the more the innovative therapies and services it offers.
“They did a lot of different therapies with me to get me to where I’m at,” Smith said. “Look at me. I needed this hospital—and look where I am now.”
Reporting contributed by Camille Cohen and Mike Kuba.