ALBANY, Ga. -- There has been another development within Albany's hospice community that the region can be proud of.
Willson Hospice House, which opened its doors in May, has become the first health care facility worldwide to receive certification as an Audubon International Silver Signature Sanctuary.
Audubon International is an environmental education organization established in 1987. The hospice house was part of an Audubon Signature Program, which is designed to help create new developments into environmentally-sound projects. Completion of the program led to a certification.
"We not only passed, but we passed with one of the highest certifications," said John Fischer, senior vice president of facilities and construction management at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital.
The designation ensures the building is designed to achieve both economic and environmental objectives, and that sustainable resource management practices are applied in the long-term stewardship of the property.
"Going forward, the campus will continue to meet these objectives," said David Smith, project manager for KLMK Group.
A resource advisory committee was established to focus on the project goals and was comprised of individuals from the community including an ornithologist, a botanist, wildlife organization representatives, a waste management specialist and a county extension agent.
A natural resources management plan was developed and implemented to ensure best practices including green building, best management and wildlife and habitat enhancement. A case study of the project will be developed to showcase how the facility was completed in an environmentally-friendly manner.
The building was structured to minimize the human footprint caused by construction as well as promote biodiversity. Some of the site's features include an outdoor chapel, serenity gardens, a walking trail, nature observation points on the Lopez Trail, healing gardens, nature boardwalks and chapel gardens.
"For us to receive this certification means a lot to us," said Patty Woodall, director of Albany Community Hospice and Willson Hospice House. "It's important for us to protect all the wildlife near this facility. We will help protect the environment; we have to work hard to preserve it and maintain it.
"In the long-term, (the certification) will help people know about hospice and how hospice care can benefit them."
In addition to the observation points, officials say they will eventually produce educational literature regarding the plant and animal life on the grounds.
"I can't tell you how excited I am about this (the certification)," said Genevieve Marcus, signature program coordinator for Albany Community Hospice and Willson Hospice House. "Hospice is a place of caring. We are hoping this will be a place of peace and reflection.
"This property is a jewel."
Officials with the hospice house say they expect to be able to start seeing patients within the next couple of weeks.