The community surrounding Swedish Covenant Hospital is buzzing about the new eight-story medical building opening this month at the corner of Foster and California avenues. There is also a buzz coming from the building itself.
Since April, more than 60,000 bees have resided on the clover-covered green roof of the Foster Medical Pavilion. Dr. Tony Vancauwelaert, an amateur beekeeper and family medicine physician at Swedish Covenant Hospital, hopes they are here to stay.
“The bees are the first residents of the new building — and maybe the hardest working too,” he said.
Dr. Vancauwelaert (known to many as Dr. V) is the brains behind the roof-top hive, which he constructed, installed and now tends.
“Last year when I learned that the new building was going to be a green building with clover on the roof, I figured this would be a great place for a bee colony,” he said, explaining that bees thrive with easy access to plants like clover — which can be hard to come by in the city.
He presented his idea to Swedish Covenant Hospital’s CEO Mark Newton. A student of beekeeping himself, Newton agreed, and the plan was put in place.
The Buzz on Environmental Health
While beekeeping is a hobby for both Dr. Vancauwelaert and Newton, the bees are not just for entertainment. Their presence directly impacts the community, specifically in the five-mile radius around the hospital — any area where the majority of Swedish Covenant Hospital’s patients reside.
“Bees will pollinate local fruit trees, flowering plants, gardens and landscaping,” Dr. Vancauwelaert said. “They will improve air quality, the beauty of this area and local food production.”
Swedish Covenant Hospital is not the only home for registered, cultivated bees in the city. City Hall, the Cultural Center and the Marriott Hotel all have rooftop hives registered with the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s Bee and Apiaries Program, a service designed to protect domestic beehives in the state.
Nevertheless, the bee population in Chicago and throughout the world is at risk.
Known as the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), bee loss has been a growing issue since the winter of 2006-2007 when beekeepers nationwide began to report excessive losses of their bees. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), possible catalysts of CCD include emerging diseases, pests, poor nutrition, pollution and pesticide poisoning.
The EPA is working on finding a remedy for CCD. In the meantime they depend on independent and community beekeepers and hives — like Dr. V’s Bees at Swedish Covenant Hospital — to boost local bee populations and provide bees with a healthy environment in which they can thrive.
The Buzz on Personal Health
The chance to give back to the environment was just one of the reasons that Dr. Vancauwelaert started exploring beekeeping three years ago and decided to start the hive at the hospital last year. Another draw was the mental health benefits.
“When I started [beekeeping], my mom thought I had lost my mind,” Dr. Vancauwelaert said, explaining that he was really just happy to find a hobby that was so interesting and engaging — something he often recommends to his patients to relieve stress and promote relaxation.
Personally, he has found beekeeping to be intellectually stimulating, educational, very satisfying and a great opportunity to get away, be outside and enjoy some solitude.
He believes that beekeeping has helped him stay balanced despite his busy schedule and that it can be very therapeutic for anyone, in the same way as gardening. He adds that anyone can be a beekeeper with the right training and dedication.
For those who hesitate in fear of the stingers that may accompany fresh honey, Dr. Vancauwelaert says you can rest easy:
“More people are killed by lightning than by a bee sting,” Dr. Vancauwelaert said, explaining that bees are rarely aggressive and almost never lethal.
If an occasional bee sting does occur, he recommends removing the stinger, applying pressure with a cool, damp wash cloth and taking an over-the-counter pain reliever. If you are in severe pain or there is swelling, take an antihistamine. If you suspect a serious allergic reaction or are short of breath, call 911.
The Buzz on Community Health
In addition to beautifying our plants, supporting local edible gardens and providing beekeepers with personal enjoyment, the bees from the Foster Medical Pavilion rooftop provide our neighborhood with the sweetest service yet — honey.
Dr. Vancauwelaert explained that it may take a year for the hive on the rooftop to produce a steady stream of harvestable honey, but once fully functioning, it will produce more than 80 pounds of harvestable honey for human consumption and use.
Details are still being worked out on exactly how the honey from hospital rooftop will be used, but it may be donated in clinical units for a variety of uses.
Honey has long been used as a vitamin-packed sweetener and alternative to sugar in recipes, as well as a natural way to soothe sore throats and upset stomachs. The use of honey in Western medicine is also increasing, thanks to its unique make-up and health benefits.
According to Dr. Vancauwelaert, honey can serve as a homeopathic ointment to prevent infection in wounds, as it is a sterile and prevents the growth of bacteria. It can inhibit allergens — a perk that specifically benefits local residents.
“Eating locally-produced honey can inhibit airborne allergens,” Dr. Vancauwelaert said. “Because the bees draw from the spores of local plants, eating local honey can build-up antibodies in your system.”
Honey for Good Health
There are hundreds of uses for honey. Here are a few of Dr. Vancauwelaert’s favorites:
Coughs and colds
For centuries, Greeks, Hungarians and Italians used honey for throat aches and colds. A teaspoon of this mix every two to three hours will help ease a cough.
• 1 teaspoon of lemon juice
• 1 teaspoon of honey
• 1 teaspoon of vinegar
For a sore throat, mix the ingredients below in a cup with hot water. A mug of this drink twice a day will relieve and prevent future pain.
• ¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
• ½ teaspoon of ground ginger
• 1 tablespoon of honey
Accounts from arthritis patients show that wax treatment may be a source of pain relief for some. Hot wax reduces stiffness caused by inflammation in the joints. Only two ingredients are needed for the wax.
• 5 lb of beeswax
• 2 cups of mineral oil
Begin by heating your oven 100 degrees Celsius. Put the beeswax and mineral oil in an ovenproof dish and heat the ingredients until the wax has melted. Stir the beeswax and oil together every few minutes.
Next, let the mixture cool until it is comfortably warm. Dip in the area of your body affected by arthritis in the mixture. When treating your hands, spread the fingers apart.
Repeat this process until there is a thick coat of the wax on the affected area. Once it has cooled off, simply remove and peel off the wax.
Beauty at Home
Besides being a healthy alternative to sugar in your tea, honey also carries antibacterial properties. And unlike skin products sold at the store, honey is inexpensive and does not dry out your skin.
The National Honey Board provides a firming face mask recipe, which can be made at home:
• 1 tablespoon of honey
• 1 egg white
• 1 teaspoon glycerin
• Flour to form a paste
Mix the ingredients together and apply over your face and throat. After leaving the mask on for about ten minutes, wash off with warm water.