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'Sunflower guy' beautifies the grounds at Yale New Haven Psychiatric Hospital

September 24, 2018

Although law enforcement was his professional calling, Kerry Deegan would be happy being a farmer.

The senior protective services patrol officer at Yale New Haven Psychiatric Hospital (YPH) enjoys tending the flowers and vegetables that sprout around his home in Cheshire. Closer to work, he has used his green thumb to beautify the grounds around the hospital on Liberty Street and at other Yale New Haven Health (YNHH) locations in New Haven.

Deegan, 57, is affectionately known around the hospital as the “sunflower guy.” Each year in the late spring he scatters several varieties of sunflower seeds onto the soil near the entrances to YNHH facilities. The seeds usually sprout within two weeks and grow quickly in the warm summer sun. By August, yellow, red, and pink sunflowers are in full bloom, some so tall that they tower above people’s heads.

Deegan likes to call them mood changers. “They’re just a distraction,” he said. “Maybe for a second or two it makes you forget while you’re here. The hospital loves it.”

Deegan was a police officer for 35 years – he worked almost exclusively at the Cheshire Police Department – before he retired at the rank of lieutenant eight years ago. He worked outside the industry for a few years before resuming his law enforcement career five years ago at YNHH.

With his calm demeanor and compassion for patients came a desire to beautify his surroundings at work. He has enjoyed planting flowers around his yard and at public spaces in Cheshire and thought patches of sunflowers could add color to the entrances to the psychiatric hospital, the main hospital campus on York Street, and the Saint Raphael Campus on Chapel Street.

He secured permission to throw down some seed, and the response was so positive that he expanded his plantings to other locations around the health network.

One of the largest gardens is at the entrance to YPH, where sunflowers have created a patchwork of green and yellow behind a drab concrete wall. Visitors often pause before entering the building to admire the tall plants, which generally take between 80 and 100 days after planting to mature.

“Each year we all look forward to seeing Kerry’s sunflowers at the entrance to the hospital,” said Frank Fortunati, MD, JD, Medical Director at YPH. “No matter how hard things are, seeing them, at least for me, makes me smile. They are a reminder that you can always find something to look forward to.”

Deegan pays out of his own pocket for the seed – he estimates he spends between $100-$150 a year – and does most of the seeding and plant removal in the fall by himself. He said he has a great working relationship with members of the YNHH landscape team who support his efforts and appreciate his commitment to beautifying the grounds.

“It’s my way to give back. It’s just something I like,” Deegan said. “The reason I work here is I like to see people get better. It’s a huge reward.”

Submitted by Christopher Gardner on September 24, 2018