Hospital Strives To Make A Difference With ‘Healing Arts’

Make no mistake about it — no one enjoys having to stay in a hospital. To most people, the very idea generally brings up images of health problems, uncomfortable tests, anxious moments, and unpleasant surroundings.
Hold on there, say health care workers at Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, who are trying to make those stereotypes about unpleasant surroundings go away completely.

To that end, hospital administrators began two years ago to study ways to improve the aesthetic experience of going to the hospital — whether as a patient, visitor, or worker. But the idea wasn’t just to gloss over the negative aspects of a hospital stay; the goal was to create an atmosphere of health and healing that benefits everyone in the facility and complements the physical treatment patients receive.

Last year, the first aspects were unveiled of what was dubbed the Franklin Medical Center Healing Arts Project. Concerts from local musicians are presented monthly, and local artists display their work on the hospital walls. Courtyards and gardens have been redesigned, and food service has been upgraded. And that’s just for starters.

The result? A year later, doctors, nurses, and patients are all praising the efforts to apply the benefits of the humanities and nature into the healing process. To hear them tell it, the program simply works. More scientific studies of how these factors affect patients’ health are promised for early this year, but organizers are confident that those studies will uncover positive things.

Why? According to Jeanine Young-Mason, one of the program’s co-directors, patients are affected in more ways than one by clean air, soothing music, stimulating artwork on the walls, easily available ‘comfort foods,’ and an emphasis on the healing powers of nature outdoors.

They also need to feel welcomed and cared about at the hospital, so part of the program stresses the need for staff to be compassionate to everyone they deal with, and children have a new play area in the Emergency Department to take some of the sting out of their stay. If the hospital is going to be a healing center, she said, that starts with a healing environment.

Can factors as simple as art and nature really make a difference? It clearly can’t hurt. What Franklin Medical Center has done is to make a real effort to improve care in unconventional ways.

It’s a good lesson for other hospitals in the Bay State, most of whom are cash-strapped, understaffed, and struggling with budgets in the red due partly to poor state funding. On one side, they see legislators making insufficient efforts to improve institutions’ financial state, and on the other side, shortages of nurses and specialists in fields ranging from radiology to cardiology have made it more difficult to mete out proper care on those tight budgets.

And then, here is a hospital that is making a difference in the way patients feel by using methods that have nothing to do with staffing or finances. Bringing in local artists and musicians, who are surely happy for the opportunity, does not amount to any significant cost. And the redesigned courtyard, the soothing ‘healing gardens,’ and the children’s play area have been developed with significant help from students and professors at the University of Massachusetts and Franklin County Technical School, as well as other volunteers. Meanwhile, plants, money, and other resources have been donated to the cause.

Now, to be sure, the plight of hospitals is real and worrisome at all institutions, including Franklin. The state Legislature must still address inadequacies in Medicaid reimbursement and the uncompensated care pool. And high schools and colleges must continue to push medical careers as viable options for young people.

But in at least one case, a hospital is not relying on the reversal of current trends to improve patient care and staff satisfaction, and it is succeeding, at least in a small way.

And that’s an art form in itself.

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