Where Health And Happiness Come Together Healing Arts Project Lifts The Spirits At Franklin Medical Center

Hospitals are normally recognized for their work in healing the body. But that’s only part of the story at Franklin Medical Center. The Greenfield hospital continues to improve upon its Healing Arts Project, a one-year-old effort to promote the visual arts, music, and other aesthetic factors in order to improve health care at the hospital.
“It involves everything from the air you breathe in the hospital to what you see, how you feel, how you’re greeted, whether you sense a caring atmosphere, and whether or not people are compassionate to you in this difficult time,” said Jeanine Young-Mason, one of the project’s co-directors. “The idea is to create a healing environment at a healing center, one that is welcoming and aesthetically pleasing.”

As she told The Healthcare News, the effort involves everything from Friday concerts by area musicians to exhibits by local artists; from improved food offerings to the development of an attractive courtyard and ‘healing gardens.’ And, she added, patients, hospital staff, and visitors are all noticing the changes.

A Holistic Approach

Young-Mason, a professor in the UMass School of Nursing in Amherst, was brought on board the project based on her work with the university’s Community Arts Health and Healing Project. The other co-director, Karen Moore, is the hospital’s chief nursing officer and vice president of Hospital Relations. Moore said the difference in the hospital’s atmosphere through the healing arts endeavors has been noticeable.

“Our mission is to promote the role of the arts and humanities in improving the quality of health care,” Moore said. “The response from our staff, the physicians, and the patients has been tremendous. There’s an air of excitement and enthusiasm surrounding this project that permeates the hospital and the community we serve.”

But if that enthusiasm didn’t translate into happier patients and staff, it wouldn’t be worth much, Young-Mason added. “It has to be a healing center not only for the patients but for their relatives, guests, and the staff,” she said.

“It means paying attention to such things as the ambience of a surgical waiting room or an intensive care waiting room. These should be places where people can get comfort food, where people can sit with their families in some privacy, and where there are comfortable chairs, not a blaring TV.”

In addition to conducting a comprehensive review to ensure that such aesthetic standards are met throughout the hospital, specific projects have emerged, including efforts to make soothing music available in patient rooms, building a children’s play area in the Emergency Department, incorporating art and music therapy as regular aspects of healing programs, and installing a café in the front lobby where patients, families, and staff may enjoy those ‘comfort foods,’ from homemade soups and hot, buttered rolls to sandwiches, muffins, and fresh fruit.

The landscape architecture program at UMass has also become involved, redesigning the courtyard with the help of focus groups of patients and staff who are trying to determine how the area would best comfort patients and their families.

“Hopefully that can be a place where people can go out and have some privacy in the shade,” Young-Mason said. It is also a place where local musical artists will appear monthly under a performance tent. In the winter months, those concerts take place in the main lobby. Meanwhile, art displays line the walls of the Emergency Department, the corridors leading to patient rooms, and outside the Oncology Department.

“The performing and visual arts figure very seriously in this whole endeavor,” she said. “Those musicians go up and play in the units as well. The creativity of all of these people has been marvelous.”

Horticulture is another key element of the healing arts program, culminating last summer in the planting of a ‘healing garden’ surrounding the hospital annex that presently houses the Development, Public Relations, and Marketing departments.

The garden, designed with an eye toward peaceful surroundings and air-purifying plants, was created by students from Franklin County Technical School— the same school that sent students to help design and assemble the children’s play area. “We certainly know that nature is essential to health,” Young-Mason said, adding that every plant was donated, and when people couldn’t donate the plants needed in the design, they donated money. “We knew when that happened that the community was behind this.”

Brighter Days and Nights

No matter how well-intentioned the changes in the hospital may be, people will always want to know about tangible results. Young-Mason said there are two ways to gauge whether the broad initiative has been a success. One of those, the admittedly unscientific process of collecting opinions on response forms, has produced nothing but positive comments. More importantly, how much the hospital’s aesthetic improvements actually affect health and well-being is more difficult to judge.

Still, she noted, evidence-based studies will be launched in the next two months to determine how the various endeavors can actually raise immune levels and promote healing. For now, the Healing Arts Project is succeeding in creating a buzz and many positive feelings for those who are treated at Franklin Medical Center, those who care for them, and those who visit them.

Young-Mason recalled one concert featuring a gospel singer and a jazz musician that had attendees in tears as they joined in singing “Amazing Grace.”

“I think everyone there feels like it’s for them,” she said of the entire project. “We’ve gotten a big response from the night staff, saying how important it is to them that we have art on the walls in the middle of the night.” After all, she noted, it’s not only the patients who need their spirits lifted.