For years I have written about the movement to create healing environments within hospitals. It seems strange to say it, but most hospitals fall short in this regard. Most hospitals are loud, have poor lighting, and the decor does nothing to create a soothing, healing setting. They feel institutional. Fortunately, this has been changing over the last several years.
Here’s one extraordinary example. The Susan Sebastian Foundation has just finished placing art in more than 1,000 patient rooms in each of the Vermont’s 14 hospitals. Each piece of art was created by a Vermont Artist. The final hospital to benefit from this effort was Southwestern Vermont Medical Center (SVMC) in Bennington, which received approximately $50,000 in art for its 54 patient rooms. SVMC and the Susan Sebastian Foundation co-sponsored a juried art exhibit of more than 100 pieces from local artists. 54 pieces were selected for the hospital and purchased through the generosity of the Susan Sebastian Foundation.
The foundation was created in honor of a patient of Vermont hospitals, Susan Sebastian, who was born in Brattleboro Memorial Hospital in 1956. Susan endured a long illness with extensive hospitalizations, and spent a great deal of time looking at the bare walls of hospital rooms. It was her wish that every hospital room in Vermont be hung with gentle, inspiring art by Vermont artists. Since Susan’s death in 2009, her mother Elise Braun has worked to fulfill her daughter’s wish. Braun has used the book Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-Being by Dr. Esther Sternberg to help guide the Foundation’s purchases (paintings and photography), which are meant to take the patient out of the room and into the outdoors to a favorite vista or recreational hobby.
For me, it is always a pleasure to visit hospitals that have made an effort to introduce art into their facilities. Several of my client hospitals, including Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (NH), Copley Hospital (VT), Southwestern Vermont Medical Center and Brattleboro Memorial Hospital (VT), have used art to infuse warmth, texture and a sense of the natural world into the medical space. The story of Elise Braun’s work, honoring of her daughter’s wish to bring art into patient rooms, is inspiring. Just think of the thousands of lives that will be positively impacted.