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Connecting Mind, Body and Medicine

Creating a space for health and well being is about more than just the science of medicine.

Walking down the halls of the Sanford Heart Hospital, arts and healing environment consultant Ivy Oland reaches out to touch a ceramic sculpture. Her hands trace a large tree where a pair of sculpted hands embraces another in a gesture of love and support.

“There are powerful emotions at work for patients, family and caregivers when they enter a space like this,” she says. “Sanford made a commitment from the very beginning to use the arts, what patients see and hear and experience to help improve the healing journey.”

A mission for healing

By fusing visual poetry with medical science, Sanford Heart Hospital was designed to provide care and comfort with a holistic approach. Rather than choosing artwork to simply decorate, hospital leaders planned a building that would fuse art theory with evidence-based methodologies to improve patient outcomes and provide more effective healing.

The result is a facility that is beautiful, but also meets the physical and emotional needs of patients, their families, staff and the communities that Sanford serves, says Oland as she walks past a registration with carved plaster vines on the wall. Attention was paid to every detail from the large bronze sculpture inside the door to the smallest nook, she said.

“Every person who walks in should find a welcome,” she says pointing to a small private alcove with a pastoral scene above a comfortable seat. “Every space has been carefully crafted and placed here for a reason.”

Over the years, health care industry research has shown that the physical environment of a hospital can and does effect patient healing, Oland said. Current evidence and research directly link artful medical spaces with expedited recovery rates, reduced needs for medication and more favorable staff and patient experiences.

Long before the first exam room or entrance desk was even sketched on a set of plans, a multidisciplinary team consulted past patients and staff to learn more about the way environment effected both healing and comfort. The process allowed the building’s designers to incorporate both visual creativity and the needs of patients, their families and staff.

Sanford created and followed a set of guiding principles to empower patient healing and celebrate the history and heritage of both Sanford and the communities being served.

“We wanted to create an environment that supports the physical and emotional journey traveled by the patient and their families,” Oland said. “It’s a critical time to provide positive distraction, choice, comfort and beauty.”

Creating the environment

Curators specially selected over 130 pieces of artwork from area artists, choosing pieces that reflect the region’s people and their unique cultural perspectives, Oland said. The needs of patients came first in designing artistic themes for each portion of the building.

For example, “Promoting Paths to Health” was the theme for a unit where patients come in for diagnosis and early treatment. Patients seeking treatment in this area often say their major concerns are the possibility of losing the ability to participate in normal routines and hobbies. Watercolors and works in pastels throughout this area depict calming scenes of people in everyday images: from a farmer in a seed cap sitting on a moped in a street scene to a woman standing with a bouquet of flowers as she looks toward the horizon.

Artists and architects worked in several mediums to create a pleasant atmosphere and improve way-finding throughout the hospital. Sculptures, wall mosaics, elaborately carved and inlaid wood pieces and dozens of paintings adorn the hospital from from the Lower Level to Level 4000.

“It gives people something beautiful to see, but the pieces and the images also create landmarks that people can remember as they get off the elevator,” says Oland, pointing out the intricacies of an elaborate textile piece depicting fields and hay bales.

In one wing, where patients newly out of surgery take their first steps down the hallway, local artists created pieces based on landmark locations within communities from the surrounding region. Patients walking down the corridors will be able to mark their steps in short distances to images that might remind them of home.

“They were designed to be comfortable, familiar and relatable to people,” Oland said. “At times of great stress, we celebrate what’s beautiful in the natural world around us.”

Distraction and beauty

Even in exam rooms or areas where patients undergo procedures, art and music were used to enhance the healing process. Rooms where patients must lay down for extended periods of time include windows to the outside and even back-lighted ceiling tiles with images of the sky and blooming tree branches.

Patients will also be given special electronic pillows with speakers and music they can adjust to their desired volume level with easy touch controls. As a benefit to patients, employees and families, public areas of the hospital will play special relaxation music that mimics our bodies’ natural circadian rhythms to promote relaxation and well-being.

“The greatest capacity for healing occurs when we can lessen stress and anxiety,” Oland said. “Art can serve as a distraction and something to enhance the overall environment.”

Other portions of the building celebrate both the hospital and larger community. One area incorporates photographic images of staff while another corridor incorporates mixed media art that illustrates the history of Sanford Heart Hospital. One wall even includes the Community HeART Gallery, a changing display area for artwork created by community members.

As she prepares for the opening of a hospital that will brighten the future of heart care across the region, Oland said she’s pleased to be able to help create an environment of care, comfort and beauty for everyone that comes through the doors.

“It’s satisfying to be part of a culture of healing that will benefit so many patients and their families,” Oland said. “Art, medicine and music come together to serve so many people. It’s truly a gift.”

Posted Date: February 2012