Healing Arts Program

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Soon there will be a new form of treatment available in the region—one that doesn’t involve medication or even oversight by a physician or nurse.

A healing arts program that incorporates the literary, visual, and performing arts is being launched by Carilion Clinic.

Named after the highly regarded Roanoke thoracic surgeon, The Dr. Robert L.A. Keeley Healing Arts Program will create inspiring and restorative environments for patients, visitors, and caregivers. (Dr. Keeley, 91, is medical liaison for nursing services at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital.)

“We’re beginning with a pilot project to introduce journaling in several units at the hospital,” says Marie Webb, senior director of community outreach for Carilion. “We’ll distribute journals and pens to patients who are often hospitalized for a longer period of time, such as oncology and cardiac surgery patients.

“Patients want to express their feelings,” Webb says. “Journaling gives them that opportunity. Some patients may choose to create their own life map or tree of life in their journal.”

Writing in a journal can also help patients ease their transition from the hospital to home by letting them write down questions about their care, along with their caregivers’ instructions.

A Healing Environment

As part of the program, a healing garden will be planted near the Roanoke River Greenway in partnership with the City of Roanoke. “We’re creating a small garden near Roanoke Memorial between the greenway and the river,” says Daniel Dart, landscape designer for Roanoke’s Parks and Recreation department.

“It will have benches and a swing surrounded by aromatic plants like rosemary, thyme, and butterfly bushes, as well as paved areas. We’re trying to create a secluded garden that’s sequestered from the rest of the world to encourage the healing process.”

The garden is expected to open this spring or summer; a ceremony will be held to dedicate it in honor of Dr. Keeley.

A Community Collaboration

Carilion is developing the healing arts program in collaboration with members of the local arts community. A steering committee is developing a list of potential offerings, cultivating partnerships, identifying volunteer resources, and recommending artists and works.

“This is something I’ve been interested in for a while,” says Susan Jennings, arts and culture coordinator for the City of Roanoke and a committee member. “One important aspect of the program is that it’s not just for patients but also for health care professionals. Involvement in the arts promotes healing as well as stress relief, and with health care being so stressful, this can help.”

Through her interaction with the Roanoke Arts Commission, Jennings is also spreading the word about the healing arts program and seeking ideas from others in the art community.

Integrating arts with the healing process isn’t a new idea at Carilion. Roanoke Memorial already offers recorded music therapy and guided imagery for cardiac patients, live performances and arts and crafts projects in the pediatric unit, and expressive arts therapy for adult and pediatric patients in the behavioral health unit.

Live bluegrass music performances are also staged weekly by volunteers in the outpatient oncology waiting room, and other live performances take place in the hospital’s lobby. An art wall displays paintings by local artists that are available for purchase.

The formalization of the healing arts program, though, will greatly expand patients’ access to art as part of the healing process.

Now that’s powerful medicine.

The Carilion Clinic Foundation is raising funds on behalf of the healing arts program. For more information about the program, and how you can support it, call 540-224-5398 or go to CarilionFoundation.org.

Rich Ellis has written for many Roanoke Valley publications, including Our Health magazine. Nationally, he writes for Architectural Salvage & Antique Lumber News.