Gift to Hospital Ensures Unique Morale Program's Expansion and Future

Hospital Staff Members Benefit from Creative and Performing Arts Program

September 29, 2010

In a long empty hallway perched on top of Georgetown University Hospital, white coats are put aside. Arms and legs move rhythmically to music, bodies sway. For a short time, the fast-paced, tense environment all around them is forgotten. A respite, an outlet, and “the pure joy of engagement” momentarily rescue the dancers’ hearts and minds, replenishing their spirits so that they can continue to care for patients.

The dance class is just one of dozens of creative activities from knitting to therapeutic drumming that are planned weekly for Georgetown University Hospital staff through the Arts and Humanities Morale Program at Georgetown University. Designed to improve the work environment and promote creative self care among staff, “it reconnects them to what is normal,” explains program director Nancy Morgan. “Even five minutes out of the busy day can make a critical difference. A short break from the very intense and emotional work of taking care of patients is therapeutic, and helps make it possible for them to continue the work they do so well.”

For nearly a decade, the program has become a lifeline for dozens of nurses, nurse practitioners, social workers, chaplains, therapists, technicians and office staff who work daily with cancer patients. The Prince family has long supported the program through the Prince Charitable Trusts. Now the F.H. Prince 1932 Trust has donated more than $2 million to the hospital to establish the Frederick Henry Prince Memorial Fund to ensure the program’s future—and allow expansion of the morale program to all non-physician staff throughout the hospital’s departments and divisions. In honor of the Trust’s support, the program has been named the Frederick Henry Prince IV Family Hospital Morale Program.

“Our mission reflects the Jesuit tradition of caring for the whole person, and providing physical and spiritual comfort to not only our patients and their families, but to the hospital family as well,” says Richard Goldberg, MD, president of Georgetown University Hospital. “The Trust’s incredibly generous gift will ensure that all of the hospital’s staff can experience the healing power of the arts—and we are very thankful for the Trust’s confidence in our groundbreaking morale program.”

“The Prince family has always believed in what we are doing,” says Katie Coyle, vice president of Philanthropy for Georgetown University Hospital. “Now with this remarkable donation, the program can continue to move forward in perpetuity and reach greater numbers of staff.”

For Case Manager Barbara Arnett, RN, the endowment guarantees that Resident Artist Nevin Bossart will be there providing the creative outlet she has come to rely on every Tuesday and Thursday. “It’s everything,” Arnett says. “Each day I go home thinking ‘I don’t know if I can do this anymore.’ But it’s my life’s pathway and has been for more than 20 years. Painting with Nevin gives me a way to release the tension and I always leave feeling renewed.”

Painting proved to be Bossart’s avenue to healing as well. Five years ago the retired chef faced a cancer diagnosis and long weeks of treatment at Georgetown University Hospital. “I was hooked up to an IV 24/7,” he says. “My wife suggested I paint to pass the time. I had been painting for years, but it never meant as much as it did at that time. She brought me a well-worn book of sunflower photos and I began to paint. When I offered my services as part of the team of artists at Lombardi, Nancy Morgan welcomed me to the program. I believe I was meant to be here. It was the reason I got cancer—to do this work.” Many grateful students would agree.

Bossart’s bright floral canvases greet visitors and patients in the waiting area of the cancer clinic—and a bright mural of sunflowers painted by members of the pediatric oncology staff hangs on the clinic wall.

“The mural was a wonderful team building project,” says Jan Powers, RN, pediatric oncology head nurse. “Many of us took a few minutes here and there to add our personal touch. While I was painting, I found that my head went someplace away from the stress, and I could better cope with the day ahead,” she adds.

“I have always believed that self-care is critical to being an effective caregiver. So it’s very gratifying to see that hospital’s leadership understands this, as well.” Powers, who returned to Georgetown last October after a number of years away, says, “There is something about this facility that you can’t find anywhere else. And I’m so glad to be back.”
Today Powers finds her respite with fellow knitters, who gather once a week with needles in hand. “We knit, we talk. It is personal healing from all directions,” she says.

While Powers knits for stress relief, Morgan uses words as her vehicle for self-expression. She also conducts regular writing workshops for staff and twice a year, publishes an anthology of works written by both patients and staff.

“Research we conducted indicates that patients who found writing about cancer helped change the way they thought about their disease, also reported physical health improvements at a statistically significant level. Every day I see both patients and their caregivers benefitting from creative outlets that allow for emotional expression.”

Morgan also understands the importance of fostering a sense of community among staff. “While we focus on expression of feelings, we know we are also building a greater sense of collaboration. Groups of staff representing a variety of professions gather together and the playing field is leveled,” says Morgan.

In the last nine years, Morgan says staff participation had grown exponentially—and managers now seek her out to request programs for their staff. "They can see the real value of the program in recruiting and keeping staff—and assuring excellent patient care,” Morgan adds.

“I’ve had staff say to me, ‘I’m not talented.’ But they give it a try and are delighted with what they have created. Often people don’t realize how stressed they are,” she says. “They shut down. But then they begin to create something and quickly understand how much it helps. They walk in the room in a serious mode and walk out laughing!”

Author: Georgetown University Hospital Communications