The Healing Power of Art

Art installation beautifies hospital, benefits patients

What started with a letter from a grateful patient became a hospital-wide effort to beautify Lahey Hospital & Medical Center and create a calming space for patients. More than 1,000 pieces of art were installed this year in hallways, waiting areas and patient rooms as part of a philanthropy-funded Healing Art Program —  their beautiful images of nature inviting patients and visitors to linger, relax and feel better.

There is significant research showing how art in hospitals can be effective in reducing pain and anxiety as well as providing a source of comfort to patients and their families,” said Beth Israel Lahey Health Board Chair Ann-Ellen Hornidge, who with her husband Ned Murphy made a leadership gift to the project in memory of her mother. “This installation is a continuation of what the Lahey community — and the entire Beth Israel Lahey Health community — has long understood: healing and wellness are promoted not just through the expertise of talented caregivers but by the environment created by a compassionate focus on the overall needs of patients.”

The project’s roots date to 2016, when a patient wrote hospital leaders in thanks for the excellent care she had received. But she had one critique: she thought the walls of the hospital could be more inviting. The CEO agreed and appointed an advisory board comprised of clinicians, donors and hospital staff to work with a Canton, Mass., firm to select artwork for all seven floors of the hospital building. Most of the pieces were commissioned from area artists, including a program that encourages young people with autism and other conditions to use art as a form of therapy.

The art was installed throughout the hospital during the summer and fall. Waiting rooms, exam rooms and hallways at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center are all adorned with picturesque landscapes by the ocean and in the forest. Many of them were created by local artists who use New England as their inspiration, including paintings of the scene off the coast of Rockport on the fourth floor outside of the Acute Care unit.

“The goal of the Healing Art Program is to bring the aesthetics of the space up to the same high level of care provided at Lahey,” said Anne Strickland, the CEO of Great American Art, which conceived, commissioned and installed the art. “We want patients to feel comforted by the space and to use art in their healing process.”

The healing effects of art are well-documented. A 2017 study published in the International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-being found that “patients generally experienced the presence of art as a comforting additional element that went beyond direct medical treatment and care.”

A 2015 study of 54 cardiac or vascular surgery patients in Tennessee reported that 39 of them said that the art in the hospital halls motivated them to get out of bed and walk after their surgeries, an important step in recovery. Patients elsewhere have reported feeling calmer and more relaxed when they have beautiful images to look at. Doctors believe that art makes the environment feel less clinical, which helps reduce anxiety and even blood pressure in some patients.