Arts in Medicine Program at Sacred Heart Hospital Boosts Spirits with Music and Art

March 31, 2014 by Manny Chavez

When Joyce VerStraete was admitted to Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast recently, she was pleasantly surprised to see volunteer artist Rita Stuck enter her hospital room wheeling her “art cart”. Joyce quickly had clay in her hands and a smile on her face, chatting about children and grandchildren, completely forgetting she was in the hospital.

Rita describes her volunteer work as “visiting with props” with an emphasis on the “visiting”. As Joyce worked her clay into a basket-like piece, her smile and enthusiasm confirmed the Arts In Medicine (AIM) role in healing not just the body, but the mind and spirit of a person towards holistic wellness.

The Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast’s AIM program was established in 2011 with funding provided through the University of Florida and Shands Hospital Center for Arts in Medicine. Activities are provided through community partnerships, grand funding, fundraising events, and private donations. According to Sharon Abele, Manager of the AIM program, patients benefit greatly from the various AIM programs.

“The artists make their day”, says Sharon. She describes a scene recently when a musical guest performed at a patient’s bedside, ”We had local musician Chris Alvarado in and he went from room to room singing with patients and everyone was laughing, cheering, and crying.”

When he asked one patient, who had a neck brace on, if she liked anyone in particular, she said she favored the Beatles and when he performed Let It Be, she sang every word with Alvarado himself streaming tears the whole time.

“The effect was amazing,” emphasized Sharon. “The visiting artists help the patients forget for a moment in time why they are in the hospital in the first place”.

Monthly activities in the AIM Program include, the bedside arts visits in the patients’ rooms, Art With Amy, and art activities provided by Sacred Heart staff to provide respite and rejuvenation during their lunchtime. A big hit is the Say the Word: Poetry for Lunch, where hospital staff, patients, visitors and community members are invited to relax, listen, and if they desire - share published or original poetry pieces during lunch, and the beloved short music concerts held in the Sacred Heart’s second-floor atrium and out-patient waiting rooms for everyone to enjoy, and at bedside of in-patient rooms.
Concerts are provided through partnerships with The Ohana Institute, Seaside’s Escape to Create Program, Sinfonia Gulf Coast, and musicians such as Sean Dietrich, Bryan Kennedy and the Forrest Williams Band. Other partners include the Rosemary Beach Foundation, artist Justin Gaffrey, and the Emerald Coast Theatre Company. 

The Arts in Medicine program gives patients a moment of reprieve from their illness or injury and time to reflect on art and regain a positive outlook. The local community has come together to provide this delightful program and the patients are grateful for every event. 


Manny Chavez's picture

Manny has been a working photojournalist his entire career and is now writing stories/taking pix for He and his wife Kris live in Seagrove and have “seen a lot come and go.” Lots of stories have been told, with lots more to come!

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