Healing Art: Medical centers see a health investment in gardens, trickling water, aesthetic forms and incorporating local artists' paintings

By Barbara Curtain, Statesman Journal

If you've been a hospital patient or kept vigil for a loved one, you may know about sterile, artificially lit rooms that seem devoid of a human touch. They're a far cry from the new patient-care tower at Salem Hospital and a growing number of other medical settings that embrace "evidence-based design." Natural light, views of green spaces and the sight and sound of running water surely are more pleasant than what institutions used to offer. However, research shows that these amenities also lower stress, ease pain and speed recovery. That's why medical planners are coming to view them not as frills but as wise investments.

You can see the results in the hospital's Tower A and in the Wellspring Center for Extraordinary Living in Woodburn. They're also in evidence at the remodeled Northwest Human Services West Salem Clinic.

Salem Hospital
From the moment you enter the lobby of the newest Salem Hospital building, you're struck by how light and airy it feels. Then you hear two indoor waterfalls. Walk down the hall, and you look out on a courtyard with a stream bordered by irises, dogwood, azaleas and rhododendrons.

Meanwhile, the hospital's interior walls bring the outdoors, indoors. In the first floor imaging lounge, five large oils by Judy Phipps create a peaceful streamside world. In the women's imaging lounge, women waiting for test results can let their thoughts drift through Jane Aukshunas' whimsical landscapes. Each patient room is brightened by two prints of Oregon landscapes from original watercolors by Susan Spears.

Karen Allen, senior project designer from HKS Architects, said, "The overriding thing all along was to create a healing environment. We weren't trying to create a hotel; we were creating an environment that would help patients in the healing process."

As leader of the interior design team, her second goal was to take staff and community surveys to heart.

"You would not find this in New York City; this was the people of Salem," Allen said. "The nature thing was huge ... It is cloudy and overcast a lot, so (they wanted) upbeat colors and brightness brought in."

Artist Response
This trend in furnishing medical centers has worked out well for Salem artist April Waters. She juggled her nursing career with painting part-time for 20 years before becoming successful enough to pursue painting full time. Now her landscapes hang in medical clinics and hospitals in Eugene, Portland and Salem, among other places.

"I'm just thrilled," she said. "I feel like I was a nurturing person, and that's why I went into nursing. This is a way of nurturing the spirit. This is a way to provide art for people at a vulnerable time in their lives."

Waters is known for high-altitude views of the Willamette Valley, but lately, she has taken to painting water close up — as if the viewer were standing in a river or pond. She's working on her fourth piece for Salem Hospital, "Oneonta Gorge," a view of a lesser known waterfall. It will go in the Creekside Cafe.

Patient Response
When approached in waiting rooms, several outpatients and family members said, somewhat apologetically, that they hadn't noticed the art around them.

Allen Kimmel of Keizer looked around the imaging lounge, noting Phipps' tranquil oil paintings, the frosted glass dividers that picked up shapes from each scene and the presence of real plants.

"They look real nice," he said. "I like the plants. And the piano player, I like that.

"It looks like it tries to get your mind off what you're thinking of."

Cheryl Stoenner, a patient scheduler for breast imaging at Salem Hospital, said she liked the reds, golds and oranges echoed in her department's artwork and upholstery. She also was pleased that the high-quality art came from local artists.

"I think it makes a difference for employees," she said. "You're proud of where you're working."

Wellspring Center
The same principles governed the transformation of an old big-box store into the Wellspring Center for Extraordinary Living in Woodburn.

Rachael Rossman, art director and marketing manager for this offshoot of Silverton Hospital, said that people come to the center facing change. For some, it's a life-or-death choice following heart attack or illness. For others, it's simply a vow to eat more healthfully, exercise more and replace old habits with new ones.

The building's design reinforces that, she said. Natural curves have replaced 90-degree angles. There are places to see and hear water. A central garden features a marble sculpture, "Emergence," that serves as a metaphor for patients' growth. The interior walls feature nature scenes by local photographers.

Above all, there is light: "We feel natural light is important to the healing process. Natural light calms people," she said. "Nature is at the core of our being; it helps people heal themselves." Northwest Human Services

Northwest Human Services West Salem Clinic clients wait for medical appointments in a large room. Until a year ago, one wall was a forbidding blank. Then clinic staff hired Abram Heard to cover the wall with a mural.

It includes the coast, Mount Hood and an eagle, a mountain lake with the moon shining above; Northwest Human Services' clinics in Monmouth and West Salem, separated by a waterfall; a cheerful home with a real door worked into the design; and a painted cat perched next to the clinic's actual window, looking out on passersby.

"We wanted to give the idea that they could relax and feel comfortable, that the kids could play" while waiting to see the doctor, said Sebastian de Assis, community relations and development director.

He also wanted to call attention to the nonprofit organization's new logo. "People know about the individual services we offer but not the umbrella," he said.

Elercy Chung of Salem, who was waiting for an appointment, looked the mural over and said: "I just like it. It's very peaceful when you look at it. You come in when you're sick and it heals you. It feels like paradise. Just the nature of it, it's awesome."

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