Healing Arts for Hospital Patients

Photo courtesy USC-VHH
As part of the Healing Arts Initiative at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital, patients can take advantage of the “art cart” — they can pick a painting by a local artist to display in their hospital room and take home with them when they leave.

When inpatients leave USC Verdugo Hills Hospital and return home, sometimes they take a print of a painting with them.

They get them from the so-called “art cart,” and they’re free for the patients. Elsewhere throughout the community hospital, the patients, doctors, nurses and other staffers are also treated to a variety of locally produced artwork, framed and embellishing upon the walls of hallways, patient rooms and gathering areas. While staying there, inpatients can also tune into video presentations of past art exhibits on iPads brought to their rooms.

It’s all part of the Healing Arts Initiative at USC-VHH.

“I’ve been an art therapist for close to 25 years and it’s always been such a natural fit to bring art and health together,” explained Julie Shadpa, associate director of development for the USC-VHH Foundation and co-chair of the Healing Arts Committee. “I feel like there’s an opportunity for art to really go beyond words and support patients. That can be fine art or that can be music, lots of things that provide comfort to patients.”

Shadpa formed the committee in 2016 with fellow foundation member Sue Wilder, after the two wanted to introduce the rejuvenating powers of art to the hospital and do so using the works of more local artistic talents. Rotating exhibits ultimately grew into permanent ones, with much of the art looking a lot like California.

“There’s a lot of research on the benefits of having artwork that reflects the positive images of nature and local scenery, so it was a perfect fit to focus on local artists,” Shadpa said. “Even though I’ve been working in hospitals and art programs for many years, this is the first place where we’ve had artists willing to share their art and put it in a patient treatment area. That is just extraordinary.”

One of those local artists, a surgical scrubtech from La Crescenta named Cindy Porcell, put it simply.

“No one wants to be there,” she said, referring to patients. “When we put together this program to take these ugly posters off the walls and replace them with paintings from local artists, it just made them feel really good about being there.”

Porcell, who now lives in the Montrose neighborhood, has worked at USC-VHH for 12 years. As a side hobby, she has painted, a practice she started to flex at Crescenta Valley High School and then Glendale Community College.

“I’ve worked in the medical field as my main focus and job,” she explained, “but always I’ve had a passion for arts and in my later years now have really pursued it.”

Porcell’s paintings, which typically depict familiar California scenery, are part of the hospital’s art cart, which allows patients to pick a print that suits them to keep and take home, at no cost to them. Around 200 prints have gone home with patients, Shadpa said.

Healing Arts had pivoted to a modified role throughout the heavier parts of the coronavirus pandemic, when hospitals were generally devoid of visiting family members and friends. In the staff cafeteria, an exhibit of staff-taken photos from their travels abroad helped illustrate a hopeful look into the future. For the patients recovering from surgeries or the coronavirus, art often served as the most interesting thing to look at. 

“They can’t see their families,” she said, speaking of the pandemic’s restrictions. “We’re just starting to let people have a few visitors. It’s sort of sad to be sitting in your bed and have nobody but nurses coming in and out, so we thought we’d do something for them.”

“We just have had all of this feedback from patients about how comforting and inspirational it is to have this artwork during such a crisis and potentially during a painful procedure,” Shadpa said. “We knew when we started this that our audience would be broad, that it would be for patients, families, visitors and staff. Throughout the pandemic, it has really been for staff and they’ve really appreciated it.”