Building Bridges Through the Arts

Building Bridges Through the Arts
Music and nature activities support healing and connection at Vanderbilt Stallworth Rehabilitation Hospital.

The healing power of the arts takes on new meaning at the Vanderbilt Stallworth Rehabilitation Hospital, thanks to efforts by senior physical medicine and rehabilitation resident Renee Rosati, D.O. Rosati has pioneered music, nature and art initiatives at the hospital that complement existing occupational and physical therapy programs.

“These activities ease patients’ anxiety and puts their focus on something that’s calming and soothing for their mental health,” Rosati said.

Benefits for Patients and Providers 

Such a whole-health approach to healing offers documented, widespread benefits. Music has been shown to improve outcomes for everyone from neonates to cancer patients. Mindfulness programs at the Vanderbilt Stallworth Rehabilitation Hospital reduce depression and anxiety – proven barriers to healing. Twice weekly creative art therapy has been shown to improve concentration, self-confidence and motivation for people who have suffered a stroke.

Older populations experience additional gains, said Harvey J. Murff, M.D., director of the Division of Geriatric Medicine at Vanderbilt. “Older adults may particularly benefit from non-pharmacological treatments and activities,” he said. “This group is often managing polypharmacy plus faces barriers to care coordination. Sustained, long-term creative engagement can support their rehabilitation goals.”

“These activities ease patients’ anxiety and puts their focus on something that’s calming and soothing for their mental health.”

The benefits of “non-traditional” occupational therapy are not limited to patients, Rosati added. “Utilizing shared passions between health care providers and patients is an innovative way to provide a compassionate patient experience and further connect with our patients.”

Tapping into Music City 

Rosati got started by leveraging Music City’s natural talents. In 2018, she asked Nashville musicians to begin performing acoustic concerts in the Stallworth hospital cafeteria. Prior to COVID-19, concerts were offered free of charge, to patients of all ages, their families and staff. The concert series has moved to video showcases with help from a Vanderbilt Blair School of Music student, who is continuing the legacy of hospital concerts in collaboration with Belmont University.

Said Rosati, “Since starting this initiative over two years ago, it has brought the hospital staff closer, given up-and-coming musicians a platform to perform, and brought many smiles and tears to my patients’ faces.”

Music therapy extends throughout Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Gratitunes, launched during the COVID-19 pandemic, uses tailored playlists to thank doctors, nurses and staff. Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt is a Seacrest Studios location, offering closed-circuit and in-studio entertainment. While anecdotal benefits are pervasive, work is also underway at Vanderbilt to quantify music’s benefits.

Tangible Rewards

Stallworth’s Garden Therapy Program, also launched by Rosati, supports more hands-on rehabilitation. Every other week, volunteers arrive at Stallworth with baskets of natural materials – leaves, fresh-picked flowers, rocks, pinecones and more – and spread them out in the gym.

“Since starting this initiative over two years ago, it has brought the hospital staff closer … and brought many smiles and tears to my patients’ faces.”

Patients manipulate the materials into arts and crafts using tools that require a certain degree of dexterity. Scissors, hot glue guns, paintbrushes and twine each provide benefits for patients’ fine motor skills. Some activities include reaching upward or wide arm movements, which incorporate gross motor skills, and patients are encouraged to stand and work on their balance.

Rosati says there is a palpable, renewed sense of dignity when a patient can present a handcrafted gift to a caretaker. The program has an aesthetic benefit, too. It is entirely run by local garden club volunteers who have helped fill the hospital’s formerly sparse courtyard with herbs, birdhouses and flowers.

Connections for Healing

Stallworth staff members emphasize that the social benefits of Rosati’s programs have had the largest impact. They say the programs have helped less-engaged patients take a more active role in their rehabilitation.

Said Rosati, “Music and gardening are only two examples, but art in all forms offers validation from peers, opens doors to making new friendships, and provides a sense of hope, which is paramount in any stage of recovery.”