VA NY Harbor Healthcare System
Keeping our Vets connected
NEW YORK — “It’s all about perspective,” said a voice that echoed a bit from speakers in the hallway and TVs from residents’ rooms. On its own, it’s an insightful yet ambiguous declaration.
But stepping inside a room and seeing a Veteran with his eyes glued to a screen, more details unfold. A hand draws a straight line across paper on the screen as the voice explains what a horizon line is. It’s a live art show taking place in the recreation room, streamed throughout the hospital and broadcasted from downstairs.
“Oh! This! I like this, this is great,” exclaimed Jerome Logan, a 91-year-old U.S. Army and Korean War Veteran. “They’re putting on some great stuff lately, this is beautiful.”
Logan is a long-time resident of the Saint Albans Community Living Center for Veterans, where the therapists have embodied the spirit of creativity to keep residents like Logan involved, entertained and informed. Right now, that’s more important than ever, the therapists say. Whether it’s music, art or live bingo games, Logan – a big fan of Frank Sinatra (“That’s my man!”) – says he’s thankful.
“Once everyone realized that it could be a while before regular visitors and volunteers could show up in person here, there was certainly a feeling of isolation,” said Sarah Stein, chief of recreation at the facility that falls under VA New York Harbor Healthcare System. “It was important to us and especially to them that we figured out new ways to not just keep them connected, but to keep them involved.”
The solution: a small, homemade studio designed by an art therapist with a technical background. Much of the equipment was procured by Voluntary Services years ago and simply needed to be repurposed. Voluntary also helped the facility secure a donation from the Fisher House Foundation which helped produce this system and will soon be used to help facilitate more virtual family visits.
The facility art therapist was inspired by Bob Ross’ iconic Joy of Painting TV show on PBS. The mellow tone and pace of the show seems to channel the spirit of Ross and plays well to the Veterans watching the program. Before he began the show, Andrew Prichinello (art therapist and amateur broadcaster) explained that as a group, they had an idea and ran with it.
“It’s a low-cost solution with a large impact, and we’re doing it for a small fraction of what other facilities are paying for technology, licensing and other expenses,” Prichinello said, as he began setting up for his show.
Sitting down, he welcomed residents to the show, and through the microphone made his comment on perspective as a seamless segue to switch from explaining his operation to jumping right into an art lesson.
As Prichinello continued his lesson, a couple other Veterans watched from their socially-distanced tables in the day room. One of them, a 70-year-old Vietnam War Veteran named Clifton Kea, said the art program that was playing was great but that he really enjoyed the sing-a-longs broadcasted by Dennis Jordan, music therapist. Kea and other Veterans made song requests for Jordan so they could sing along with him while he played guitar.
Live music and art form a significant amount of the programming, with bands and performers broadcasting from all over. Earlier this month, the Patriot Brass Ensemble performed outside Saint Albans in front of the flagpole. The live show was a big hit, with residents from around the facility tuning in and some watching from windows.
Often when there’s no live programming playing, the recreation team works with hospital leadership to use the broadcasting system as a type of electronic billboard – disseminating information that would typically be pinned to a wall somewhere. Prichinello and Stein say the possibilities are endless, and they’re constantly floating new ideas for the residents.
“We’re livestreaming with Facebook, Zoom, finding new performers and musicians … really just anything and everything we can do to keep our residents connected and help our volunteers stay involved,”
As Prichinello was wrapping up his art show, he reminded everyone to request art supplies if they need them, because participation is key. Because even if you don’t think you’re an artist, it’s all about perspective.