Nelson Express - June 14, 2013
Vancouver Foundation Magazine Spring 2013
A health care worker once lamented to me that entry into a residential care home could be likened to “the death of the soul.”
Health Arts Society has challenged this with the question: “How can we transform the quality of life of people who spend their last years in residential care homes?” Our publicly funded homes, which are mostly contracted to not-for-profit or for-profit entities, are, in vital clinical ways, well run by hard-working, dedicated and caring people. They want this transformation for residents. Health Arts Society works as one instrument to make it happen.
Health Arts Society’s intervention for people in residential care, just one of many that are needed, brings the same quality of music performance to people in care as is enjoyed by those of us who are well and can get around. The society’s Concerts in Care are 45-minute concerts mostly for frail elders, but also people with serious disabilities, mental illnesses and those at adult day centres.
The concerts are given by one to four professional musicians, who are paid, in varied series of five to 10 concerts in each year by the seven Health Arts Societies across Canada, including Quebec’s Société pour les Arts en Milieux de Santé.
The music is from many genres: classical, jazz, and music familiar to the diverse populations of our place. Our website records the reactions of our audience. Many frail elders in care have some form of dementia which music can pierce, bringing joy, comfort, awareness and communication when so little else can.
We acknowledge the wonderful work of amateur musicians and those professionals who for long have provided entertainment to people in care. But as much as we all enjoy seeing amateurs play we also understand why people pay to hear the performances of dedicated professionals. Paid entertainment in care homes is limited by shortage of funds; a home may have $500 a year for all “entertainment” for a resident population of 200. Music therapists, who use music in a clinical practice, are being widely cut for budget reasons.
Since 2006, when the first Health Arts Society was founded in B.C., our performers, who include some of Canada’s best-known artists, have performed more than 7,500 concerts for an audience of more than 300,000. In B.C. alone in just eight years, we will have paid more than $2 million to musicians. Last year, the seven societies presented 1,835 concerts to an audience of 72,000, mostly in Quebec and B.C. That’s like 110 sold-out performances in the Playhouse.
But it’s a fraction of what we could do. Our programs are not spread consistently in B.C., nor do they regularly reach most people in care in the Interior and the North.
This is not a case just for more government spending. In a compassionate society, we expect to find ways to meet needs together. To do that, government must first admit the needs exist; that conditions in care are inconsistent with their own regulations and that the promises made under the BC Residents’ Bill of Rights are not kept.
Then the way opens to combine resources of the private and public sectors, including families of residents.
We are working on this now with the help of a major grant from BMO Financial Group and partners in the private and public realms. But the scale needs to be increased to meet the larger challenge.
I hope you will join me on June 5, at Sam Sullivan’s Public Salon in the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre when I will share our society’s vision. It will require us to make only a slight realignment of our priorities in health care spending, arts funding and philanthropy, to bring Concerts in Care, and other quality of life programs to people in residential homes.
David Lemon is founder, executive and artistic director of the Health Arts Society.