A puppeteer gives performs for one of the patients at Mater Dei Hospital.
Stakeholders were brought together to discuss an action plan for the introduction of regular artistic and creative volunteering activities in healthcare settings in Malta on a more sustainable basis.
Starting with a group of 14 volunteers around five years ago, 'Raising Spirits' was a project where artists went to the hospital to perform in the wards and foyers for patients and staff.
Actor Sean Buhagiar led a half day seminar for the committee to discuss the results of a pilot study conducted over a few months and feedback given by Mater Dei Hospital patients and staff.
“The project had received EU funding in 2011 but funds will run out in March. We need to create a final and more sustainable action plan. We are also discussing the possibility of Raising Spirits to become an NGO but where would the offices be located?” Buhagiar said.
The performances ranged from poetry reading to painting to choir singing and feedback following two performances as party of the project proved to be positive.
"After interviews with patients, we found that 80% of them wanted more performances. The number of volunteers also drastically increased from 14 to 115," SOS project manager Nicola Critien said.
Other topics to be discussed by the committee to draft an action plan included the nature of performances and whether there should be an open door policy for artists or if there should be a filtering system.
According to Mater Dei CEO Joe Caruana, the interaction with the patients was crucial because it raised their spirits during the pilot study but it would depend on their condition.
“Deciding how regular the performances will be has to depend on the conditions. Our focus must be on patients on a one-to-one basis. Not all patients will want to be sung at or read to,” Caruana said.
Continuous liaison with those running the wards was also necessary and not all foyers could be used for such performances according to the chief executive officer: “Patients might be gathered in some areas and have a high level of concern and performances would be too intrusive and not appreciated.”
During the discussion, Buhagiar proposed a timetable to be organised as well as a map with ‘no-go’ zones.
Magistrate Anthony Vella gave feedback on behalf of the artists after participating in the project with Voices Foundation which is a choir.
“We were a group of 16 singers and performed in four or five wards. I was initially hesitant. I had only ever done something similar as a student at St Luke’s hospital,” Vella said.
Vella admitted that he was weary of doing something of the kind because he felt he would be intruding into the personal space of the sick.
“But the feedback from the patients and staff made it all so worth it. It was almost like a spiritual experience. It was very positive and rewarding. There was a sense of solidarity with the patients. It was like we temporarily shared the burden with patients and staff and it became personally fulfilling which gave true meaning of our choir,” Vella said.
A Nursing Officer of the Renal Unit in Mater Dei hospital, Paul Calleja found the performances in that specific unit to be highly beneficial with patients suffering from end stage kidney disease.
“Patients have to come in three times a week and be hooked up to a dialysis machine for four hours. It restricts movement and can be highly frustrating and painful for patients. During the performances, the environment changed drastically and became more serene and the feedback was tremendous and some patients did not even experience the usual nasty side effects!” Calleja said.
Health Minister Joe Cassar gave his blessing to 'Raising Spirits' saying it was something he believed in and would be beneficial to both patients and hospital staff.
Project partners include SOS Malta as lead partner, Mater Dei Hospital, VOICES Foundation, and Malta Council for Culture and the Arts (MCCA).
Participants at the seminar included officials from the Health and Arts sectors alike as well as representatives from Health NGOs, the University of Malta and artists/arts companies.
For more information, to give feedback or provide suggestions click here: www.raising-spirits.com