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A Time to Heal

When museums and hospitals work together, the resulting partnerships can “bring joy to families going through hard times,” according to Ann Hernandez of Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, Michigan. In addition to helping patients and their families, these partnerships can be mutually beneficial to both the museums and hospitals themselves, as panelists explained in the ASTC 2014 session “Building Community Partnerships: Hospitals and Museums Realize Shared Healing Connections.”

The session was moderated by Hernandez and led by Andrea Reynolds, also of Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. Presenters included both hospital and museum professionals: Julie Piazza of CS Mott Children’s and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital, Ann Arbor, Michigan; Kurt Huffman of COSI, Columbus, Ohio; and Kristofer Kelly-Frère of TELUS Spark, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Staff from both Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum and Mott Hospital have visited each other’s institutions to present programs—including a Teddy Bear Clinic held at the museum, where visitors learned about the hospital environment and staff roles. The partnership has also involved training volunteers willing to work at both the museum and the hospital. In addition, Mott Hospital has held a focus group at the museum where patients, families, and hospital and museum staff brainstormed ideas for exhibits that would bring an element of the museum into the hospital.

Before opening its facility in 2011, TELUS Spark prototyped exhibits at Alberta Children’s Hospital. Kelly-Frère pointed out, “If you only prototype in your institution, you’re only reaching the audience you already have. If you want to reach new audiences, you have to go out and find them.” Prototyping in the hospital allowed TELUS Spark to design exhibits that accounted for different abilities and family dynamics.

COSI uses videoconferencing to allow students to watch live knee surgeries at Mount Carmel Hospital and ask the surgeons questions, view a videotape of an autopsy accompanied by live narration by a pathologist resident from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, or talk to pharmacists housed at Labs in Life within COSI itself. Huffman explained that these programs help hospital staff increase their communication skills and learn about hands-on inquiry and 21st-century skills.

The presenters discussed many of the special issues involved with museum/hospital partnerships—including designing activities and materials with infection prevention and control in mind; training hospital staff in how to deliver messages in ways children can understand; and training museum staff in how to talk to patients and to respect patient confidentiality.

Piazza said that museums that partner with hospitals are “bringing distraction, discovery, and excitement. [Patients are] kids first, in the hospital second. They’re not their diagnosis—they are people.” She also pointed out that museums can support the children of adult hospital patients, as well as the adult patients themselves. “Play is universal,” she said.