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Music program enhances patient and visitor experience at Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital

January 06, 2019
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Research shows music at hospitals offers therapeutic benefits and promotes healing


ST. JOHNSBURY, VT (December 20, 2018) – From live bedside music to curated playlists on tablets, the growing music program at Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital (NVRH) offers therapeutic benefits to an increasing number of patients, visitors and staff.
“Music has the potential to holistically help people, and building the music program at NVRH was a dream of mine,” NVRH Director of Volunteer Services Pat Forest, who has overseen the growth of the program, said.
While music had an occasional presence at NVRH (and for specific patients such as those on hospice care) over the years, the consistent and concerted efforts to integrate music into NVRH began in 2014. Two high school students, who were part of the U.S. Department of Education Upward Bound program, played for patients on a regular basis during the summer of 2014. Later that year, NVRH welcomed volunteer Julie Sturm, who began playing the mountain dulcimer at the bedside and in waiting rooms for patients and visitors.
“It is a blessing to share my love of music and this instrument with other people,” Sturm, who continues to volunteer and provide music at the hospital today, said. “It’s important to give back and promote healing and wellness.”
Thanks an NEK Fund grant, Certified Music Practitioner Verna Owens also began playing music at NVRH in 2017. She plays the harp at the bedside of patients to support their goal of healing – be that emotional, physical, mental or spiritual in nature – and incorporates the sound in an intuitive and artful manner to reach the ever-changing needs of an individual patient.
Research has shown a correlation between music and decreased stress, lower blood pressure levels, improved pain tolerance and increased memory capacity, amongst other health benefits.
“With music, we’ve had pediatric patients, for example, become more relaxed when they’re having vital signs taken and an IV administered. Having bedside music has brought comfort to families as a loved one reaches the end of life,” Director of Medical/Surgical Sharon Mallett, DNP, RN, said. “It’s had an overall positive and powerful effect on those we serve, […] and has been soothing for staff too.” 
While music may not change a diagnosis or the outcome of a health event or hospital stay, it can affect one’s experience. NVRH is amongst healthcare organizations nationwide that have expanded music programming in recent years.
“Music changes the environment, providing a therapeutic-like experience,” ICU Director Laura Sophrin said.
In 2018, NVRH received a grant from the Musicians On Call Hospital Music Pharmacy Program, which gifted three tablets and three pairs of headphones to the Emergency Department (ED) at NVRH. Each tablet includes specially curated playlists to promote relaxation and healing. Patients and visitors may borrow and use the tablets and headphones during their stay in the ED.
“Our providers have noted the amazing impact the Musician On Call tablet program has had, as patients wait for test results or remain unsure about their diagnosis. It allows them to relax and not worry about the busyness happening around them,” Forest said.
While the music program has had measureable growth and made an immeasurable impact on people, that has not come without challenges – most notably, funding – according to Forest. 
“Most musicians are paid professionals and programs cost money, which can create barriers for growing the program,” Forest said. “We rely upon the generosity of volunteers, who so willingly share their gifts and talents within our hospital, and upon the generosity of donors and funding organizations, which see the value of music in medicine.”
The possibilities for the music program at NVRH are nearly endless, according to Forest. Ideally, she said she’d like to have a music provider available every day, expand the Musicians on Call concept to other departments and build the program to increasingly support dementia patients.
The recently launched 2018 NVRH Development Annual Appeal is dedicated to ongoing efforts to enhance the music program, specifically to fund a certified music practitioner for the next five years.
“Being in the hospital can be a stressful time for people, but music has the power to heal and bring a sense of calm,” NVRH Development Manager Jen Layn said. “The generosity of donors in this appeal will positively impact those we serve for years to come.”  
Donations are being accepted through January 2019. Individuals can donate online at nvrh.org/donate-on-line or mail donations to NVRH Development Office, PO BOX 905, St. Johnsbury, VT 05819. They may also contact Development Manager Jen Layn at 802-748-7313 with questions.
“I knew music was a powerful medium and was the right path to impact patients holistically. It is very satisfying to see this all come to fruition and to continue to touch patients at NVRH with music,” Forest said.
Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospitalis located in St. Johnsbury in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. We are a community, not-for-profit, acute care, critical access hospital. NVRH is one of  two Vermont hospitals designated as a Baby FriendlyTMhospital by the United Nations. The organization provides primary and preventive care, surgical and specialty services, inpatient and outpatient care and 24-hour, physician-staffed emergency services. NVRH serves more than 30,000 people in the Caledonia and Southern Essex Counties in Vermont and employs 600.