The Artful Hospital

May 16, 2015 Updated: May 18, 2015

MIDDLETOWN, N.Y.—It isn’t often that one would look forward to visiting a hospital. But once you’ve been to the Orange Regional Medical Center (ORMC), you might just look for an excuse to go back. Not for a triple bypass or anything else to do with physical ailments, but perhaps for the ambiance and the art.

The ORMC is unlike most hospitals. First of all, as soon as you walk in, there is a pianist playing gentle music on a grand piano in the light-filled lobby surrounded by the local scenery. There are no white walls or shiny linoleum on the floor. Instead, the décor is akin to a five-star hotel in earth tones and plush fabrics throughout.

As soon as you walk in, there is a pianist playing gentle music on a grand piano in the light-filled lobby.

And then there is the art.

The works are not just cheap reproductions placed here and there as a token gesture to break up the stark walls, but real art chosen to soothe and calm the body and the mind.

The Epoch Times met up with Sarah Johnson, who holds the enviable, and not often heard-of position of art curator at a hospital, for a tour.

“This hospital is very progressive and is responding to a new trend in health care design to make hospitals feel more family-friendly and put everybody who comes here at ease,” she said.

Hospital design used to be very clinical and, for older buildings, the challenge of converting them to the new model is greater. But the ORMC is just three years old and it was designed from scratch to be not merely aesthetically pleasing but artistic.

A CEO With a Vision

The integration of art into the whole design of the hospital comes from the vision of CEO Scott Batulis who really understands how the hospital’s environment affects the patients and the staff. He told the Epoch Times that creating a healing health care environment is not a new idea, and one that he has been involved in for most of his career. 

“The overarching concept of a healing environment for patients is one that invokes nature, natural lighting, music, plants, soothing colors, and a quietness—we try to reduce noise for patients,” said Batulis.

He also mentioned that the reason why the artwork has a regional flavor is so “when people see a piece they’ll recognize the Hudson River or Brooklyn Bridge or the Catskills Mountains, or whatever it is, it helps to put them at ease just a little bit.” 

Conversely, a hospital with hard surfaces, bright, shining lights and a lot of noise, “makes the whole atmosphere more chaotic, and that chaotic feeling raises people’s blood pressure, and it makes the staff more edgy,” Batulis explained. 

The staff is all involved in the process of building the hospital, even sharing the interior design work. This undoubtedly contributes a feeling of ownership. Batulis said that the employees have done “a tremendous job” in maintaining the environment considering the fact that it’s very easy to focus on other things. 

Batulis considers the spiritual side of health care as very important, and the ORMC has an accommodating care program for the different faiths in the community.

The hospital has a permanent collection, which includes paintings and murals. It also holds an exhibition that changes every 6–8 weeks, showing art from different mediums that include painting, photography, quilts, and others.

Johnson views the art program as a form of public art because—while a gallery or museum attracts a certain audience that frequents art institutions—at a hospital the art is viewed by patients, visitors, and staff. It is also open to members of the public who wish to visit simply for the art.

She is working on an art map with an audio component that all visitors can call from their cellphone to hear the artists talking about their works.

“It’s a very interesting venue and it’s a place for art in particular to serve a special function of comforting, healing, and inspiring,” said Johnson.

Every area for which art is commissioned serves different functions and is tailored to address the needs of the person who is in the hospital.

A Place to Play

For example, in the children’s waiting room there is a mural painted by Poughkeepsie artist Nestor Madalengoitia featuring a typical Orange County pasture with farm animals and a clear blue sky.

Another work that the young patients enjoy greatly is found in the Children’s Emergency Department (CED), which is thoughtfully separated from the adult emergency room.

If ending up in the emergency room is traumatic for an adult, a child would find it even harder. With this in mind, the hospital commissioned children’s book illustrator and Fishkill-based artist Steven James Petruccio to paint a mural in the CED, the “Fabled Forest Mural.” But since the CED is for children up to 18 years old, the style of the painting had to resonate with them as well. Johnson said that parents are very pleasantly surprised to find such art at a hospital.

Petruccio painted a forest scene in great detail with little vignettes that reveal different animals and insects as the children keep looking at the mural. The unusual border is designed as a stone wall in relief, similar to the ones found throughout Orange County.

A detail from the “Fabled Forest” mural painted by Fishkill-based artist Steven James Petruccio. (Kati Vereshaka/Epoch Times)

“The mural really helps to change the space in the sense that if you’re waiting for a procedure you can project yourself into the scenery,” said Johnson.

The artist made sure that even the beaks of the birds are rounded and didn’t look like sharp surgical implements.

The artist made sure that even the beaks of the birds are rounded and didn’t look like sharp surgical implements.

In the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for babies, the parents are the primary audience, which brought with it some interesting considerations about the symbolism that some animals might have for an adult.

“When we were looking at enhancing the space—a very stressful place for parents, I was told to never use the image of a butterfly, because it might signify loss in some way,” said Johnson.

Art Comes to the Patients

As for the the rest of the hospital, generally, the patients cannot freely wander in the corridors but Johnson is very excited about a new program that is currently being developed to bring art-making to the patient’s rooms—The Art Cart.

It remains to be seen how the adults will respond, but the children will undoubtedly find it an exciting activity to break up the time spent waiting in a hospital bed.

The hospital’s new temporary exhibition starting on June 12 is titled Cuba: Forbidden Fruit. It will feature the work of Sugar Loaf photographer Nick Zungoli who traveled to the island nation of Cuba via the People-to-People Cultural Exchange Program.

Orange Regional Medical Center
707 East Main Street
Middletown, NY 10940
(845) 333-2385