Brooklyn hospital swaps health care for art

Musician Ken Butler, Artist Access participantAmong the sacrifices many artists make in pursuit of their passion is health care; it's simply too expensive for those struggling to live off of their creativity. However, Woodhull Hospital in the New York City borough of Brooklyn has come up with an ingenious plan to address this problem; allowing artists of all types to swap their art for health care.

I spoke by phone with Amy Duquette, the Artist Access Program Coordinator at Woodhull, who told me that among the artists who have worked in this program since its inception in 2005 are dancers, visual artists, actors, poets, directors, art educators, and more.

The artists provide a wide range of imaginative services, she said. One artist, trained in yoga breathing and self-soothing, helps breast-cancer patients remain calm and centered while they are waiting to be seen. Others might read to pediatric patients in that waiting room. An actor might put on role-playing sessions for staff, helping them rehearse how to break bad news to patients and loved ones. An upcoming program will have photographers taking pictures of newly-borns to give to the mother as a thank-you for choosing Woodhull hospital.

In return, the artists earn 40 credits per hour of service. Uninsured patients at this public hospital, part of New York City's health network, pay a flat fee for doctor's visits (including most lab work and x-rays), between $15 and $60 depending on their income. Most artists end up paying around $20 per service, which also includes emergency room and clinic visits. For each hour they devote to helping the hospital, they earn enough credits to pay for two medical visits. By the end of 2008, more than 400 artists had earned credit this way.

The program was created at a time that artists were moving into the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, near the hospital. It has served as a way for the hospital to connect with this community. It has been, according to Duquette, very well received.

If you're interested in learning more or taking part in the program, you may call the Artist Access hotline at 877-244-5600. I wish more hospitals would make that call and find out how to clone this program.
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