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New program brings the healing power of music to Baystate patients

November 10, 2020

In the days and months leading up to COVID-19, the numerous departments, halls, and campuses of Baystate Medical Center often bustled with volunteers (450 total across volunteer programs). While their responsibilities were varied, one of the most important was simply spending time with patients.

“Having to stay at the hospital can be very isolating and lonely,” explains Marie Saunders, manager of Volunteer Services. “The gift of time and attention our volunteers were able to extend had a tremendous impact on patient well-being. But when COVID hit, we had to pause the program. Suddenly, patients who were already stressed, had yet another stressor — COVID — to deal with. When our visitor policy changed because of the pandemic, we found our patients were missing the interaction of volunteers and were feeling more isolated."

So when Saunders learned about the Community Music School of Springfield’s (CMSS) ‘Somebody Played for Me’ program, she didn’t hesitate to reach out.

What is the healing power of music?

Poet Robert Browning wrote that "He who hears music feels his solitude peopled all at once."

During a time of increased social isolation, people are at risk for a multitude of health problems, including increased stress and cardiovascular risk.

Ample scientific evidence suggest that music can be beneficial in a host of ways, from helping improve the recovery of motor and cognitive function in stroke patients to reducing symptoms of depression in patients suffering from dementia.

Music plays on — even through COVID

Because of the many health benefits of music, the ‘Somebody Played for Me’ program was a perfect fit for the needs of patients and the aims of CMSS. CMSS, a design partner in the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s CultureRx Initiative, is committed to improving health and well-being through cultural participation. As part of that effort, CMSS faculty members regularly performed at senior centers throughout the region.

But, as Mary Ellen Miller, a founding CMSS faculty member recalls, “When COVID hit in March, we were no longer permitted to enter the various centers and the program ground to a halt. It was a very sad and quiet period for us all. But shortly thereafter, I ran into a friend who was lamenting not being able to properly celebrate her mother’s 90th birthday.” Miller, a vocalists, says, “I offered to call and sing for her mother on her birthday. It was wonderful. She said it was the best gift she ever got. And, like a light bulb, I realized the music didn’t have to stop for anyone.”

In short order, CMSS musicians were once again playing for seniors at area senior and elder centers — only this time via telephone — through the newly dubbed ‘Somebody Played for Me’ program.

Improving the patient experience, one performance at a time

Baystate’s Saunders says, “When we came to understand what an amazing job the program does of harnessing the healing power of music and creating a much-needed sense of connectedness for people in isolating circumstances, we knew that we needed it for our patients.”

Launched November 2, the weekly music program connects patients at Baystate Medical Center and Baystate Children’s Hospital with musicians via a tablet provided on each unit. For each half-hour session, patients can indicate a preference for a type of instrument, including violin, classical guitar, harp, and vocals. At the appointed hour, they are treated to a private performance followed by a brief Q&A session with the musician.

Among the first patients to participate in the program was Ronald Desmarais, 74, who was treated to a live harp performance. “I thought it was just wonderful,” says Desamarais. Acknowledging that being a patient can be very isolating, especially during COVID, he said he found the performance to be, “very relaxing and comforting. It definitely made my stay more enjoyable.”

Saunders notes, “We’re thrilled to be able provide music and culture to our patients while at the same time building stronger connections with people in our community. It’s such a simple concept but it’s allowing us to do so much for so many at a time when our options are limited.”

If you would like more information, or are interested in scheduling a private concert for a patient, please contact Marie Saunders by email or at 413-794-2292.