Embracing the art of healing

  • November 12, 2010

By LISA CRAWFORD WATSON, Monterey County Herald

Novermber 12, 2010 — Dr. Yojiro Iba wandered down the sterile white expanse of the empty corridor, lost. Tears coursing down his face, his heart heavy with grief, his hands still felt the weight of his partner, who had just died in his arms at Natividad Medical Center. The hallway, bereft of art or other distraction, echoed his footsteps and his feelings as he tried to make his way, alone.

Iba’s partner had no family contacts. His own reside in Japan, too far away to offer comfort in this hollow moment. He asked everyone he met in the hall for the help of a chaplain, but no one was available at 2:30 in the morning.

Four months later, Linda Ford, president and CEO of the Natividad Medical Foundation, is leading the community in a philanthropic initiative to change that.

Established in Salinas nearly 125 years ago, NMC is one of 15 safety net hospitals in the state dedicated to providing care to 80 percent of the under- and uninsured, which results in an annual $92 million expenditure for charitable services. Twelve years ago, a new hospital was built to replace the original adobe building with a state-of-the art facility that houses 172 in-patient beds. Yet four years ago, Natividad reported a $25 million shortfall, making them the impoverished hospital in the county and the recipient of a respective $6million and $4million in charitable donations from Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital and Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula.

Today, the medical center remains afloat, fueled by operating revenues and the generosity of a community determined to see their county hospital thrive. Buoyed by the hospital’s progressive facility and a positive cash flow, Ford has turned her attention toward raising funds to bring inspired art to the walls of the hospital hallways and waiting rooms, and to augment Natividad’s Spiritual Care Services.

Ford’s mission is to create “Natividad Art: A Journey of Healing,” a hospital-wide exhibition that will feature the work of more than 80 local artists and art groups, representing the diversity of people, the varied landscape and the dynamic seascape of Monterey County. Proceeds from the sale of select paintings and photographs throughout the year will benefit Spiritual Care Services by funding additional hours of chaplaincy service. And she plans to have it all in place in time for the hospital’s 125th anniversary celebration on Feb. 25.

“Over the years,” said Ford, “NMC, a relatively blank canvas, has struggled to place art throughout the public and patient care areas of the hospital. The Natividad Medical Foundation has created a 100-percent philanthropic endeavor as part of its commitment to patient-centered care. At the Foundation, we are passionate about creating a welcoming hospital that reflects our community’s diversity and beauty, delights the spirit and promotes health and healing.”
Which is precisely why photographer Howard Jones chose to provide “The Fire Chronicles: Walking the Healing Path,” an exhibition of original photography and poetry portraying the transformation from the spoils of the 2008 Basin Complex fires to the rebirth of Big Sur. And why Dr. Iba, a local chiropractor, chose to sponsor this exhibition in memory of his partner, Dr. Eldon Dixon, who left him the funds to do so.

“When I met Ms. Ford,” said Iba, “she suggested we take that same corridor, that artless white expanse I had wandered, and put up something to help cheer up another who might come through in the same state I was in.

“This was a godsend for me, perfect for what I felt. After my partner died, I felt like everything was lost; nothing was the same any more. The Big Sur fire destroyed all the trees, but then the life was slowly coming back. In time, I felt like my life was slowly returning as well. It was the perfect parallel, I could totally identify my personal sentiments with his photographs, and I was more than happy to use Dr. Dixon’s funds to provide this photography project.”

Photographer Scott Campbell, also inspired to provide his photography to the project, came from an alternative perspective; gratitude and joy for the birth of his babies, now 3 and 6 years old. So he set up a photo studio in the doctors’ lounge, photographed mothers nearly ready to give birth or those who have, with their newborns, and contributed “First Breath,” an exhibition of 55 black-and-white portraits, which will be displayed throughout the Maternity Center and the Neonatal intensive-care unit.

“It gives me a sense of giving back to community,” said Campbell, who specializes in underwater photography, family portraits and weddings. “This community seems often overlooked in terms of the healing elements of art. But when mothers come in to have their babies, they’ll get a sense of the joy that is to come, which might help them get through that period of labor, which can be difficult.”

Campbell’s contribution was sponsored by Bay Photo out of Santa Cruz and Drs. Eric del Piero and Leland Rosenbloom of Monterey County Eye Associates.

“Dr. Rosenbloom and I have been taking care of NICU babies since 1998,” said Dr. del Piero. “We are called in to make sure the very premature infants don’t have a particular condition that could become a vision-threatening problem if not recognized and treated early on. This is our connection to the babies. I’ve known Scott Campbell and have been a big fan of his work for a long time; I find him a really talented photographer and artist. When asked to sponsor the exhibit, we talked long and hard about it and decided his work would be very positive for the wellbeing of Natividad families. These are photographs of children Dr. Rosenbloom and I may have cared for.”

Campbell also is working on a large photograph to be presented across an expansive three-panel color mural. The imagery will present five happy, healthy 5-year-olds, perhaps in a sunflower grove, who began life in the NICU but are now thriving.

Natividad also has welcomed “Spring Lettuce on River Road,” Kirk Kennedy’s renowned panoramic photograph of the verdant crops of the Salinas Valley. Earthbound Farms donated funds and photographs to embellish the hospital’s cafeteria. Artist Juleen Johnson, a recent graduate of CSU Monterey Bay, provided “Transformation,” an installation 1,200 colorful origami butterflies, which hang 30 feet in the air and float on the breeze of passersby. Artist José Ortiz has painted a mural in vibrant oils, depicting the faces of children as they welcome a newborn baby. And Monterey Bay Plein Air Painter’s Association has provided “Monterey Tapestry,” a 72-piece juried show, whose paintings have already begun selling.

“Most Natividad patients lead difficult lives and come in with a real depth of need, and medical attention is only part of it,” said Father Larry Kambitsch, who has been serving the hospital on a limited schedule for more than 10 years. “We need to do what we can do to augment the chaplaincy, to provide more of us who have the time and training to sit with a patient, to listen and to find out what’s really going on, so we can support the medical care to heal the whole person. I’m on call 24 hours a day, but I’m only one person, and I’m not always here.”

To find out more about “Natividad Art: A Journey of Healing” or to donate, call 755-4187 or visit www.natividadfoundation.org.