A One-Year Reflection: Using the Art of Medicine to Heal Amidst a Pandemic
April 14, 2021
For leaders, employees and patients of Renown Health, April 14, 2020 will eternally be etched into the COVID-19 pandemic timeline. This was the day the organization invited community leaders and members of the media to tour the Alternate Care Site (ACS) in the Mill St. Parking structure. While other healthcare systems around the world were setting up field hospitals to care for an anticipated influx of COVID-19 patients, Renown was the first to do so in a parking garage.
During this preview event, Renown Health CEO and President, Dr. Tony Slonim, spoke to area leaders on the decision to commission the $11 million Alternate Care Site, which at the time, was a precautionary measure and a demonstration of Renown’s commitment to the health and well-being of the one million people and communities it serves across 100,000 square miles of Nevada, Lake Tahoe and northeast California.
Also on April 14, 2020, Dr. Slonim observed his 56th birthday. Rather than a celebration to mark the occasion, during the news conference, he received a call that would further alter his life. The intensivist caring for his dad, Anthony Slonim Sr., in a New Jersey hospital, told him that after a hard-fought battle against the novel coronavirus, his father had died.
Dr. Slonim said, “April 14, 2020 was the day the COVID-19 pandemic was no longer just a tragedy devastating the east coast and other hotspots around the world. COVID-19 hit home, stealing my father and threating both of my beloved communities- New Jersey and Reno - that my family calls home.”
The bright light of LOVE shines through the darkness
Later that week, on April 16, 2020, Beth Macmillan, Executive Director of Artown loaned Renown the LOVE sculpture, a one-ton, welded aluminum artwork with letters 10-feet tall and eight-feet wide created by artist Laura Kimpton and fabricated by Jeff Schomberg, where it lights up Renown Regional Medical Center’s main entrance. LOVE glows, and continues to glow, in Renown’s signature purple every evening, shining brightly for patients, employees, visitors and passersby to enjoy. The art piece debuted at Burning Man in 2019, and was originally slated for the 9/11 Tribute Museum in NYC. “Healthcare heroes and patients of the hospital have been warmed and inspired by the art and this one word, LOVE! Now, more than ever, the power of art has provided something beautiful on which to focus,” says Beth Macmillan.
In July, the LOVE sculpture found a permanent home at Renown thanks to a donation from the Robert and Dorothy Keyser Foundation. “Through the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the LOVE sculpture has been a powerful source of hope, inspiration and determination for our community,” said Blake Smith, chair of the Keyser Foundation. “Now, we can’t imagine the entrance of the hospital without it. We are happy that the incredible piece of art will continue shining a bright light while spreading warmth and comfort to all who care for those in our hospitals, patients and families, and those who pass by.” (LOVE sign B-Roll.)
For Dr. Slonim, he found the art a reminder of the love of his father. “I have so much respect for artists like Laura and Jeff, and the way they connect with people through their art. Passing by the LOVE sculpture was immensely therapeutic for me, especially after the loss of my dad,” said Dr. Slonim. “Caring for others and their emotions is also an art. Over the last year, I have been inspired by the compassionate caregivers who have practiced the art of medicine under extremely stressful and difficult conditions brought on by the pandemic.”
When words fail, art speaks
Recognizing art’s powerful healing capabilities, Renown collaborated with prominent artist and fine art photographer, Anicia Beckwith, to immortalize the many battles fought against and amidst COVID-19 within the healthcare system’s walls. Beckwith captured portrait images of Renown caregivers, patients and their loved ones, showing raw and touching scenes from the COVID Intensive Care Unit, Emergency Departments, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Wilbur D. May Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and the Alternate Care Site field hospital.
A group of Renown caregivers hold a COVID patient’s hand. Tears well up in their eyes as the patient takes his last breath. Care providers respond to a patient’s only request – a facial shave. The man beams at the sight of his freshly groomed face, and is visibly touched by the tender care he received to make it happen. Lupe, an environmental services worker, takes special care in her efforts to clean and sanitize patient rooms—a craft she has perfected and taken pride in for the 25+ years she’s worked at Renown. These are just a few of the captivating moments Beckwith illustrates through her art.
“I was in awe as I watched Renown caregivers administer chest compressions to a patient whose heart had just stopped,” said Beckwith. Promptly after assisting in saving that patient’s life, I observed a nurse walk into the room next door where an elderly patient peacefully discussed coming to the end of hers. I can’t help but wonder how the staff have these conversations daily—always with compassion, dignity and grace. It was an honor and privilege to commemorate this pivotal time in our world’s history, and in turn, aid in the healing process for those hurting both physically and emotionally.”
“Anicia’s photography provided a comforting outlet for all who were involved in the project,” said Annie Zucker, Manager of Community Impact at Renown. “Her work gave care givers an opportunity to reflect on the last year and fueled the strength and determination they needed to get through it, as sometimes it takes an outside lens to see the magnitude and impact of your work. Anicia gave patients and families an opportunity share their stories and feel support and encouragement from the outside world.”
In addition to taking photos on standard digital cameras, Beckwith also honed her skills using various vintage film cameras and historical techniques.
“I purposely use these images as testimony to the science in front and behind the lens,” said Beckwith. “COVID has shown us technological advances cannot cure every condition, and sometimes we must go back to the basics to move forward. Some of the film I used for this project is no longer made and rare to possess. Each time I click the shutter translates to one less photographic possibility left in the world. To decide when and what to capture is a metaphor for the importance, reverence and weight I place on the subject in front of me.”
Beckwith plans to continue her photography project at Renown using a 104-year-old camera that was present during the time of the Spanish Flu of 1918. Her goal is to highlight the remarkable stories of strength, resilience and perseverance that have come from the ashes of the pandemic, as we look towards a hopeful future.
“For more than 30 years, art has played an important role at Renown Health,” said Sy Johnson, Chief of Staff at Renown. “Healing is more than getting quality medical care—it’s about the heart, the mind and the spirit. We are proud to bring extraordinary artists like Laura Kimpton, Jeff Schomberg, Anicia Beckwith and others, to find meaningful ways to connect with our patients, employees and community through the universal language of healing arts. Much of the art on our campuses has been made possible by generous artists and donors, who have make a tremendous impact on how our community—and our providers—reflect, engage and heal.”
If you are interested in supporting the Healing Arts Program at Renown Health, a charitable, non-profit health organization, please consider giving to Renown Health Foundation. Donations are accepted through the following ways:
- Make a gift at www.renown.org/give
- Call Renown Health Foundation at 775-982-5545
- Mail a check to Renown Health Foundation, 1155 Mill St., O2, Reno, NV 89502
- Venmo: @RenownFoundation
About Renown Health
Renown Health is the region’s largest, locally governed, not-for-profit integrated healthcare network serving Nevada, Lake Tahoe and northeast California. With a diverse workforce of more than 7,000 employees, Renown has fostered a longstanding culture of excellence, determination and innovation. The organization comprises a trauma center, two acute care hospitals, a children’s hospital, a rehabilitation hospital, a medical group and urgent care network, and the region’s largest, locally owned not-for-profit insurance company, Hometown Health. Clinical institutes include: Cancer, Heart and Vascular Heath, Neurosciences and Robotic Surgery. Renown is currently enrolling participants in the world’s largest community-based genetic population health study, the Healthy Nevada Project®. For more information, visit renown.org.
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