Never underestimate the healing effects of beauty.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemIt has already been one month since I moved into my office in Jennie Sealy Hospital. It seems like time is flying! I am starting to feel at home in our new space, even as activation of the building continues and preparations are ongoing to prepare to greet and care for our first patients. I have truly enjoyed being in the new hospital and am impressed by and proud of its features.


“The Fab Four,” by Rene Wiley-Janota. Rene Wiley-Janota, of Galveston, is known for her paintings of a variety of local subjects including historic Galveston’s magnificent architecture, Texas seabirds and songbirds, and dramatic landscapes of the harbor, estuary marshes and beaches.

As a lover of art, I cannot help but tell people how much I am enjoying the collection we selected. As I walk the hallways traveling from unit to unit in the hospital, I still find it remarkable how the art collection transformed the patient care and public spaces. If you had an opportunity to tour the hospital during the dedication events held last month, you may have seen some of the beautiful prints and framed photography on each floor. I have noticed how the natural light that pours through the windows illuminates the different pieces and brings out different shades and tones in the art at different times of the day. It is also fun to know that many of the scenes in the art can be seen in real time, just by looking out the window!

I recall from my own experience as a patient, a hospital experience is an inherently stressful one—even for someone who came to get well. (I know I’d personally rather be at the beach!) So as I visit the units, I have also spent a lot of time trying to imagine how patients and their loved ones will experience the new hospital. Jennie Sealy Hospital is UTMB’s gift to Galveston Island, and it is the setting in which our patient care teams and staff will care for the people of the communities we serve. I feel as though the art we chose offers a beautiful depiction of what those who live in Galveston experience, as well as what tourists and visitors see of the area.

The large photographs on canvas in the main hallways give the viewer a sensation of almost actually “being there” on the beach and watching the waves come in under a beautiful sky, while reproductions of paintings by local artists like Rene Wiley-Janota and Randall Cogburn offer impressionist views of seabirds, dramatic landscapes of the gulf, and scenes from the beaches of Galveston. Photographs of local landmarks offer glimpses into the history and seaside ambiance of the island, and close ups of natural objects like plants and seashells convey the texture of surfaces so vividly, that one feels as though they might actually reach out to touch the object itself.

In my Friday Flash Report last week, I discussed some of the evidence-based design elements that were incorporated into the hospital that would help provide a safe patient care environment and healing atmosphere. Incorporating natural light and elements was one of our guiding principles. Using art as a positive distraction was also an important factor.


“Near Shore,” by Randall Cogburn. Randall Cogburn, of Alvin, describes himself as someone who grew to love going to places to sketch and paint as a way of getting outdoors and enjoying life.

Art as a positive distraction means that it is something—an environmental feature—that elicits positive feelings, holds the viewer’s attention and interest, and therefore, reduces stressful thoughts. It offers the viewer something else to think about beyond the fact that they are in a hospital environment. It also helps make the environment feel more homelike by “deinstitutionalizing” the hospital setting into a place that is more comfortable and uplifting. Conversely, when patient care environments lack positive distractions, it may cause patients to focus increasingly on their own worries, fears or pain.

After Cleveland Clinic conducted a survey among patients of their art collection in 2014, they discovered it had measurable positive effects on patients’ moods, comfort, stress and overall impression of their visit to the hospital. In fact, more than 60 percent of patients reported a reduction in stress from the hospital’s art collection. For some patients and visitors, the art offers a natural focal point or incentive to walk down the hall. For others, it provided an opportunity to peacefully reflect.

A 2011 University of London study found that blood flow increased 10 percent to the “joy response” part of the brain when subjects saw a beautiful painting – just like when you look at a loved one. Additional research suggests that art showing views or representations of nature can actually help promote restoration, particularly when it features calm or slowly moving waters, plants and flowers, spatial openness, and birds or other wildlife. (I found it interesting to learn that studies suggest patients favor shades of blues and greens in landscapes and nature scenes.)

Florence Nightingale is quoted as saying, “Never underestimate the healing effects of beauty.” Looking at the entire collection of art throughout the hospital, I believe patients and visitors will respond positively to the healing atmosphere of UTMB’s new Jennie Sealy Hospital. The art throughout the building will surely promote conversation, offer a pleasant visual experience, and create a relaxing atmosphere. I hope our patients enjoy the collection as much as I have!

Jennie Sealy Hospital: The Setting of a Healing Atmosphere

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemWithin the field of medicine, Hippocrates believed that healing came from within. But he also believed it is sometimes a “matter of opportunity”—while the body possesses its own means of recovery, the main function for medicine is to aid these forces of the body by enhancing therapeutic functions of the environment. By the same token, Florence Nightingale believed that the place of healing also came from within the person, and the art of nursing was to provide an ideal healing environment.

The art of patient care entails a holistic approach to healing and wellness. It is the patients’ experiences of being whole, that is, of being involved and able to integrate one’s physical, mental, social, emotional and spiritual needs regardless of whether possibilities of being cured exist or not. Offering a holistic approach to care entails providing the best medicine and the best care in a healing atmosphere. This philosophy, supported by patient-centered criteria known to improve quality, safety and efficiency, was the very foundation of the design of the Jennie Sealy Hospital.

The inclusion of natural light, natural elements, soothing colors and beautiful artwork in the design of the hospital are intended to contribute to an atmosphere that promotes healing and wellness. But “atmosphere” encompasses much more than the physical environment of a health care setting alone. A healing atmosphere includes the philosophy that guides in the delivery of care and interactions between clinicians and staff with patients and guests.

Atmosphere describes one’s perception of what is contained “within the walls” of a setting; that is, the tone or mood. It can enhance or detract from the mood of patients, their family members, or clinicians and staff. In turn, their mood can affect both wellness and experience. For example, as a patient in a health care setting, we may get a sense of whether we could see ourselves healing or not.

For patients and families, the best health care is delivered by a care team with expertise and experience in a warm and welcoming atmosphere of physical and psychological comfort, calmness, safety, compassion, respect, cheerfulness, information, cleanliness, and convenience. The physical environment of the healing atmosphere is but a symbol  conveying messages of whether the atmosphere is caring and uncaring, homelike or institution-like. It is only a part of the whole that is a healing atmosphere.

A healing atmosphere also encompasses the safety of the environment, including the quality of the air and use of natural light. For example, did you know that artificial light can cause visual fatigue and headaches, and it also interferes with the body’s natural circadian rhythms? A safe environment is clean. It is space that is well laid out with equipment and furniture fitting well into their spaces. It is space that allows efficiency, offers privacy and provides adequate family space. It is an environment in which patients and families are given adequate information so that they feel a sense of orientation to their surroundings and can actively participate in the plan of care.

Most importantly, a healing atmosphere is the “culture of caring” that is interwoven with the safety environment and the physical environment. This represents the philosophy guiding the delivery of care – at UTMB, it is our pledge to care for our patients and their guests just as we would the most cherished of our loved ones. This is exhibited when we demonstrate care and compassion to help patients heal. It is exhibited when we engage patients and their loved ones in the care plan, because we understand it enhances healing and outcomes.

Twelve primary evidence-based strategies guided the design team throughout the process of designing Jennie Sealy Hospital to ensure it would support a healing atmosphere. Thinking about workflows and keeping an eye on technology trends so that we are still working “smart” well into the future also is of great importance.

All 252 patient rooms in Jennie Sealy Hospital are single occupancy, which not only increases privacy, but has been shown to reduce stress, decrease noise volumes, increase patient satisfaction, reduce infections and improve outcomes. The rooms are also acuity adaptable, which means the rooms can be used for acute care up to critical care and all care levels in between. This will help reduce patient hand-offs, transfers and errors; contribute to fewer staff injuries due to fewer transfers; eliminate delays and waits for treatments and results; and contribute to a decreased length of stay. The rooms are also equipped with HEPA filtration to reduce the risk of infection. Patient lifts were included for the safety of patients and staff in all intensive care rooms, as well as 20 percent of medical/surgical rooms.

Jennie Sealy Hospital Patient Room

Jennie Sealy Hospital Patient Room – photo by Erin Swearingen

The patient rooms were also designed to allow for maximum opportunities for family interaction and personalization of service. Rooms in the new hospital are configured to provide separate zones for family, patients and staff. A designated family zone promotes family involvement in the patient’s care and a feeling of connection to the clinicians and a sense of well-being. The family area also provides amenities for an overnight stay, including a sofa bed and a small refrigerator. A second small television in this area of the room allows the guest to watch television without disturbing their loved one.

Throughout the hospital design process, multidisciplinary teams worked to identify and ensure workflows would increase safety and efficiency for patients and staff, and that core support functions were centrally located in the unit to minimize travel distances for staff. Caregivers have immediate access to the patient at the room’s entry, and hand hygiene dispensers are strategically placed so that clinicians and staff can conveniently gel-in and gel-out every time they enter and exit the patient’s room. Decentralized caregiver workstations allow continual monitoring of patients, which enhances responsiveness to patient needs.

Jennie Sealy Hospital is a beautiful hospital that was designed with patients and their guests at heart. Natural light, pleasant views and more than 1,000 pieces of coastal-themed art reflect the beauty of the Gulf Coast and the history and ambiance of Galveston Island. It is a lovely and apt complement to our clinics and outpatient care settings, as well as our hospital in Angleton Danbury and future League City Hospital, that have also incorporated the elements of a healing atmosphere into their design and practice.

When our staff and patients move into Jennie Sealy Hospital on April 9, 2016, a building filled with natural light, elements of nature and soothing colors will be transformed by a caring, compassionate, safety-focused culture to become a true atmosphere of healing for those we serve across UTMB Health.

Twelve Evidence-Based Design Strategies

Twelve Evidence-Based Design Strategies

Find out more about the use of art throughout the hospital in next week’s Friday Flash message.

Great works are performed not by strength, but by perseverance.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemLast Friday, before the formal Jennie Sealy Dedication Ceremony, I had the opportunity to join Dr. Callender, Dr. Jacobs and Ms. Sadro in welcoming to a luncheon the many dignitaries and benefactors who joined us on the Galveston campus. From state representatives to current and former University of Texas System Chancellors, from members of the UT System Board of Regents members to the Sealy & Smith Foundation Board and the Moody Foundation Board, a large and distinguished group of individuals joined in the day’s celebrations.

That momentous day, as I spoke in front of the group and recounted to them our journey, I felt a tremendous sense of pride in our people. So many of you have stood by UTMB throughout its recovery, renewal and growth after Hurricane Ike. I shared in the great feelings success we all feel about opening the doors of our beautiful new hospital to our patients and their guests on April 9. The Jennie Sealy Hospital represents the effort of so many people who put in thousands of hours of work, developing plans and working to garner the necessary support to begin construction.

It was a year and a day before I began working at UTMB that Hurricane Ike made landfall on Galveston Island. I remember watching the evening news before the storm struck. The forecast was grim. Just before midnight on Friday, September 12, 2008, I received a message from Dr. David Marshall, who was my friend and UTMB’s Chief Operating Officer at the time.

“I am headed to bed for the night. Pray for us.”

I went to bed that night with David’s message on my mind. I thought about the day prior, when UTMB staff had safely evacuated its patients – 471 patients to be exact. Then, they worked to secure the campus, even as storm surge approached. By the time I received David’s message, essential staff were waiting to ride out the storm. Hurricane Ike’s arrival was only hours away.

At 2 a.m., September 13, the eye of the storm passed over UTMB. Although Ike was considered only a Category 2 storm, its size made it one of the most devastating hurricanes in recent U.S. history (it was 70% larger than an average hurricane). In the days that followed, I watched the news with grave concern. Aerial footage showed places on Galveston Island where flood waters had reached nearly 20 feet. Interstate 45 was littered by boats. Homes had been washed entirely off their foundation. I couldn’t believe the magnitude of the devastation.

Town Hall Meeting, October 7, 2008

Town Hall Meeting, October 7, 2008

Nearly a month later, on October 7, I watched a video posted to UTMB’s website of Dr. Callender’s first Town Hall meeting after the storm. He calmly reassured the community that UTMB would be rebuilt, and it would emerge stronger than before. I am certain, at the time, people appreciated the words but had some doubts about whether or not this would truly happen. By then, people across the state were already seriously questioning whether or not UTMB should be rebuilt on the island.

But despite the storm’s damage and all of the naysayers who said UTMB should be closed forever, UTMB’s employees and students courageously marched on, wearing a smile as they helped clean up the campus. The old motto from the Great Storm of 1900 was adopted and prevailed: “UTMB stops for no storm.”

Hurricane Ike Commemoration, September 13, 2009 - Flag Raising

Hurricane Ike Commemoration, September 13, 2009 – Flag Raising

My first day as an employee at UTMB, I remember standing in the grassy area between John Sealy Hospital and the Administration Building to watch the UTMB flag being raised during the Hurricane Ike Commemoration Ceremony. It was an emotional and triumphant day for all of the brave and tenacious students, employees, and faculty who remained so passionately dedicated to rebuilding UTMB on Galveston Island.

John Sealy Hospital had been reopened only nine months ago at the time. One day at noon, I visited the MICU. The area was bustling with activity, and a nurse hurried out of the break room, chewing her last bite of lunch. I said to her, “You all are really busy today.”

Her response was not what I expected: “Yes, isn’t it wonderful that we have our patients back?”

Meanwhile, the pharmacy was still functioning but now out of a patient unit. The usual technology to support its work was absent—there was no robot, no medication carousel, nothing. Just determined pharmacists and technicians who filled hundreds of prescriptions a day with the same degree of accuracy as they had before. The kitchen still occupied a large tent on the top level of the Plaza Garage. Surgical instruments took a 120-mile round trip ride to Sugar Land each day to be sterilized.

Despite these challenges, everyone continued forward with hope and faith, and UTMB quickly moved from recovery into a new era, focused on progress and growth. Here we are today, four years after breaking ground on this hospital. Standing in Jennie Sealy Hospital feels nothing short of a miracle!

I also told these tremendous supporters of UTMB that we had designed our new hospital, first and foremost, with the patient in mind. We had involved nurses, physicians and staff in every step of the design process to ensure the facility would support patient care delivery. We involved students, residents and program leaders in our plans to assure the building would adequately support UTMB’s educational mission, and we identified space to support clinical research.

I told them about how much we had benefited by engaging our patients and the community in the design process. Their feedback added to—and even sometimes challenged—what we had envisioned from an administrative perspective. I told them about the separate zones in the patient rooms for clinical staff, the patient and their family, as well as the wonderful amenities we included thanks to their suggestions, like the specific model of sofa bed and a small refrigerator.

Jennie Sealy

Jennie Sealy Hospital – Community Open House, February 27, 2016

While Jennie Sealy Hospital is UTMB’s gift to the community, it would not have been possible without so many people who stepped forward to help. Students traveled to Austin to talk with legislators about UTMB’s importance. Our staff, alumni and community members advocated for UTMB at public hearings. Our elected officials listened to and championed our cause. The UT System believed in the importance of UTMB’s role in patient care and educating medical professionals in the state. So many people contributed to UTMB’s renewal and growth.

It was an honor to formally thank the Sealy & Smith Foundation, who made an extraordinary and visionary lead gift, signaling to the State of Texas their strong commitment to rebuilding UTMB and assuring excellent care on Galveston Island. It was an honor to thank the Moody Foundation, who are dedicated to supporting our work in managing complex patients and assuring that we have state-of-the-art facilities, equipment and programs to support that care.

I would be remiss if I did not also acknowledge the contributions so many of you, UTMB’s own employees and faculty, who together donated over $11 million to UTMB’s Family Campaign. Your contributions represent how passionately you care about and believe in UTMB. These combined contributions will help thousands of patients and families for many years to come.

There is a quote that I believe captures the essence of what each of you has helped UTMB accomplish:

“It’s impossible,” said pride.

“It’s risky,” said experience.

“It’s pointless,” said reason.

“Give it a try,” whispered the heart.

Thanks to each one of you here today who listened to the whispers of your heart.