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News / Health / Clark County Health

Art for pediatrics: Portland artist transforms unit at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center

Hospital nurse teams up with artist to make surgical area more comfortable for patients

By Chrissy Booker, Columbian staff writer
Published: December 20, 2023, 6:06am
5 Photos
A mural by Portland-based artist John Vance encourages waiting room visitors to find bugs, fish and other animals at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center.
A mural by Portland-based artist John Vance encourages waiting room visitors to find bugs, fish and other animals at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

The surgical services unit at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center is getting a kid-friendly upgrade this winter.

In collaboration with Portland artist John Vance, Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center, 2211 N.E. 139th St., is converting the plain white walls into a vibrant and welcoming environment for kids who undergo surgery there. Registered nurse Kim Conrad initially proposed the idea for a mural in late 2022 as a way to alleviate the stress that children experience before surgery and during the recovery period.

“There is a great deal of research that supports the general concept that pediatric patients have better outcomes and less anxiety and fear if health care environments look less sterile,” Conrad said. “I wanted something bright, natural and playful to distract children from their upcoming procedure.”

In the past year, Legacy Salmon Creek has served 10,600 pediatric patients in the emergency department; of those, 400 were seen in the surgical services unit, according to Drina Simons, an officer at the hospital’s foundation.

According to a study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 50 percent to 80 percent of kids experience preoperative anxiety, which can affect their recovery. Conrad, who’s worked for Legacy since 1997, envisioned colorful walls and interactive artwork as a way to divert young patients’ attention from their anxiety.

Salmon Creek Hospital Foundation initially raised donations from community members to put the project into motion, which is set to be completed in early 2024. Then, Salmon Creek Hospital Foundation board member Monte Phillips forged a partnership with Hyundai Hope on Wheels and four local Hyundai dealerships, which contributed $50,000 toward the project.

The money donated also provided the surgical unit with additional toys, decor and iPads for healthy distractions before surgery, Simons said.

“We see no greater cause than supporting children’s health and wellness at a renowned institution doing lifesaving work such as Legacy Salmon Creek,” said Phillips, who is also general manager and partner with Vancouver Auto Group.

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Transforming the space

Vance has been painting for the past 30 years. His work ranges from murals with floral and natural elements, to paintings with contrasting bright and dark colors.

For the past 10 years, Vance has focused specifically on murals. In 2019, he painted a mural at Randall Children’s Hospital at Legacy Emanuel in Portland.

Vance began painting at the Salmon Creek hospital in August, where his artwork focuses on nature, flowers and animals. Since the surgical unit also provides services to adults, it was important the art was visually engaging for kids without being too cartoonish, Vance explained.

“From the beginning, through conversations with Kim, the idea was something to lighten up the space and bring some good energy in potentially stressful times,” Vance said. “These days, I’m personally into plants, floral things, but just in general nature. So that kind of fit right into what I was already doing.”

He started by painting the main entry into the unit and covering up an old fish tank with the popular kids’ game, “I Spy.” Next, he will work on finishing four short-stay units, where patients go before a procedure for preparation, and also where they begin recovery. Each of those will have its own kid-friendly theme: “savannah,” “Pacific Northwest,” “jungle” and “under the sea.”

Woodland resident Jackie Marvitz’s 3-year-old son, Logan, had his tonsils removed at Legacy Salmon Creek in November. She and her son immediately noticed the murals. Nurses there played interactive games with Logan using the paintings on the wall to help calm him before surgery.

“I think I was more nervous than anybody out there,” Marvitz said. “It was nice to know that they did everything they could to make it a little more warm and inviting, versus just this scary, stale environment.”

Simons added that kids who go through the emergency department often experience the same anxieties as the surgical services unit. So in 2024, the foundation will raise funds for enhancements to the emergency department and waiting room at the Salmon Creek location.

“I can really see a difference in kids. I mean, I’ve been working with kids for a long time and just to make things look less clinical is such a comfort to them,” Conrad said. “They’re engaged in the art, rather than being afraid.”

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.