With the addition of a full-time director for its New Horizons program, Children's Hospital has expanded its work in bringing projects in the arts, humanities and sciences to its young patients.
"Since children here have no control over what's being done to their bodies, they need to have some control over their environment," said Susan Eidenberg, explaining New Horizons, which she will direct beginning this week.
The goal is to provide learning experiences for the children while helping them express feelings of sadness, fear, anger and joy as they undergo a traumatic experience, said Diane Bernstein, chairwoman of the recently formed New Horizons Committee.
The decision to hire a full-time coordinator for the project signals a serious commitment by the hospital to expand the program, said Bernstein. Since New Horizons was instituted last year, programming has been limited by the amount of spare time hospital staff members could devote to it.
"We need someone to make longrange plans, administrative decisions and create a program involving the children on a day-to-day basis," she said.
Eidenberg, who has planned art education programs for schools in Chicago and the District, believes the integration of art activities into the hospital environment is vital to patients' wellbeing.
Plans for the program include teaching patients movement exercises "even if a child is confined to bed and can only move fingers or toes," producing a hospital newspaper, developing programs for the hospital's closedcircuit television system, bringing in performers and combining painting and drawing with physical therapy, Eidenberg said.
Eidenberg said she will study the possiblity of teaching children about the body through scientific films, tapes and models. She said some institutions have used large walkthrough models of the human heart or eyeball, adding that this is "a wonderful way to teach children."
Eidenberg also plans to investigate resources that are available in Washington museums.
"We are limited in terms of bringing children on field trips, but museums may be storing exhibits in their basements that can be displayed here," she said.
A traveling exhibit of 60 paintings by handicapped children, sponsored by the National Committee, Arts for the Handicapped, is now on display in the hospital lobby.
The children have developed a respect for the paintings, Eidenberg said, adding that not one of the paintings has been taken down or touched.
Auditioning artists to find shows appropriate for children in a hospital is another of Eidenberg's responsibilities.
Performances have to take into account the disparate ages, attention spans and cultural backgrounds of the patients. There's a big difference between performing here and at an elementary school, Eidenberg said.
"In a hospital, a child is in an abnormal and potentially traumatic situation," said Dr. Jane Frank, pediatric radiologist and New Horizons committee member. "Certain subjects of fairy tale fantasies such as death or disfiguration are best avoided. Sometimes performances must be adapted to hospital circumstances. In the 'Hansel and Gretel' ballet last week, the witch was a funny figure rather than frightening or intimidating."
The New Horizons program also includes inviting artists, poets and dancers to the hospital. During the past few months, the Oakland Ballet performed excerpts from "Hansel and Gretel," the Washington Dance Theatre told four stories through dance, author Judith Viorst read aloud from her children's books and a puppet show and a children's opera workshop were shown.
The performances are not just for mobile children. Even patients in wheelchairs are brought down to the lobby or auditorium, Frank said.
Creating a warm, friendly environment helps alleviate children's fears, Frank said.
"Is it enough for a hospital to remove a child's inflamed appendix, feed him, wash him and send him home when he's healed?" Frank asked. "Or is it far more pertinent to talk with him about the terror of being in strange surroundings and to provide him with opportunities to express his feelings through drawing, writing or interacting with other patients?"
The year-old hospital at 111 Michigan Ave. NW was obviously designed with children in mind. The building is painted and carpeted in bright, primary colors. Geometric designs decorate each corridor. Every patient has a room with a view facing the street, a bed for the parent to spend the night and a closed-circuit television set. The playroom on each wing is stocked with equipment, toys and materials geared to that age group.
The 260-bed facility also s 100,000 outpatients, aged newborn to 18, every year.
The New Horizons Committee was formed in September 1977 to enlarge the scope of the Interiors Committee, which chose the hospital's decor. "Our purpose is to enrich the environment rather than just decorating it," said Bernstein.
The hospital has received a matching grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for $50,000. In May an artist will be commissioned to create an art work using one, two or three of the ramp walls surrounding the main entrance.
The medium for the piece hasn't been chosen yet, but the hospital would like a warm piece that children can relate to, said Frank.
Funds for New Horizons are raised through private donations, separate from hospital operating expenses, Bernstein said. New Horizons expenses are not added on to hospital bills in any way.
The cooperation of the entire hospital staff strengthens the program, said Bernstein. Some staff members have offered to share their non-medical interests such as photography and singing in a chamber group with the patients.
"It's another level of communicating with patients, furthering the hospital's commitment to address the needs of the whole child," she said.