As hospitals and clinics continue to implement expansive art programs in their facilities, it only follows that eventually, they'll include patient-generated artwork in these exhibits as a way to build a community and give the patients a greater sense of place and autonomy in the medical environment. Such was the case in DaVita, Inc.'s, Belden Community Dialysis center in Canton, Ohio. Except the program put in place at this center not only allows the organic creation of artwork from its patients, it also takes on a recycling and regenerative bend by utilizing old medical caps as the primary medium for the artwork.

“The caps come off of the IV or injectable medications,” says Kym Cross, administrative assistant, DaVita Belden Community Dialysis. “To get a variety of colors, we've actually asked some of the local hospitals to save them for us as well so we can get a broader spectrum of colors for the patients to use.”

“DaVita called it Med Cap Art because we were using the medical caps. DaVita is very big on recycling, so I was always putting up memos about recycling cell phones or toner cartridges. So one day, one of the nurses came up to me and said, ‘Look at all of this plastic that we throw away every day. We should be doing something with this.’ I said that if you want to save them, I'll find something to do with them. They started accumulating, and I realized that our walls had been bare. I knew that we had some very artistic teammates and patients and thought that we should do something to decorate the walls.”

Cross-a scrapbooker herself who has admittedly limited artistic skills-took the project on in full force, saving up medical caps for nearly a year before approaching several of the patients who she “voluntold” about the project. She chose two patients in particular, who she had observed painting and bringing in artwork of their own to act as the frontiersmen of the project.

“One of our younger patients was always drawing or doodling in a sketch pad, and he was one of the ones I approached in the beginning,” says Cross. “I had another patient who would paint. I saw what they were bringing in and what they were doing individually, so those were the two that I approached at the beginning of the program and said, ‘I've got this different idea. Would you be willing to help me.’ They were really excited.”

Since initially approaching those two patients, the project has grown throughout the Belden community to include multiple patients-many producing multiple pieces of art-staff, families, and even two pieces from Cross herself. Cross said that the youngest patient participating in the project is in his mid-20s, while some of the older patients that are participating are in their 70s and 80s. The only guidance she gave to them (and primarily only her youngest patients): “This is a family-friendly unit, so just keep it clean.”

Cross is looking to expand the project too, including seasonal contests and possibly even getting some of her patients to create a wall mural in the lobby. “We're trying to find new ways of doing it,” she says. “When we had our Halloween contest, I put some caps on a pumpkin. We're trying to find different uses around the clinic to keep it going and keep encouraging the patients to do pieces. So we try to do different things. The pumpkin contest was one of the things that we did. We haven't done anything recently. I've been trying to come up with something to get more patients involved, but I just haven't thought of what I wanted to do yet.”

After the program's inception, though, Cross has had little opposition and often has patients asking her for a canvas and set of medical caps to create works of art of their own. And with a near endless supply of recycled medical caps, there's no end in sight-that is if they don't run out of room in the facility. “I wanted to get as many teammates and patients involved that I could,” says Cross. “Everyone was really excited about the project. I had a few people look at me and say, ‘You're doing what?’, but it was fun and I'm excited about it. We have people asking every day if they can do one. They're still trickling in and I'm always amazed to see what we get from the teammates and the patients.”

HD Healthcare Design 2010 August;10(8):134-135