International Helath Humanities Network Blog
Canadian to Canadian 1.1
Melanie Boyd is the International Health Humanities Network Canadian Correspondent. This is the first in her series of interview-based articles featuring Canadians engaged in Health Humanities work. In this edition, you’ll meet:
Bev Foster, Co-Founder and Executive Director
Room 217 Foundation
Sometimes the best ideas arise from difficult circumstances and in unusual places, like the one sparked in a parking lot at Uxbridge Cottage Hospital in Ontario, Canada. Bev Foster sat in her car after saying a last goodbye to her beloved father, who died of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in Room 217. Bev says of that moment, “When I left my dad, all I really knew was I needed to do something about it.”
“It” meant the power of music. For through music, in the eighteen months between his diagnosis and death, Bev and her dad had deepened profoundly their connection with each other. This is not surprising, given their entire family’s enduring love of music, and Bev’s personal and professional involvement with it. As Bev says:
I’m a music educator. That’s who I am. I taught music for twenty-five years, both privately and in schools. I’ve done a lot of choral work in the community and in my church. When you do that you’re already working in tender places – in being sensitive as a musician to things about music that affect people’s heartful and physical responses.
Catalyzed by the profound effect of her father’s death, and nourished by this musical knowledge and experience, Bev’s parking-lot idea began to grow. She knew firsthand the value of music in the end-of-life process – not only for the dying individual, but also for family and professional caregivers. She also knew that not all caregivers are musically trained or inclined, and that – as much as they might want to – incorporating music into end-of-life care can be difficult for them. This is what Bev “needed to do something about” and, over the ensuing years, she did. Bev (re)created Room 217.
The organization of that name – now a Canadian not-for-profit corporation and registered charity – has burgeoned since its beginning in 2005. Located in Port Perry, Ontario (an hour northeast of Toronto), Room 217 Foundation presently has a staff of six and an operating budget of £146,000 ($270,000 Cdn). With these resources, plus the benevolence of a variety of volunteers, partners and in-kind donations, Room 217 works toward its goal of “caring for the whole person through music” – but not only persons at end-of-life. Indeed, Bev’s initial focus has broadened to include music care in a wide variety of situations.
Room 217 meets its goal in four ways: through music care resources, education, delivery and research. Of the first, Bev says:
From the resources side of Room 217, as a musician and caregiver, I want really good, therapeutically informed but artistically sound, tangible, hands-on things for caregivers.
We support and advocate for music therapy and music thanatology because you’d always want to include live music – but there are so many hours in the day when that’s not possible, and always through the night.
Room 217 has recorded and published a suite of resources specifically designed to support music care – including CDs, videos, and a training/resource guide. The CDs and videos feature professional musicians (including Bev), and attend to a variety of age groups and needs. Room 217 is passionate about the content, quality and availability of its materials:
We want caregivers to have resources at hand that are validated. They’re not going to work with 100 percent of the cases, but you know they’re going to work at some level in most cases. It’s very strong.
The need for such resources is immediate and rapidly increasing – a need which, from Bev’s perspective, cannot be ignored:
If you look at dementia care, the research says what’s lacking is meaningful activities for persons living with dementia. This is the leading twenty-first century epidemic globally. We need to get ready and prepare these kinds of tangible resources for caregivers.
Inherently valuable and easily used though they are, Room 217 (and other) music resources have even more value when people are trained in how to integrate them into caregiving.
Very implicit in the Foundation is education, so we want to provide context for people to learn how to use music resources in care. We want to support the people who are already at bedside – who are already doing therapeutic and caring work – to help them integrate music into it. As well as families, we’re trying to support nurses, recreation therapists, personal support workers – people who use music to some degree in their work – and help them use it even more effectively by learning some of the therapeutic principles and capacities of music.
Room 217 offers a variety of educational opportunities, both online and in person. For example, a free webinar series is available through their website. A newly minted twelve-hour Music Care Certificate Program “sold out” in hours, with enough overflow registrants to justify a second offering. In 2013, the third national Music Care Conference was held in Toronto, with over 300 participants attending. In addition to a fourth one in Toronto this year, Room 217 will host a Music Care Conference in Calgary, Alberta.
A third objective for Room 217 is delivery; that is, “getting resources to people who need them most.” Bev notes that the organization’s foundation status is key to procuring funding to support this initiative:
As a foundation we can partner with people and create programs. Our interest is in the more vulnerable population. For example we partner with a pharmaceutical corporation for our Room-to-Room program. Their financial support gets Room 217 Music Care CDs, DVDs, and resource guides into palliative care and hospices across the country. To be eligible for the program, organizations commit to a four to six month period, where they use the resources and evaluate their impact.
Room 217 delivery aims to be “economical” – in the sense of providing programs that are as fulsome, effective and readily applied as possible. For example, Bev says this of the organization’s in-development Dementia Care Program:
The program involves twelve video episodes featuring a music care specialist who facilitates a singing program. It can be used in long-term care, communities, Alzheimer’s groups, day programs, and even private homes. We’re trying to make it that flexible. The program has activities to augment the experience, as well as online training for facilitators. We hope that a recreation therapist, a volunteer in a long-term care facility, or even a family caregiver at home can use the program with their loved ones or residents. It will be quite user friendly.
Research, which is Room 217’s final objective, is evolving. As Bev notes:
Since the Room 217 Foundation was established in 2009, research has been on the back burner, but it’s beginning to emerge. In 2014, it’s something we’re going to begin to define more. Research will play a big part in what we do.
But we don’t see ourselves as primary research investigators; we see ourselves more as collaborators or consultants, bringing our music care expertise into certain situations. We’re more about knowledge translation and getting it into the hands of people.
Bev is involved not only in advancing the research branch of Room 217; she is pursuing music care-related research personally, and in a way that will inform the Foundation’s work:
I'm doing a Masters in Music Education at the University of Toronto – working with Lee Bartel, the Acting Director of the Music and Health Research Collaboratory. My interest is in optimizing music in care. I hope to develop a tool that will assist health care facilities in analyzing the status of their music care delivery. I've already worked with a long-term care organization and found seven factors influencing music care delivery in five of their homes. In another project, we’re working with a hospital to define conceptual dimensions of music care – for instance, music medicine, therapy and programming, music care training, and so on. We want to understand not only what is happening, but what could happen. We hope to develop an analytic tool that will help to do just that.
Room 217 Foundation redefines “full circle”. It is the translation of Bev Foster’s deeply personal experience with music and dying – at once painful and beautiful, quotidian and profound – into a very public organization that aims, through music, to be an intimate and “peaceful presence” in the lives of individuals. Bev reflects on these two aspects of her involvement with Room 217:
From an organizational standpoint, as Executive Director, what really gives me joy is bridging – bringing people together around music. It’s wonderful when music medicine people, and music therapists, and family caregivers are all in the same place. For me, just building a platform for that kind of community engagement is rewarding. It’s really 360 and it needs to be 360.
At a very personal level, as one of the artists performing on the Room 217 music resources, one of my greatest joys would be if the music actually brought healing in relationships. I know “healing at end of life” is a really funny term. How can those two concepts be connected? But there can be so much healing through forgiveness and release. Music can open spaces for those kinds of things to happen.
For further information see:
Room 217 Foundation
Music and Health Research Collaboratory
Melanie Boyd is founder and facilitator of No Wrong Notes, an inclusive group-singing model based on the oral tradition. She is also co-founder/coordinator of the University of Calgary Arts and Humanities for Health and Wellbeing Research Group. Melanie works as a literatures librarian at the UofC.
Health Care Areas
- Community health
- Community health worker
- Coping skills
- Health care professional
- Health charities
- Health education
- Health promotion
- Health worker
- Healthcare providers
- Mental health
- Ooccupational therapy
- Primary care