Bringing music to the ears while healing the body; New bedside music program at Habersham Medical Center

On Monday mornings, patients at Habersham Medical Center have the special opportunity to hear a wide selection of acapella songs from the angelic voice of Dr. Barbara Steinhaus, a professor of music and chair of the school of music at Brenau University in Gainesville.  

Serving as a volunteer at Habersham Medical Center, Dr. Steinhaus shares her passion for music and sings to inpatients and to the residents of Habersham Home, the hospital’s long-term care and rehab facility.

“I have a list of songs patients can choose from, and I try to accommodate special requests.  Many like to hear gospel songs with “Amazing Grace” and “Precious Memories” being the most popular.  I try to select songs that may meet an individualized need or help me connect one-on-one.  For a husband visiting his wife in the nursing home I sang, “Let me call you sweetheart.”  They grinned like two teenagers and were very appreciative.”

“I also enjoy singing lullabies to the newborns in the Family Birth Center.  A new mom asked me to teach her a couple of songs to sing to her baby, and one new mom invited me to hold her baby while I sang “What the World Needs Now is Love.”  That was a real treat!”

“Music connects people in a very special way.  For those with dementia or Alzheimer’s, a song or a verse in a song can spark a special memory.  Sometimes they are very quiet at first but then a certain song will connect with them and their faces light up.  I love it when they sing along with me.  The staff loves the songs as well.  I love to see members of the patient’s nursing team standing in the doorway, listening and smiling.”

“To see people smile and enjoy the singing warms my heart,” adds Dr. Steinhaus.  “My encounters with patients are always calm and cheerful.  Sometimes there are lots of tears from those in the room – especially caregivers and family members, but they are not tears of sadness but of harmonious joy and peace that only a special song can provide.”

“Hearing soothing music does help with the healing process,” says Dede Arnau, chief nursing officer at Habersham Medical Center.  “It really helps relieve stress and is very calming.  We are very appreciative to Dr. Steinhaus for volunteering her time and talent.  The bedside music she provides has been very well received.”

As a Professor of Music at Brenau, Dr. Steinhaus also has developed a course called, “Introduction to Arts in Health Care,” which has been attractive to both fine arts students and those in the health sciences.  Through this course, students have the learning opportunity to understand the connection between compassion, communication, and creativity.

She is also a founding board member of the National Organization for Arts in Health (NOAH).  “Our goal with this national program is to enrich the patient and caregiver experience, to address the whole person - their bodies, mind, and spirit, and to humanize the health care environment.  On a local level and as a Clarkesville-resident, I’m very grateful for the opportunity to share Arts in Health with Habersham Medical Center.”

For more information about Habersham Medical Center’s bedside music or the volunteer program, email April James, director of business development and volunteer services, at april.james@hcmcmed.org.