A home away from home

Newly-remodelled solariums offer a comforting environment for post-surgical patients at the MGH

“It’s so high and open here—like living in the penthouse of a luxury hotel!”  says Melvin Gorman, a patient at the Montreal General Hospital (MGH) of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), as he describes the view from the newly-renovated 18th floor west General Surgery patient solarium. The idea to renovate two patient solariums originated during a meeting with the MUHC Surgery Recovery Program (SURE), a committee that looks at ways to enhance recovery for post-surgical patients.  Oliver Cachero, nurse manager, 18th floor, General Surgery, brought the idea back to his colleague Julie Wettreich, administrative officer of the MGH Surgical Mission, who was very keen to participate in this project and help design an environment that fosters a warm, community atmosphere and encourages patient mobilization. 

With generous funding from the Montreal General Hospital Foundation and the MGH Auxiliary, both the West and the East patient solariums on the 18th floor were completely renovated. Wettreich coordinated the remodelling design of the room with the help of Yvonne Mass, vice president of the Auxiliary, and with auxiliary members Helen Keyes and Mary Guay.  Each room now features a cozy sofa seating area and flat screen television with DVD player to watch movies, a table to eat or play games, and lightweight chairs that can be easily moved to create a seating area that suits whatever configuration is desired.  The rooms were given a fresh coat of paint and new furniture that is not only attractive and comfortable, but the hospital-grade vinyl is easy to wash and disinfect.  Sheer blinds help filter the sunlight in the bright rooms and track lighting was donated by Technical Services.  New wiring was installed for air conditioning units to keep the rooms nice and comfortable during those sunny summer days (which are just around the corner).

One of the most stunning aspects of the rooms is the beautiful artwork that graces the walls thanks to the involvement of the MUHC Heritage Centre.  “The internal environment of the hospital has a lot to do with the way people get better,” explains Dr. Jonathan Meakins, director of the MUHC Heritage Centre. “The environment impacts patients and families, and offers respite from sitting at the bedside to go into an environment that is more agreeable.”

The MUHC is fortunate to have many artists who donate their personal works of art, and the Heritage centre looks after curating the artwork, finding the right fit for the right space.  In order to provide artwork for the solarium project, Karine Raynor, MUHC associate director and curator, and Alexandra Kirsh, MUHC curatorial assistant, looked for uplifting artwork that appeal to a variety of audiences, seeking out artists who have a sensibility towards the hospital environment.

Local artist Barbara Asgary donated two large canvases that now hang in the solarium.  At the Beach is an abstract painting that recreates a happy summer day, with elements of water, sand, nature and sunshine.  “It’s a place in nature where you would want to be,” she explains.  “Art can create a cheerful and uplifting environment so you don’t feel like you’re in a hospital.  It allows you to return to your own self.”  Asgary has a strong connection to the MUHC and was happy to donate the artwork.  “Artists are always looking for an audience, a place to share what we feel inside,” she says.

Kevin Jenne is another local artist whose canvases grace the walls of the solarium.  His vibrant paintings are inspired by his travels, and capture a beautiful moment in time. “I love the idea that art can have a different life, transforming a hospital into a museum.”  Paintings from other artists, including a stunning canvas of iris flowers by Helen Lucas, can also be found in the solariums.   

“I enjoy looking at the beautiful paintings,” says one of the patients “It takes me away from my illness.” Gorman says he likes to leave his room and come to the solarium to relax and visit with his family because it “feels like home.”

This truly was a project that brought together the talents and generosity of many people in order to create a healing space.  With the help of dedicated volunteers, the unit plans to organize events such as movie and game nights to further encourage patient mobilization. 


Barbara Asgary

Artist Barbara Asgary with one of her paintings


Helen Lucas Canvas

Painting by Helen Lucas


Kevin Jenne

Artist Kevin Jenne with one of his paintings


Solarium Inauguration

Solarium Inauguration


Yvonne Mass and Julia Weittreich

MGH Auxiliary vice president Yvonne Mass (left) with
Julie Wettreich, administrative officer of the MGH Surgical Mission


Jonathan Meakins and Karine Raynor

Karine Raynor 
and Dr. Jonathan Meakins, director of the MUHC Heritage Centre