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Are you shocked and outraged that the Department of Veterans Affairs reportedly spent $20 million between 2004 and 2014 on artwork for its healthcare facilities?

That seems like a lot of money, especially since it came at a time when many veterans had to wait a long time before they could get treatment at VA facilities.

But that's really an operational issue isn't it?

The VA admitted that it's healthcare facilities were overwhelmed and understaffed during that time. If the median salary for a nurse is $65,000, $20 million would pay for about 307 additional nurses -- even fewer if you factor in benefits.

Value of Artwork for Healthcare Facilities

I guess the question is, then, what value does $20 million worth of art bring to VA facilities? It probably depends on what kind of artwork and where it's placed.

But we do know that artwork in patient rooms -- especially nature scenes -- helps relieve pain and stress and increase overall well-being. It's hard to put a number on that, but the annual cost of pharmaceuticals for pain management in the U.S. has been estimated at $16.4 billion.

If viewing artwork reduced the use of pain meds by just 1%, that's a savings of $154 million.

Of course, that's not just in VA facilities, but you get my point.

Creating a Healing Environment

Positive distractions, like artwork, are essential to creating healing environments that support patients and staff, and lead to better outcomes. And so much more. I was happy to see this statement from the VA when ABC News questioned it in July about the $20 million expenditure:

While we must be stewards of taxpayer dollars, we also know that providing comprehensive health care for patients goes beyond just offering the most advanced medical treatments. Artwork is one of the many facets that create a healing environment for our nation’s Veterans. We want an atmosphere that welcomes them to VA facilities, shows them respect and appreciation, honors them for their service and sacrifice and exemplifies that this is a safe place for them to receive their care.

And, not only can artwork help build morale and improve outcomes in VA healthcare facilities, it also creates jobs.  Someone has to design, build, install, and maintain it.

Who Isn't for Art?

As an American taxpayer, I'm all for public art for veterans.  So are most Americans, it seems.

In a recent poll, 70% of us favored government funding of public art for returning military personnel, to aid in their transition to civilian life. And 65% favored it for hospitals and healthcare institutions.

I think the VA is cleaning up its act when it comes to providing care for veterans. And I'm glad to see that it's embracing whole person care and designing healthcare facilities that address the mind, body, and spirit. Aren't you?

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Henry Domke

6 years ago

Questioning how money is spent is always worthwhile.

How much should the government spend on art in public buildings? Many hospitals today budget 1% of their construction budget for art.

I wonder how much the VA spent on construction between 2004 and 2014. Is the $20 million that was spent on art more or less than 1%?

Gary Schindele

6 years ago

I am sure there are a lot of veterans who use art as a means of PTSD therapy. There is no doubt in my mind that if the VA (or the designer planning VA facilities) used their imagination, they could get some pretty good work, by Vets for Vets. Good art does not always come from an expensive art dealer where the frame probably costs more than the reproduction it's self.

Jim Moore

6 years ago

It is not how much they spent. It's about how much got wasted or ended up in a fund raiser's pocket.

By the way, the VA and Washington lied to all and continue to try and cover this up.

Jeff Stouffer

6 years ago

That is a loaded question in the context it was submitted Sara. No argument for the value of art long term on patients, families and staff as well. However, we might consider that some of that amount could have been spent on improving efficiency of operations and medical outcomes. If the patients cannot get access to care at the facilities, they cannot benefit from the art, right?

The ideal is a holistic approach to design, construction and operations that benefit first cost, operations and the physical environment created by the collaborative team and proven with measured outcomes each year. Integrative Delivery is what we could be discussing as a solution. What do you guys think?

Sara Marberry

6 years ago

Good points, Jeff! Any amount spent on artwork and facilities could have been spent on improving efficiency of operations and medical outcomes. So it really is about making the right decisions and finding the right balance.

Veterans Deserve Only the Best VA Healthcare Facilities - Sara Marberry Sara Marberry

6 years ago

[…] for spending $20 million between 2004 and 2014 on artwork for its healthcare facilities. I wrote a post on this in August, so I won’t go into it again, but suffice it to say the VA said it did this […]

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Sara Marberry, EDAC, is a healthcare design knowledge expert, thought catalyst, and strategic marketing and business development consultant. The author/editor of three books, Sara writes and speaks frequently about industry trends and evidence-based design. She can be reached at sara@saramarberry.com.

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