What if you could wear a mural on your back depicting a loved one’s story, and what if you could walk as a docent of your own life? The answer is, you can, and 438 people around the world are doing just that. They are part of the Walking Gallery, a movement that uses art to champion patient-centered health care and to convey lapses in current patient care.
Artist and patient advocate Regina Holliday has been painting murals on jackets, city walls, and canvases since her husband, Frederick Allen Holliday II, died of kidney cancer in 2009. At BioNJ’s upcoming 25th anniversary celebration, Holliday will be there painting a mural representing the speakers’ messages and the organization’s work in the areas of research, patient advocacy, and public policy.
The event takes place Thursday, February 1, at the Hilton East Brunswick from 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. Register at www.bionj.org or call 609-890-3185. Cost: $575, $445 for members.
The keynote speaker is Robin Roberts, ABC’s Good Morning America co-anchor who has survived breast cancer and a disease of the blood and bone marrow. Roberts will speak about her media career and the medical innovation that helped save her life. BioNJ will present awards to biotech entrepreneur and physician Andrew Pecora and to companies that have received novel FDA drug or therapy approvals in 2017.
The BioNJ award dinner is one of several events in which Holliday will participate this year in honor of her husband and all patients receiving treatment in the current healthcare system.
Holliday says that her late husband’s care had been marred by poor coordination, a lack of access to medical data, and a series of errors. Fred had been hospitalized over a period of 11 continuous weeks in five facilities. When the couple asked for his medical records, they were told the process would take 21 days and would cost 73 cents per page, totaling several hundred dollars in addition to the other hospital charges. Just before dying, Fred wrote a note to Holliday asking her to expose the shortcomings of the current medical system.
While still grieving, Holliday set about to honor Fred’s wish and give voice to the needs and rights of patients and caregivers, painting a mural on a building wall on Connecticut Avenue in Washington D.C.
Titled “73 Cents,” this allegorical art shows a scene with her husband in his hospital bed, Regina at his side, doctors, nurses, other staff, and medical equipment. On closer look, you notice other details: a phone with the digits 9-1-1 displayed repeatedly, a scroll on the wall quoting “Hamlet,” another scroll ending with “The Declaration of Independence,” medical staff tied up with rope, and more.
After completing “73 Cents,” Holliday founded the Walking Gallery in 2011 and began painting the stories of caregivers and patients on jackets they lent her. “The gallery continues to grow,” she says. To date she and a team of artists have painted stories for people from 17 countries.
Those wishing to join the Walking Gallery can send their jacket and a patient-centered story to Holliday at her shop, Salt and Pepper Studios, in Grantsville Maryland. There is no charge for the artist’s work. To offset the cost of paint and shipping, donations are welcome but not required. Members are asked to wear the jacket to health or medical conferences and events at least two or three times per year and post about their jackets on Twitter to promote the power of the patient voice. For a complete set of instructions, visit Holliday’s blog at reginaholliday.blogspot.com.
Holliday’s medical advocacy blog features an online gallery of murals painted over the past seven years. A few mural examples include: “Healthcare: Paddling up hill with a paddle,” which shows people on a boat moving up a river; “Building this Bridge,” a bridge supporting a person lying in a bed-like object surrounded by a small group of people; “Woman at the Well,” a woman holding two buckets with two children by her side; “Hands of Time,” a timepiece with images of newborns marking the hours; and “Trees as Far as the Eyes Can See,” a view through a patient’s window.
“We’re showing up at medical conferences and policy meetings and changing health policy and making it patient centric,” Holliday says. A few venues where Holliday has spoken or where people have displayed their jackets include the College of New Jersey; Health Datapalooza; the “We Can Do Better” Conference; TEDx Alva Park; Health Informatics Society of Australia; and several platforms in Washington, D.C., including the Health and Human Services headquarters. This March Holliday is hosting a “Gathering of the Walking Gallery” event in Las Vegas.
Holliday has several topics she frequently covers:
Quality and patient safety. This is largely based on her personal experience caring for her husband. For example, bedside trays are often used as a surface to hold a patient’s food as well as a surface for personal hygiene. Holliday points out that in the interest of the patient’s health, it would make sense to use different surfaces.
Patient experience. Holliday’s mission says the patient should be a partner with the provider, and both should work as a team. She cites Princeton architect Michael Graves as an example of someone who has contributed to the well-being of patients. After becoming wheelchair bound he dedicated his life to designing health care facilities to accommodate people in wheelchairs.
Another aspect of the patient experience is the need for timely access to their records. The more patients know about their data, the more treatment options they can choose from. What’s more, timely access to their data allows them to spot errors, she says.
Social media. A strong advocate of social media, Holliday uses Facebook regularly. “It’s a great way to get your [health related] message out there,” she says. In her presentations she explores crowd-funding, art advocacy, and flash-mobbing to spread awareness and get dialogues going.
Care for caregivers. As a caregiver herself, Holliday understands the stress felt by both family and staff caregivers. They need support as they support the patient, she says.
Before founding the Walking Gallery and opening Salt and Pepper Studios, Holliday worked in retail management and taught art for several years. She studied art education at the University of the District of Columbia and studied theater at Oklahoma State University. Her career path has been partly influenced by her parents; her mother worked as a housekeeper at a hospital, and her father was an artist who earned money in sales at flea markets selling odds and ends and occasionally his art.
In addition to her artwork and speaking presentations, Holliday is the subject of a film, “73 Cents,” and has written two books: “The Walking Wall: 73 Cents to the Walking Gallery,” and “The Writing on the Wall,” a memoir that takes readers on a journey of abuse and empowerment.
Holliday wants people to know that art has the power to make changes in society, especially when it is displayed on a wall or a jacket, or any place people don’t expect to see it. The closing line in her blog post on becoming a walker expresses a core part of her philosophy: “You are joining a movement, and this is a sacred oath to walk the walk and spread the word.”