Artists Barter Performances For Healthcare
By Renee DeFranco
Move over, Amateur Night at the Apollo – now New York’s undiscovered performers are making their debut in a New York City public hospital. And they’re being paid with something that’s worth more than cash at this point.
They’re getting free health care, thanks to ArtistAccess, an innovative bartering program at Woodhull Medical Center in Brooklyn that invites artists to perform for hospital patients in exchange for free health care.
Other hospitals, including Bellevue, Elmhurst and Jacobi, have already expressed interest in the program, said Dr. Edward Fishkin, medical director at Woodhull and creator of ArtistAccess.
More than 50 artists have signed up so far: dancers, singers, comedians, muralists and even sock-puppeteers. They’ve performed in different Woodhull “venues,” or units, including pediatric, geriatric, psychiatric and detox.
On a recent Friday evening, Steven Santiago, a 31-year-old part-time wedding planner and nightclub promoter from the Bronx, sang an a cappella mix of what he calls “Neapolitan opera, hip hop and chanting
Santiago, excited about the prospect of “performing for the next baby Beethoven,” said he started the night by explaining to his audience that classical music has been proven to raise unborn babies’ IQ levels.
“I looked out at the audience while I was singing and saw moms rubbing their bellies, and I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I did it,’” Santiago said. “Now I’m looking forward to getting some physicals and some good blood work done.” It will be Santiago’s first doctor’s visit in eight years.
For each hour of performance, artists earn 40 points toward their health plan. Artists use their points like they would a debit card, withdrawing 15 to 60 points of credit for each doctor’s visit based on an evaluated fee-scale and 10 credits for prescription drugs.
ArtistAccess is an extension of the New York City Health and Hospital Corporation, a program that provides affordable health care to lower-income New Yorkers.
There were no special effects, and the artists transported their own instruments, including a bass, trombone, the top of a plunger to accompany the trombone, two music stands and an amp, from their Astoria home.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever heard music played in a hospital really,” said Gerson Oritz, a 19-year-old hospital guest seated on the arm of the couch while he waited in the lobby to visit his baby brother.
“The people in this hospital aren’t necessarily out buying season tickets to Lincoln Center,” Colby said. “We’re bringing arts to a sector of the population that doesn’t ordinarily experience it. Now, a son or daughter can say, ‘Mom, I’d like to take piano lessons,’ and she might be willing to do that.”
But for the artists, the rewards are more immediate. “I had my first dentist’s visit in two years, and now I’m looking forward to getting my cavities filled,” Griffin said.