5 minute read

Harmony Palliative Arts Collective

~story and photos by Bob Gustin

Rick Clayton draws on his formal education, along with his years as a rock and roll musician, minister, and hospice chaplain, to lead the effort to establish a new approach to end-of-life services in Brown County.

“I was born for this,” he said.

The Harmony Palliative Arts Collective expects to open its facility in May at Harmony Church in Van Buren Township.

The church at 3999 Mt. Liberty Road has seen declining attendance in recent years. Historically, a church at the intersection of Mt. Liberty Road and Bellsville Pike has served the community for more than 170 years. The new version will house families whose loved ones are nearing death, providing a place to stay where nonmedical palliative music, therapeutic touch, aromatherapy, and other services will be offered at no cost to the patient or family.

Clayton graduated from Carmel High School and spent 20 years on the road as a guitarist with a band called “The Late Show.”

He and his wife Kimmie lost a baby in the mid-1990s, an experience that led him to change paths and earn a bachelor’s degree in Bible and comparative religion at Anderson University and later a master’s in theological studies at Butler University.

He is a minister focused on the lessons of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount as recounted in the book of Matthew. He retired as minister at Harmony Church to lead the new initiative.

A near-death experience led to another change in direction as he accepted a hospice chaplain position at Southern Care Indiana, based in Bloomington and covering seven counties.

Clayton is a multi-instrumentalist who plays the cello, harp, and Native American flute. He is trained in other neuroaesthetic areas, such as Reiki and aromatherapy. Neuroaesthetics is a growing field studying the impact art, music, and other sensory experiences a has on the human brain.

He uses his musical abilities in his hospice work, saying he wants to “dose” people with music, not perform. Hearing music can release serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin chemicals in the brain altering our biology and bringing balance to people close to death.

“The right music at the right time can make a difference,” he said, “helping people to hang on to life or to let loose of it.”

The Harmony initiative is being funded by grants and donations, but medical services will be administered by hospice providers. Nursing or medical teams will visit patients at least once a week, and medicines can be administered by family members or caretakers.

Based on the “doula” model sometimes used in childbirth settings, the goal is to “provide compassionate care, and maintain dignity and personal freedom for those at the end of life,” the non-profit’s literature states. The church’s basement has been remodeled into spacious living quarters which include a large kitchen, accessible shower, laundry facilities, a meditation or prayer room, computer space, sitting areas, and patient quarters. Futons will provide sleeping space for family members or caregivers, and the church’s grounds provide places for enjoying the outdoors, including a labyrinth. The former church sanctuary will be used for group meetings, educational discussions, and other purposes. The entire 7,440-square-foot building has been dedicated to the new effort.

Initially, one family at a time will be served for approximately the last month of a patient’s life. Harmony’s model is based on these principles:

• Natural and drug-free reduction or alleviation of pain caused by stress and anxiety.

• Affirmation of life and the regarding of death as a natural process.

•The intention to neither hasten nor postpone death.

• Integration of psychosocial, psychological, cultural, and spiritual aspects of patient care.

• Offering a support system to help patients live as actively and die as peacefully as possible.

The board of directors for the Harmony organization includes a doctor, two hospice nurses, an arts advisor, and a licensed social worker.

“To me, the best way to find God,” Clayton says, “is to be of service to people.”

“Spirituality transcends ideology,” he said, and the palliative care initiative is nondenominational. Clayton, who is director of the facility, said he can minister to people of all faiths, or none. “We want to use arts to help people pass peacefully.”

Clayton believes Harmony is the first palliative care facility of its type in Indiana, though similar places have been attempted on the east and west coasts. Harmony differs from traditional hospice services because it is neither a medical care facility, nor a service which visits patients in their homes. In addition, most traditional hospice facilities “won’t do what they can’t bill for,” he said.

“Think of it as a change of address for the patient,” he said, as Medicare or other insurance policies pay for medical services rendered by teams that visit the patients for pain management or other medical care. He said the facility will be open to anyone with hospice benefits.

For more contact <wholenotes@mac.com> or your hospice provider.