As I have been posting fundraising pleas on Facebook, I have realized that many of the people who in some ways know me best, have no idea what I really do professionally. I’m passionate about and proud of the work I do and so I thought you might like to hear about it. Also, the organization with which I do it needs support – financially, yes, but also in the hearts and minds of people who don’t live in the small worlds of integrative medicine and massage.
In addition to being a massage therapist, I am the Operations Manager (also, curriculum-writer and instructor) for Healwell, a small nonprofit that is based in Arlington, VA (just outside DC). Healwell’s mission is to improve the quality of life for people affected by acute, chronic, and terminal illness. We accomplish this through hands-on therapies, education, and research.
What does that mean? It means our team of 14 massage therapists provides skilled touch to pediatric and adult patients in 5 clinical programs (hospitals, infusion centers, skilled nursing facilities, etc.) all over the Washington, DC metro area.
Please let me be clear. Massage in the hospital is not pampering. Research (good, solid, well-designed, legit research) shows that massage in clinical settings significantly reduces pain and anxiety. Anecdotally, we see massage positively affect patients’ sleep, decrease their nausea, and improve their overall feelings of wellbeing.
The patients we work with are very, very ill. At Children’s National Medical Center most of our patients were born in that hospital and will die in that hospital. Their too-short lives will be lived entirely in a hospital bed beside which their parents will sit every single day. Please imagine what it might be like for the child in that bed and for the parent beside it if just one of the members of the clinical team arrived without a needle or a machine, with nothing but a skilled and loving set of hands, with no agenda or intent other than to make that child feel less pain and fear, even for a short period of time.
And? If you’re imagining the bare-foot, patchouli-scented hippie who waved some crystals over you once and you are thinking, “That person doesn’t belong in a hospital,” you’re right. So the other thing we do is design and teach a host of courses about everything from oncology massage to ethics to clinical practice to pediatrics all over the country (and in Australia), so that when that massage therapist does end up at the bedside as part of a healthcare team, she is qualified to be there.
Here’s the thing. This work requires a tremendous amount of administrative oversight and completely unglamorous legwork. Healwell has 3 administrative staff members: Lauren Cates, Executive Director; Lucille Eddy, Program Director; and me. Our massage therapists and instructors are compensated. The administrative staff is not. Everything Lauren, Lucille, and I do to direct, organize, manage, envision and execute Healwell’s important work we do for free.
I love what I do and I’m not afraid to work hard, but this model is unsustainable, and it makes it impossible for us to meet the rapidly growing demand for our direct service and education programs all over the country. The simple fact is that we can’t do what needs to be done to get more hands on more patients in more hospitals if we have to hold down 2 or 3 other jobs in order to pay our rent and buy groceries.
Healwell’s 2016 budget includes $36K to compensate the administrative staff. (Yep. We’re gonna split that three ways…) While our programs are mostly self-sustaining, the administrative pay relies entirely on donations and grants. We are hoping to raise $25K of that by June and I won’t lie, we are woefully far from our goal so far.
So. Would I be happy if you made a small donation to our spring fundraiser? Yes. Would I love for you to become a sustaining donor with an automatic monthly donation? You bet. Would I be thrilled if you told me you just found $25K in the couch cushions and you’d really like to give it to Healwell? Absolutely! (And where did you get that couch?!)
But mostly what I’d like is for you to know that Healwell exists, to tell people about our mission and to maybe just know that I believe that what I do every day is work to elevate my profession and to make the experience of being acutely or terminally ill in America suck just a little bit less.
Thank you for your time and attention.