- BC Games
Lions Gate Hospital seniors' music therapy axed
Sydney Aguiton doesn’t remember all of his 81 years but what he does remember are the important things.
Things like his father’s record collection, his years spent as a Roman Catholic priest and the day he met Meg Fildes, a music therapist at Lions Gate Hospital’s Evergreen House.
Music has been a common refrain in Aguiton’s life, from his boyhood in Trinidad to his years of faith ministry and all the way up to, he hopes, his eventual exit to the Beatles’ “Yesterday,” as sung and strummed by Fildes.
“Music is a connection between God and a human being,” Aguiton told The Outlook from his room on the second floor of the 280-bed Evergreen House long-term care home. “Why would anyone take that away?”
The problem arose on March 7 when Fildes was told her position as the hospital’s music therapist was no longer tenable, that by late spring she’d be gone, taking the whole music therapy program with her.
“When she told me last Wednesday what had happened I felt as if a limb had been amputated,” the 81-year-old Trinidadian whispered. “I can’t even begin to think of what life in the facility will be without her here. It just can’t be.”
Aguiton is one of 80 elderly residents at Evergreen who participate in the music therapy program — a service the centre has provided for the past 23 years, with Fildes as the sole department member for the last three and a half.
“It’s such a huge part of the resident’s lives here,” Fildes told The Outlook in a phone interview Monday. “Music can do so much for the geriatric population and it’s such an easy way to engage them.”
But last Wednesday, Vancouver Coastal Health called curtains on her one-woman show.
Gavin Wilson, spokesman for the regional health authority, told The Outlook that letting the music therapy program go was a regrettable decision to have to make, but ultimately the right one given the availability of resources at Evergreen.
“While we are unfortunately going to be losing that part-time music therapy position — and we do value the services that music therapists bring — we will be adding increased dietician services, a full-time recreation therapist; we’re also going to increase the accessibility of social workers,” Wilson said.
But Stephen Williams, coordinator of the country’s oldest music therapy program at Capilano University, said too often the work of music therapists is first on the chopping block when money is tight.
“I would hope our profession would be considered essential but that doesn’t seem to be the case in terms of Lions Gate Hospital,” Williams said. “Music’s a very social and expressive element that people respond to. And it seems to cut through the fog or the chaos of dementia and it brings out their social strength in a way that you don’t get when you’re sitting there having a conversation with someone with dementia.”
Started in 1976, Cap U’s music therapy program annually graduates 18 bachelor of music therapy students and Lions Gate Hospital has been a proving ground for recent grads since the very beginning. In fact, Fildes has two practicum students from Cap U right now who she said were devastated to learn that when their time at Evergreen is up in the late spring, so is the program’s.
“I want to give them hope and inspire them for their future but it sucks when you’re in a workplace where your supervisor’s been cut — trying to learn when you feel like the profession is not maybe valued as much as it should be,” Fildes said.
More than just playing band leader to singalong sessions, music therapists like Fildes regularly incorporate music into traditional counselling, deep relaxation, end-of-life grieving and memorials for friends and families of the recently deceased.
“Meg made this not a hospital but a home,” Aguiton said finally, sitting at the switched-off electric organ in Evergreen’s amenities room. “And on this matter that affects us residents directly we were not consulted. So I owe it to everyone here who enjoys the music but can’t speak. I speak for those.”