Art from the Heart Makes Hospital’s Smile


No job is ever ordinary—particularly if one chooses to make it “work”.  Kahlil Gibran wrote, “Work is love made visible.”  No place is this more evident than at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis where a 33-year-old housekeeper decided to make patients smile through her art.


In a recent engagement to speak to oncology nurses at Siteman Cancer Center, located on the campus of Barnes-Jewish Hospital, I found myself mesmerized and smiling at a huge purple elephant painted on a widow and at various other art objects tacked to a wall.


To my surprise, the art is the work of Kailey Custard, a full-time employee in environmental services who on her first day of work, noticed a colorful pair of two giraffes facing each other. The giraffes could be seen by patients and staff at St. Louis Children’s hospital across the street.


Kailey decided to join the fun. “Art is something that makes people happy because they can relate to it,” says Custard. “People are battling cancer on this floor and it’s sad. Instead of always being sad, I wanted to help our patients feel better.”


With the help of the nursing staff, patients and visitors now see pinwheels, paper flowers and new window paintings on the unit. Custard completes her projects on her breaks. According to Mary Drago, BSN, RN Clinical Nurse Manager on Custard’s floor, “Kailey coordinates art projects for staff, patients and visitors. She sings to our patients, makes waffles for the nurses, drew this amazing purple elephant on a window, while keep our floors spotless.”


BJG housekeepers are supplied with “while you were out” cards to let patients know what services were done while they were out of their room. But Kailey goes one step further. On the back of the card, she draws pictures or writes something encouraging. Custard believes this brings her closer to the staff, patients and visitors.


As I learned more about Kailey Custard. I realize she’s not a housekeeper. She’s a home-maker.

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