One of O.N.V's approaches is to have a full-time Hospital Relations Officer. Flávia's background is as a Producer, and her role is to, 'guarantee and promote the quality of relations with the 14 hospitals that ONV visit, so that they can serve with quality, care and dedication'.
In practice, this means that Flávia visits the hospitals she is responsible for (she shares the role with Sílvia Carvalho who takes care of the hospitals in the North) once a month, accompanying the Clowndoctors on their rounds. She checks-in with the Nurse in Charge, the Doctors, the PR manager of the hospital, the teachers on the wards, and whoever else might like to know more about the work. She has no artistic role, but also makes sure that the Clowndoctors are following good hygiene protocols, have clean and ironed costumes, and good relationships with staff. She also compiles, distributes and collects questionnaires that go to healthcare staff in each unit, to check-in on their perceptions of the work - and this ranges from how effective they feel it is, to whether they feel the clowns are too repetitive, or loud, for example.
She fields and organises any requests for special or extra visits, such as their Christmas Choir, and on the day I was visiting, was distributing the ONV annual report, which is a summary of the work the Charity has been doing over the year.
As well as that, she is responsible for the Rota, which, if it is anything like ours, is no mean feat. She does this every 2 months, trying to ensure that each Hospital has the same pair of Clowns for 4 months at a time. At the end of the 4 months, one Clown will move on, and one will stay, so that there is some continuity with children and staff. To maintain this artistically and logistically, Artists are only allowed to swap or give away 1 shift per 2 month period. They are guaranteed 8 shifts per month.
This caught my attention. I would LOVE more continuity of partnerships. I think it is good for the children, good for hospital relations and good for us artistically. But as freelance artists, it is very difficult to commit in advance to being available, and then potentially give up theatre work that might pay more, and be creatively and professionally exciting. At the moment, at Hearts and Minds, we are asked not to make swaps, but the office is in no position to stop us if something comes up. The complexity of the rota also means that continuity of partnerships can't always be there from the start anyway.
I don't know what the solution is, but i have a hunch that more continuity would be a positive thing. We would need to really commit to it as artists though...interesting!
Flávia has been in her role for 18 months and has clearly built good relationships at the Instituto Portuguese de Oncologia. But she said it wasn't easy. It has taken time, and patience. She talks about her job a little like us artists talk about ours, 'each hospital has its own culture, way of being - you can't just use the same approach with each one - you have to learn each hospital' - just like each room and child we visit as Clowns!