One of Pinellas County's most comprehensive medical facilities is also home to a dedicated, unconventional group of healers with red noses and face paint, known as "caring clowns." Although hospitals are not traditionally a place associated with laughter, members from Largo Medical Center's top medical staff down to their helping volunteers have honed a silly alter ego, and are making appearances to help brighten patients' spirits.
Fighting disease is serious business. "Humor helps with the coping process, " said David Weiland, MD, Largo Medical Center, Chief Medical Officer and co-founder of the hospital's Caring Clowns Humor2You program. "Leslie Weiland, RN, my wife, spearheaded our comprehensive research study which shows clowning and humor has positive impacts on abilities to fight infection and reduce blood pressure. We see tangible results in both the patient and the performer. For depressed patients, the caring clowns are immediate mood lifters, and they see a difference in their pain perception."
Other research also suggests laughter combats stress, reduces pain by releasing endorphins (the body's natural painkiller), and boosts the immune system.
"Nearly 12 percent of all of the hospital's registered volunteers are caring clowns," said Matthew Goodner, Largo Medical Center, Volunteer Manager.
These caring clowns are graduates of the Comedy Connection's Caring Clown College, and are trained to focus on the 'caring' aspect of clowning that is most appropriate in a healthcare setting. They learn to be sensitive to a patient's needs and listen. Goodner said, "When I go with the Caring Clowns to visit a patient and I see a smile light up their face, I know our these volunteers have accomplished their mission."
Dr. Weiland, whose clown name is "Flip Flop," began his fascination with clowning when he treated patients in that profession from the Ringling Brothers Circus. In 2008, when he met his wife Leslie, a Hospice nurse, co-founder of Largo's Humor2You program and experienced professor at Clown College, she convinced him to go to clown class and pursue his new calling. Over the years, Leslie, a.k.a. "Happe" the clown, has travelled the world and made numerous media appearances promoting her agenda to put humor into hospitals.
The Weilands believe their message of humor is stronger and more important than ever. They both point out clowning not only helps patients, but also has therapeutic benefits to family members and for the clown performers. "We're all human, we trust laughter, and with clown humor we love that we are creating a better model of healthcare than ever." Dr. Weiland goes on to say, "With all of the negativity around us, humor creates just the reverse!"
For more information about programs and volunteers at Largo Medical Center and/or for an interview with the Weilands, contact the Director of Marketing and Public Relations at (727) 348-1896.