By Brianna Wilson and Tom Szymanski

Children’s Artwork Brings Life and Color to UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center

A hospital isn’t a place where most people would choose to spend their time, but life brings people through the front doors of UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center (SRMC) every single day. 

Whether they are there for themselves or a loved one, patients and their families can find comfort in the melody of a live piano performance in the front lobby, or the countless pieces of artwork displayed on every floor; an experience many might not expect in that setting. 

“A hospital can be a scary environment,” said SRMC President and CEO Jamie Silva-Steele, RN, BSN, MBA, FACHE. “We're bringing music, we're bringing art and different combinations of work into our hospital, to not only create an environment for healing—but to also create an opportunity for our staff and our providers, to interface with a different part of their brain that they typically do not use in the hospital setting.”

To combat the feelings of stress, fear, sadness and sickness that accompany most hospital visits, Silva-Steele partnered with Donna Barnitz, an art teacher at Colinas del Norte Elementary.  Each year, Barnitz’s students fill the medical center walls with life and color. Then, SRMC invites the children, their friends, and family to see the masterpieces on display.

How neat for a kid to define themselves as an artist when they're in fifth grade, and to have proof of that for years and years to come?

Donna Barnitz, Art Teacher, Colinas del Norte Elementary

“I have about 650 students at Colinas Del Norte Elementary, and my older kids—the third, fourth and fifth graders—were studying Eric Carle, who is best known for his work on The Hungry Caterpillar,” Barnitz said.

butterfly-close-up.jpgEach student created a colorful photo collage of their favorite animal to pay homage to the famed author and illustrator.

“I call them inventors,” Barnitz said. “Because once we start a project, they come up with stuff that I would never have imagined.”

“I created an eagle,” said fourth grader Yared Almida-Sosa as he stood next to his creation. When asked how painting makes him feel, he said, “kind of nervous to mess up, but you can’t give up.”


For fifth grader Carlos Enriquez-Lozoya, having his work on display has a more personal meaning this year. While his peers’ art will be cycled out each year to display other students’ work, a piece he created for Barnitz’s class last year now has a permanent home on the third floor of SRMC. It’s the same floor where his great grandmother passed away from COVID three years ago.

“It means a great deal to me to have my artwork hung on this floor,” Carlos said. “My work is of a man wearing a camera, taking a picture of a man, standing in front of a tree, with a background of the sun and a beautiful sky.”

When asked how he feels about his art being on display at the hospital forever, he said, “It makes me feel very special, and makes me feel happy.”

Carlos plans to continue creating art, but his dream is to be a professional soccer player when he grows up. No matter what he does in the future, his mother Karla Lozoya said she is already so proud of him. She also said she is grateful to Barnitz and Silva-Steele for making this permanent tribute to her grandmother possible.

“The crazy part is exactly three years ago today, she was admitted in the hospital,” Lozoya said. “I'm just so grateful to the hospital because they did everything they could. They accommodated us to come and spend the last moments with her.” 

Now, Lozoya’s family have their own corner of SRMC to reflect on those tender final moments, as well as this new memory of Carlos’ accomplishment.

“It is like a little part of my grandma because I feel like she did this somehow,” Lozoya continued. “I feel like she's here with us, like it was done through her.”

Through the color and creativity so many young students bring to SRMC, beauty and love are thriving in what may seem like an unlikely setting. But Silva-Steele and Barnitz agree that is what every hospital needs.

“That artwork really enhances this hallway, doesn't it?” Barnitz asked, while staring proudly at Carlos’ newly framed installation. “This will be hung there forever. I loved telling Carlos, ‘when you're in college, you can still come to the hospital and see your artwork on display,’ which is a pretty special thing, when you're a fifth grader.”

Her dream is to see more of her students’ work permanently displayed throughout Rio Rancho.

“How neat for a kid to define themselves as an artist when they're in fifth grade, and to have proof of that for years and years to come?”

Categories: Community Engagement, Sandoval Regional Medical Center, Top Stories