Holidays in the hospital: How to make hospitals feel more like home

Thanks to the famous song, everyone knows that "there's no place like home for the holidays." But for millions of hospitalized patients and the healthcare workers who care for them, being in their home for the holidays simply isn't an option.

To ease the pain of being away during times usually spent at home surrounded by family, hospitals often expend time and energy to make the holidays special for patients, their families and also the employees who take time away from home to come in to work.

"We do a lot for the patients and staff during that time," says Timothy Hicks, manager of administration at Chilton Medical Center in Pompton Plains, N.J., of the winter holiday season. "This is their home for the holidays… [we want them] to treat this as their home away from home."

In that spirit, healthcare organizations have started to pull out all the stops during the holiday season to bring some joy to patients, visitors and employees who spend that time inside the hospital.


For most Americans, Thanksgiving is all about food and gratitude, and hospitals can incorporate both in their celebrations for family and staff.

For example, Chilton Medical Center offers a free meal to employees on all shifts (breakfast, lunch or dinner) featuring turkey and other foods traditionally served on Thanksgiving. Visitors are invited to partake in the free meal as well. Additionally, people in the food service department also prepare "gigantic" turkey gobbler sandwiches consisting of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and other fixings for emergency room staff who work overnight, Mr. Hicks says.

Patients at hospitals are also often treated to Thanksgiving-themed meals, including turkey and pumpkin pie, if their diet allows for it. "Some patients are on restricted diets, [but] we try to be as liberal as possible. We understand it's a holiday and let them enjoy it as much as we can," he says.

Another common practice is to add decorations to patients' food trays with a note wishing them a happy holiday.

Beyond food, hospitals also offer avenues through which patients and family members can express thanks during the season. For instance, at the neonatal intensive care unit at St. Charles Health System in Bend, Ore., family members of the NICU babies decorate the feathers of paper turkeys with what they are thankful for. The turkeys then hang near the baby's bed, according to Sara Mosher, BSN, RN, the owner of Patient+Family Care and a St. Charles Health System nurse.

At Atlantic Health in Morristown, N.J., the system celebrates Thanksgiving throughout the month of November with the Gratitude Graffiti campaign, through which patients, employees and visitors can use washable markers to write what they are grateful for on the windows of the hospitals.

Christmas and Hanukkah

While Thanksgiving in the hospital is about food and reflection, it seems hospitals go above and beyond in the decorations department for Christmas and Hanukkah to make the hospital more homey.

"There's a big push after Thanksgiving, the biggest project is the decorating of the entire medical center for Christmas and Hanukkah," says Chris Parker, the hospital liaison and head of the special holidays committee for the Women's Association of Morristown (N.J.) Medical Center. Ms. Parker worked as a nurse for more than 40 years at Morristown and now organizes volunteers who decorate the 687-bed hospital for the season.Volunteers decorate Morristown Medical Center for the Holidays

The decorations — which include about 30 seven-foot-tall trees, multiple menorahs and wrapped packages that take about three days to set up — are a way to brighten patients' and employees' day, Ms. Parker says. "It brings the outside joy of the season into the hospital."

For Christmas in the NICU at St. Charles Health System, Santa pays a visit for the babies' first Christmas pictures, according to Ms. Mosher. Additionally, families can make ornaments at the hospital while snacking on sugar cookies, desserts and fruits and drinking tea or hot chocolate provided by the hospital.

With patient satisfaction scores becoming more prominent and meaningful to hospitals' bottom lines, the trend of making holidays in the hospital happier is sure to continue.

"For any hospital that truly wants to provide patient-centered care, celebrating holidays in the hospital is an absolute must," Ms. Mosher says.

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