Serenity spaces to workout areas: 6 ways hospitals support workers' mental health

Hospitals and health systems have worked to boost employee morale throughout the pandemic. Those efforts are just as important as workers enter a third year of burnout and frayed mental health fueled by COVID-19.

Healthcare workers have been under an enormous amount of stress as they manage the challenges of COVID-19, at times even battling threats and violence. The issue has become so common that Wisconsin and Utah have enacted legislation to bolster protections for healthcare workers. 

As they deal with the stressors of working in hospitals, workers increasingly need more support. 

Here are six mental health initiatives at hospitals and health systems:

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited for clarity and length.

1. Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, N.Y., part of New Hyde Park, N.Y.-based Northwell Health, on April 29 dedicated the Lashins Family Employee Wellness Gym. The 1,350-square-foot onsite facility is available to employees at all times.

Features of the gym include treadmills, adjustable weight benches and Peloton workout systems, as well as QR codes that will provide tips on food and nutrition, mental health and physical wellness and integrative medicine.  

"As an avid triathlete, I know how important regular exercise is for both my physical and mental health," Derek Anderson, executive director of Northern Westchester Hospital, told Becker's via email. "The Lashins Family Employee Wellness Gym is another dedicated space for our hospital employees to focus on their health and where self-care is a priority. After everything our communities and hospital have been through with the pandemic, our priority has been to bring support around mental and physical health to our team. A few examples of this support include access to trained therapists and social workers, a dedicated staff Tranquility Center offering massage therapy and Reiki, support groups, and in-the-moment response teams known as Code Lavender to provide immediate social and mental support to an individual or team.

"We know from evidence-based articles, as well as from personal experience, that exercise helps clear the mind, reflect on the day and prepares you for what lies ahead. The Lashins Family Employee Wellness Gym allows our staff to refuel, recharge and invest in our own health and wellness so that we are better equipped to take care of ourselves, our patients and the community."

2. Inova Health System has strengthened its workplace safety programs in addition to offering enhanced counseling services across service lines and increasing benefits such as loan repayment programs, general time-off programs and scholarship opportunities, Inova CEO J. Stephen Jones, MD, told Becker's.

Dr. Jones said there were 648 physical workplace violence incidents across Inova last year, which prompted the Falls Church, Va.-based health system to launch the Safety Always for Everyone team.

This rapid-response effort "de-escalates conflicts, provides support for team members and assures patient safety," he said.

"The SAFE Team is made up of experts that can immediately respond when something happens with a patient or family member, including with nursing, security, behavioral health and communications expertise," Dr. Jones said. "Designed to be the best approach for intervention, the program has provided immediate relief for Inova's front-line team members."

Less than a year after the program's full implementation, he said it has led to higher levels of staff confidence that expert resources are available, and it has de-escalated workplace violence events and decreased the likelihood such incidents will occur.

"The consequences of inaction in supporting our healthcare worker's mental health is devastating, and finding both immediate and long-term solutions for this crisis has been top of my mind as CEO of Inova," Dr. Jones said.

3. Chesapeake (Va.) Regional Healthcare officials brought in mental health experts and chaplains to help employees and hosted town hall-style meetings so workers could express concerns to leadership, Reese Jackson, president and CEO of Chesapeake Regional Healthcare, told The Virginian-Pilot

Mr. Jackson also pointed to perks such as providing meals to nursing and other employees during times of extraordinary peak census, spaces for staff to recharge during the workday and weekly Q&A calls to communicate with employees.

4. Nicklaus Children's Hospital in Miami created two serenity spaces in the oncology and intensive care unit departments for staff who need time to decompress, The Miami Herald reported April 26. 

The rooms are painted in pastel colors and have wall art, plants, reading and coloring books. They also have zero-gravity massage chairs, and staff members can listen to music or watch shows.

The idea came from a listening session, according to the report.

"We asked nurses, 'How can we help? How can we support you?' I'll never forget one nurse who said, 'I just need a space to cry and prepare to take care of the rest of my patients,'" Peggy Townsend, a service line administrator for the hospital's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, told the newspaper.

5. Rush University in Chicago has the Center for Clinical Wellness, which aims to address burnout, provide support for mental health and produce research, according to its website.

The center offers coaching, counseling, wellness retreats and energy pods where people can rest.

"Each finish, color and texture was selected with a scientifically proven rationale to improve the well-being of visitors while creating an optimal healing environment," the website said. 

6. Emory University, which includes Atlanta-based Emory Healthcare, created the Office of Well-Being in January, which designs and implements wellness programs to help reduce stress for healthcare employees, according to its website.

"The goals of the office include facilitating systemwide changes that enable team members to effectively practice in a culture that prioritizes and promotes wellness and professional fulfillment while optimizing the function of Emory's health system and establishing a robust well-being research foundation," the website said.

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