Serenity spaces: Hospitals give workers room to de-stress

February 15, 2023


Catholic health ministries across the country are not only encouraging their staffs to tend to their own well-being as the COVID-19 pandemic and work exhaustion lingers, many of them also are creating special spaces on their campuses for workers to kick back and recharge.

Laurie Laugeman, an RN who works in the cardiac-neuro unit at Sisters of Charity Hospital in Buffalo, New York, kicks back for a few minutes in the massage chair in the hospital's Zen den. The space also has a recliner, a desk and chair, inspirational pictures, soft lighting and relaxing music.

Holy Cross Health, a 557-bed hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, that is part of Trinity Health, set up three serenity rooms on different floors and a resiliency garden in an outdoor courtyard for staff to catch their breath. The spaces opened in March 2021.

Mark Doyle, president and chief executive, says the idea behind the relaxation spaces is to help staff de-stress so they "can get back to work and do what we do best, which is take care of patients."

The largest of the serenity rooms replaced the hospital's gift shop on the ground floor. Its decompression tools include eight massage chairs. Even with that many (and three more in another room), Doyle says there is sometimes a line of staffers outside the door waiting for their turn.

The garden has a sail-like cover for shade, a section with butterfly-attracting plants and more than two dozen tables with chairs. In the temperate months "a lot of times, there's not one chair available," Doyle says.

Hospital staffers get some fresh air in the resiliency garden at Holy Cross Health in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The garden and three serenity rooms where staff are invited to take a break and de-stress opened in March 2021.

'A great resource'
Mercy Health — Lourdes Hospital in Paducah, Kentucky, part of Bon Secours Mercy Health, also has three recharge and renew rooms. It opened the first one in the emergency department in November; the other two are on upper floors and, while awaiting finishing touches, are available for staff to slip in for a brief break.

IMPACT Lourdes, Mercy Health Foundation — Paducah's women 's philanthropy group, provided a grant to cover the rooms' renovations and furnishings. Lori Meredith, a member of the group, says when the proposal for the rooms came in "we jumped on it."

"We know (staff are) really busy and they may not be able to go in there but for a couple three minutes at a time," Meredith says, "but anything that we can do to help them to recharge and go back out there and give that great care that they give every day, we are glad to have a hand in it."

Sherece Sullivan, an emergency room nurse at Lourdes, says the heated zero-gravity massage chair is the big attraction in the fully finished room. The décor includes wall hangings with inspirational messages. There are fidget spinners and other toys to release some nervous energy and a selection of adult coloring books and pencils to inspire creativity.

"I think it's amazing," Sullivan says of the room near the ER. "I think it's a great resource to have."

More fun and games
Rebecca Inman, ER nurse manager, collected ideas for the rooms at Lourdes and has overseen purchases of furnishings. She and two colleagues hung the waterfall mural that covers one wall.

Water pours from a fountain in the serenity room at HSHS St. Mary’s Hospital in Decatur, Illinois.

"It was not easy," Inman says of the installation, which involved aligning long sticky strips of wallpaper. "I understand why the maintenance department didn't really want to do it."

Inman says even with the pandemic's impact easing and a sense of normalcy returning to the hospital, the relaxation spaces are much appreciated by staff. "What we do is a really difficult job and it's nice that someone has noticed and provided us with something to be able to manage our ups and downs," she says.

At Mercy Hospital South in suburban St. Louis a rejuvenation station that opened in January 2022 has massage chairs, a treadmill, a Pac-Man video game system, and iPads with preloaded relaxation apps and inspirational reading material. Occasionally, giveaways, such as munchies and soothing facial mask products, are available there.

The hospital is part of Chesterfield, Missouri-based Mercy. The relaxation space there is part of a systemwide effort to bolster co-worker well-being. Another piece was a drawing in the fall that was open to frontline workers for a respite day at the Mercy Conference and Retreat Center in suburban St. Louis, a sponsored ministry of the Sisters of Mercy — South Central Community. Fifty workers won a day of their choice of off-site relaxation, reflection and tranquility.

A cabinet in the serenity room at HSHS St. Mary’s Hospital has baskets with scripture reflections, inspirational reading material and meditation aids as well as a drop box for prayer requests.

Support for self-care
Sisters of Charity Hospital in Buffalo, New York, opened a Zen den last spring in a repurposed office space across from a nurses' station on the third floor of the six-story hospital. A grant from the American Holistic Nurses Association paid for the furniture. The space is a complement to the peace garden on the hospital's campus. The garden has a waterfall, benches and a heart-shaped path.

Laurie Laugeman, an RN who works in the unit for cardiac and neurology patients, says the nurse practice council in her unit wrote the grant request. "We felt strongly that we wanted to find ways to support each other in the self-care area," Laugeman says.

The room has a massage chair, recliner, a desk and chair, inspirational pictures, soft lighting and relaxing music. Its walls are light gray. Each month the room has special features around a theme created by the hospital's spiritual care team. One month the theme was gratitude and visitors to the space could note what they were grateful for in a communal journal.

Laugeman says the hospital's philosophy is that if staff care for themselves they can better care for their patients, colleagues and families. The hospital is part of the Catholic Health system.

Staff can contemplate a soothing mural of a waterfall in the “recharge and renew room” at Mercy Health – Lourdes Hospital in Paducah, Kentucky. The room is one of three that the facility opened for staff last year.

Jennifer N. Simon, nurse manager of the unit where Laugeman works, makes use of the den. "It's very relaxing and helps me center myself so I can focus and get back to the task at hand," she says.

'The world was crazy'
All of the hospitals that are part of Springfield, Illinois-based Hospital Sisters Health System have a serenity room for staff. The rooms are for the exclusive use of staff except for the one at the flagship HSHS St. John's Hospital in Springfield, which is also open to visitors.

The room at HSHS St. Mary's Hospital in Decatur, Illinois, opened last July. It's just outside of the hospital's intensive care unit across from the elevators. "It's easy for staff at the hospital to get to it," says Valerie Jordan, St. Mary's director of oncology services, who partnered with Karla Thornton, a spiritual care minister, to get the space set up.

Jordan says the pandemic brought many new worries — staff furloughs, uncertainty about the virus, the shortage of personal protective equipment for frontline caregivers, patient visitation restrictions and more — that added to an already stressful workplace. "The world was crazy," she recalls, and even with the worst of the pandemic surges over, staff stress levels stayed high and the need for a space to decompress remained.

The serenity room has a sofa and reading chair, a small fountain and a mosaic artwork with the message "Called to care." It also has a prayer box for staff to drop requests. Spiritual care ministers check that box and share the requests with the rest of their team. Those requests also are shared with the Hospital Sisters congregation and with a lay group that has a perpetual prayer presence in the hospital's chapel.

Of the relaxation room that she and Thornton created, Jordan says: "I think it's our way of telling our colleagues 'We care about you. We want you to take care of you so you can take care of others.'"


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