When you’re exhausted from a long shift or stressed from dealing with a difficult patient case, sometimes it would be nice to just relax, unwind and escape—even just for a few minutes.

While there has been a lot of research on how hospital environments can affect patients, there is new focus on hospital staff’s burnout, stress and focus.

For example, a 2022 cross-sectional study of 3,030 New Jersey hospital nurses found that 64% reported burnout and 36.5% indicated an intent to leave their hospital within a year. Medical-surgical registered nurses had the highest percentage of intent to leave compared to nurses in other departments.

One way that hospitals are addressing staff burnout is through tranquility rooms—relaxation spaces filled with soothing sounds, dim light and aromatherapy—that can provide a short escape from the alarms, bustle and intensity.

How Hospitals are Implementing Recharge Rooms for Hospital Staff

Hospital tranquility rooms are more than just break rooms, which tend to be small spaces with minimal amenities. In contrast, these rooms (also called respite rooms, recharge rooms or oasis rooms) are specifically designed to create a relaxing, peaceful atmosphere where healthcare workers can escape their stress.

Architectural designers can help healthcare organizations design these restorative spaces for their staff by looking at the hospital building holistically and taking advantage of every opportunity to boost staff wellness, according to an article in Building Design + Construction. These respite rooms, the author notes, should engage staff members’ senses, be in an easily accessible location and incorporate calming scents, music and graphics to help relieve stress.

Here’s how some hospitals are implementing such rooms:

Sibley Memorial Hospital

Launched in 2018, the Tranquility Room at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington D.C. is an immersive relaxation experience that engages all five senses through dim lanterns, soft drapery, herbal teas, purified air, aromatherapy and soothing music layered with nature sounds. There are four personal spaces, which can be private via translucent drapery and with seats that provide multiple posture options.

The Sibley Tranquility Room is a collaboration between Sen Sound, a studio focused on sound design in hospitals; Gensler, a design and architecture firm; and the John Hopkins Sibley Innovation Hub. In 2016, they held a staff open house to collect feedback to drive the room’s design. There they talked through the degree of physical privacy in the room vs. the desire for a sense of connection and community. They also had to balance use of space—some wanted to recline in chairs while other wanted room to mediate or practice yoga.

Additionally, the hospital tranquility room had to meet certain functional requirements of a hospital environment while maintaining a non-hospital feel, including:

    • Adherence to infection control requirements without the smell of disinfectant affecting the area
    • Life safety restrictions regarding the use of drapery and fire-related materials without giving the appearance of hospital cubicle curtains
    • Following the hospital’s requirements for maintenance and durability without the use of commercial-grade products.

“This room is not another staff break room,” Yoko Sen of Sen Sound told Medical Construction & Design, “it is a statement by way of physical and experience design that caring for those who care for others is a necessity. The dignity of ‘staff experience’ matters as much as ‘patient experience.’”

The room has been well received. “The biggest confirmation we’re on the right track,” says Sibley’s administrative resident, “was when a nurse told me that the room made her happy she worked at Sibley.”

Mount Sinai

Similarly, the Mount Sinai Health System in New York has multiple recharge rooms for hospital staff to help lower clinicians’ stress levels. The recharge rooms, converted from unused research laboratory space, can be private or for group use. Each features rotating nature scenes, silk plants to adhere to infection control protocols, soothing music and calming scents.

Additionally, the rooms are voice-activated with Google Home so that staff members can choose different nature scenes without having to touch any items in the room. The focus on natural scenes is intended to “shift staff users away from states of directed attention,” Putrino et al. note in their 2020 study,“Multisensory, Nature-Inspired Recharge Rooms Yield Short-Term Reductions in Perceived Stress Among Frontline Healthcare Workers.

Staff are encouraged to take advantage of the recharge rooms through a dedicated website that lists room hours and intended uses, and facilities online booking of 15-minute sessions.

The idea for such rooms at Mount Sinai began during COVID-19 pandemic, when hospital staff faced unparalleled levels of stress linked to economic hardship, fear of contracting or spreading the virus or the loss of friends and loved ones.

While healing environments such as recharge rooms have been shown to improve patient outcomes, notes Putrino et al., they had not been widely implemented among healthcare workers treating COVID, and they hoped to be able to use them to promote moments of stress relief and relaxation among their staff.

And it worked. Putrino and his team conducted a survey of 240 staff members who had used the recharge rooms and found that spending just 15 minutes in the rooms lead to a 60% reduction in stress.

Tips for a Successful Hospital Tranquility Room

Organizational Buy-In

With the installation of a tranquility room, you may need to implement some monetary and directorial changes in order to help the room run successfully, according to an article in Building Design + Construction. They advise pinpointing an executive leader who can move the project forward and make any necessary adjustments at the institutional level. A project manager may also be needed to help achieve the vision that your hospital is looking to achieve.

Encourage Use

If you build it, will they come? Staff use of tranquility rooms will likely require a shift in mindset across the organization as clinicians must feel supported in leaving their stations for a short break. Leadership must also create procedures and guidelines to permit use of the space, perhaps via a managing nurse, unit manager or nursing supervisor.

Make Rooms Self-Sustaining

With high staff turnover and dueling priorities, it’s important to keep up momentum after investing in a tranquility room intended to help and recharge staff. To that end, ample signage and guidelines can help explain why the space exists and any protocols for using the room. There may be ways to automate use of the space as at Mount Sinai, where they enabled online booking of their recharge rooms.

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