A place for nurses to rest and cry


Nurses often have to cope with chronic stress, and having a dedicated space where they can decompress in between their duties, could be of tremendous help. — FAIHAN GHANI/The Star

Caring for very sick children daily can be emotionally taxing, even for professionals with years of experience.

As frontline workers who also support grieving parents, nurses often cope with chronic stress.

To help support their nurses, Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, Florida, United States, recently created two serenity spaces in the oncology and intensive care unit (ICU) departments.

These are spaces where staff can go to regroup, unwind and reflect, even if just for a few minutes in the day.

“We really needed a space to decompress and reset,” said Peggy Townsend, a paediatric oncology nurse for over 20 years, and now, service line administrator in the hospital’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center.

The new spaces are painted in pastel colours and decorated with wall art, plants, reading and colouring books.

They are also equipped with zero-gravity massage chairs.

Staff can plug in their devices and listen to music or watch a show.

Sometimes, it’s just a quiet space to cry.

For mental health

The idea for the serenity spaces came to life during a listening session.

“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’,” Townsend said.

Townsend, who was director of nursing in the oncology unit at the time, gave up her office to create the first Mia’s Serenity Space.

The hospital unveiled it last March (2021) during a ceremony that included golfer Camilo Villegas and his wife, Maria Ochoa, who have generously funded the serenity spaces through their organisation, Mia’s Miracles, in honour of their late daughter Mia.

The hospital is working with the couple to create additional similar spaces in other departments.

The hospital also launched two new programmes to help nurses and other staff deal with the emotional demands of the job.

In October 2020, the hospital implemented Project D.E.A.R., which stands for Debriefing Event for Analysis Recovery.

This programme allows nurses and other staff the opportunity to have structured debriefings following critical events.

The sessions facilitate conversation, sharing of resources and allow for emotional processing.

Jasmine Sandoval, a former combat medic in the US Army and the nurse manager of clinical operations at Nicklaus, created Project D.E.A.R. as her doctoral project while studying at the University of Miami.

“We needed a hospital-wide standardised process for debriefing after a critical event,” she said.

“The feedback has been great. Participants have expressed how they felt it was necessary and appreciate it.”

Meanwhile, CHAT (Connecting, Healing and Achieving Together) was developed by the hospital’s psychiatric nursing team to provide mental health support and group-sharing sessions.

The sessions – 30 so far – provide a safe space for nurses to share their experiences, discuss stressors and support each other.

The programme has mental health experts on call and available nearly all the time.

Other initiatives

Other hospitals have implemented similar programmes.

Last year (2021), a mental health team from Baptist Health’s Community Health and Well-Being in South Florida began offering on-site emotional support, debriefing sessions for nurses and other staff, and education on stress management.

The team also facilitates meditation and mindfulness activities.

Its main focus is supporting nurses working in the ICU, neonatal ICU (NICU) and Covid ICU.

Memorial Healthcare System, also in South Florida, introduced group prayers during the Covid-19 pandemic for its nurses, along with weekly meditations, Zumba classes, free counselling sessions and outdoor yoga programmes.

Jackson Memorial Hospital and Mount Sinai Medical Center, both in Miami, have also offered yoga programmes for its employees during the pandemic.

“We found that some nurses wanted to relax, while others needed the workouts to help them recharge,” Memorial spokeswoman Yanet Obarrio Sanchez said in an email.

Even before the pandemic, numerous studies have warned about fatigue and burnout among healthcare workers, especially nurses.

The last two years have certainly compounded those effects.

Suzy Castro, director of in- patient psychiatry and lead on the CHAT programme’s development at Nicklaus, says the feedback has been great so far and hopes the programme continues to support more hospital staff.

“When we started creating this programme, it had nothing to do with the pandemic, yet so many more people have benefited than we ever expected,” she said. – By Sue Arrowsmith/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service

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