Saying “Thank You” Through Design
Since early 2019, the nation’s healthcare providers have shown unimaginable bravery, selflessness, and tenacity as they’ve stood on the front lines to save lives during the Covid-19 pandemic. This pandemic has been the most consuming health crisis in more than 100 years. According to the CDC, this virus has infected more than 380,000 healthcare personnel causing a shortage in qualified healthcare staff across the nation. This coupled with sheer mental and physical exhaustion and fatigue from multiple 12-hour shifts, our healthcare providers are stretched to the brink.
During these grueling shifts, Doctors and Nurses frequently shorten or skip their breaks in an effort to spend more time with their ailing patients. A 2011 study by the University of Illinois found that the human brain’s attentional resources drop after a long period of focusing on a single task, decreasing our ability to focus and hindering performance. “Brief mental breaks, which may include drinking water, walking, or eating a snack, will actually help focus on your task and not fatigue,” said lead researcher professor Alejandro Leiras. The scientific consensus on the optimum break length varies from every 25-90 minutes, depending on the practicing theory.
If you picture a typical hospital break room, you might think of a kitchenette with a few tables and chairs, hard surface flooring, and bright fluorescent lighting – and this would be a good scenario. In not-so-good cases, these spaces are used for overflow storage of holiday ornaments, adorned with bulletin boards filled with overlapping postings, and are permeated with that weird smell from someone’s microwaved seafood lunch.
Never has it been more evident how incredibly valuable our caregivers are, so isn’t it time that we say “thank you” through our design of their healing environment? We have a responsibility not just to include a “break room” or a “staff respite area” in our projects, but to truly envision a space that allows caregivers a rewarding mental and physical recharge.
Understanding that space is at a premium, the footprint might be as minimal as 80 square feet, and take into consideration comfortable seating, acoustics, lighting and temperature controls, color, texture, and aroma. When asked, nurses have asked for amenities such as an essential oil diffuser, rejuvenating hand lotion, and a choice of relaxing music to help them really slow down and let their mind and body rest.
When additional space is available designers could include a small yoga, meditation, or prayer space that may also be furnished with a rocking chair or two for reading or closing one’s eyes for a precious few minutes of solitude.
As designers in the healthcare industry, we put focus on patient-centered care while addressing the needs of family and staff as well. After this time and the heroics we’ve seen, I think we can do an even better job of taking care of our caregivers.