A room on the Hillman Cancer Center’s third floor offers something nurses say can be hard to find in the bustling building a little peace. The center’s respite room, furnished with a full-body massage chair, aromatherapy and a selection of nature sounds, provides privacy to unwind amid the emotionally taxing work of caring for cancer patients, said Nancy Birus, the Hillman nurse who led the project to build the room last summer. It’s kind of like a healing room for the nurses, Birus said. As hospitals look to save money by maximizing efficiency, medical studies are increasingly finding value in setting aside time for workers’ emotional needs. One of the latest studies, published in January in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that hospitals with excellent nursing environments were associated with better quality, lower cost and higher value than other hospitals.
Birus said the room helps nurses and other medical staff the room is open to all workers cope with what she called compassion fatigue. It’s your headache, your stress, she said of the fatigue. Sometimes you have the inability to just shut your mind down. You’re always doing things for the patients, you always worry about the patients and you always want to do the best thing for them to help them. And when you do this day-in day-out and then you go home to your family, sometimes it’s hard to let it go. Doctors deliver the diagnosis of cancer, but nurses are a constant presence from the earliest stages of treatment through its conclusion whether they recover or transfer to a hospice center, Birus and other nurses said. By staying positive and efficient, nurses play an important role in making treatment tolerable, they said. But that can be difficult.
Nurses often help transport patients to the emergency department when they have bad reactions to medications or other episodes requiring intensive care. While brief, the transfers are often stressful, said Julie Haught, who has been an oncology nurse for 30 years. Other situations are emotionally difficult: for example, a patient saying goodbye before transferring to a hospice center. The respite room provides a place to decompress before returning to regular duties or going home, Haught said. If you have an emotional day where you need to cry, usually it’s been the bathroom or a closet or something. This is somewhere you can go without having to worry that someone is going to walk in on you or that this patient’s going to see you, she said. After 10 or 15 minutes in the respite room, she can step out, take a deep breath and get back to work.
Birus said she surveyed nurses before selecting many of the items in the room. The nurses preferred a mirror over moving images of water or nature. They liked the idea of a journal and of a Himalayan crystal lamp. They submitted inspirational quotes, and one, by Mahatma Gandhi is painted in gold on the wall: Take care of this moment. Before medical staffers use the room for the first time, they pledge to respect it, keep it tidy and not abuse the space, lead nurses said. Birus said she got the idea for the room, which cost about 10,000, after learning of a similar room that is popular among staff at UPMC Shadyside. A grant from The Shadyside Hospital Foundation paid for the room. The rooms are appearing at more hospitals around the country.