According to a recent study by the University of Utah Health, more than half of all doctors and nurses treating COVID-19 patients were susceptible to mental health problems. These issues ranged from depression and insomnia to anxiety and even substance abuse. The risk was comparable to rates observed in healthcare workers following natural disasters and terrorist attacks.
Designers have the ability to help healthcare organizations take a better approach to designing restorative spaces for their people. The best approach is to think about every aspect of a hospital building as an opportunity to boost staff health and wellness.
Frontline healthcare workers will, by nature, put patient welfare in front of their own. During the height of the pandemic, they had even less time than ever to take care of themselves. The good news is that even a few simple design strategies can give stressed-out healthcare workers a way to decompress.
Connection to Nature
At this point, we’re all aware of the healing power that nature holds for patients. However, we cannot allow patients to overshadow staff in this case. We need to remember that biophilic design elements can offer mental health benefits for everyone. Experiencing plants, water, breezes, natural patterns, and images of nature – even for short periods of time – can help healthcare workers relax and refocus.
In addition to patient rooms, biophilic elements can be incorporated into high-traffic areas like hallways and nurses’ stations. We all have an innate desire to experience direct connections with nature. Providing outdoor spaces where staff can soak up some sun, breathe in the fresh air and just be brings well-documented wellness benefits.
Natural Light is a Wellness Tool
Natural light affects your circadian rhythms, which impacts sleep patterns and immune systems. Even in the best circumstances, most healthcare workers don’t get the amount and type of light required to fully stimulate their circadian rhythms.
Though it’s standard for patient rooms to include lighting controls and access to outdoor views and daylight, that’s not always the case for staff spaces. Lighting systems can support circadian rhythms by changing color temperature over the course of the day.
For worn-out staff members, increasing light can have the same effect as drinking a cup of coffee. Providing access to dimmable lighting is an especially vital part of maintaining the well-being of healthcare workers who regularly arrive at the hospital before sunrise, leave after sunset or work the night shift.
Respite rooms – dedicated spaces for healthcare workers to recharge – can be part of the solution! These spaces should be strategically located for easy access and to engage people’s senses. Peaceful graphics and lush plants, calming scents and music, comfortable furniture, and access to healthy food and drinks all can provide relief.
Providing additional quiet spaces for support services like counseling or pastoral care is also important. Respite and quiet spaces should be acoustically separated from the work environment, giving people a break from the background noises and an opportunity to disconnect from their work.
Designs That Support Your Culture
Respite rooms and outdoor patios are only valuable if institutions encourage their people to use them. While thoughtful design of the built environment can ease some of the mental health issues facing clinicians, it is only one aspect of an organization’s efforts to create a supportive, empathetic culture. If your culture is already set up to support your staff, then incorporating these elements will only fuel that further.
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