How Can We Mitigate Stress for Frontline Healthcare Workers?

Evidence-based Strategies to Build Worker Resilience During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond

September 28, 2020

NCIDQ LEED® AP Senior Associate I Interior Designer, NBBJ

Editor’s Note: This post was co-authored by Katie Davis, Sarah Markovitz and Andrea Rufe. 

 

The impact of COVID-19 touches all aspects of healthcare, but is especially acute when it comes to the wellbeing of frontline workers. Communities look to first responders during times of crisis, which is why the wellness of these individuals is critically important now. The pandemic’s impact on the mental health of these workers is profound, causing psychological distress. It also increases burnout, which can lower work performance and raise the risk of errors. Yet the coronavirus crisis also creates opportunities for positive change.

Key neuroscience insights illuminate strategies to help alleviate the challenges frontline workers face. These findings paired with designs that bring moments of calm and foster connections can create a roadmap for healthcare facilities — from hospitals to ambulatory centers and clinics — now and in the months ahead.

Backed by neuroscience research from NBBJ’s Fellowship Program, this post examines three ways to boost healthcare employee resilience through changes to physical environments, operational protocols and organizational systems. The ideas center on a variety of practices and respite areas — each of which can be implemented at various scales — both in traditional and non-traditional healthcare settings.

 

Support Spaces

Spaces that offer opportunities for caregivers to turn to one another for support and share solutions, especially through talk therapy, can strengthen resilience and happiness. Offer frontline workers ways to connect with someone trained to listen, such as dedicated staff or virtual mental health services. Existing rooms that provide privacy can be repurposed for these conversations with comfortable seating and couches, tables and video conference support. Furthermore, a focus on total wellness via health coaching stations with programmed nutrition, mental health and exercise classes can offer a comprehensive growth-oriented suite of amenities to build a strong support network, improve memory, enhance cognitive function and create a better quality of life.

Restorative Zones

Restorative zones create space for frontline caregivers to recharge — in the good times, but especially so in times of crisis. Restorative zones are hyper flexible: they can leverage underutilized spaces for a moment’s rest such as a quiet alcove at the end of a hallway with a window that overlooks a garden. They could include comfortable high-backed sound-absorbing chairs with ottomans to rest one’s feet and a table to place a rejuvenating refreshment or inspiring book. On a larger scale, a refuge room filled with plants, natural light and the sound of running water — or even a digital wall of nature imagery — can provide an immersive sensory experience.

Mindfulness Rooms

Spaces that facilitate mindfulness can promote mental wellness and greater resilience to challenging situations. Mindfulness can be promoted at various scales. A small niche with room for a yoga mat can help build mindfulness techniques, like deep breathing, that can be called upon anytime during the workday. Mindfulness micro practices can also be cultivated during daily routines by incorporating biophilic design in transitional spaces like stairwells. In addition, meditation, yoga and massage rooms can offer regular mindfulness sessions and promote connections between staff outside of their normal work tasks.

 

Wellness for frontline staff encompasses a whole-health approach for individuals, departments and organizations. It’s powered by meaningful work, relationships and uplifting spaces that support strength in and outside the work environment.

These ideas are part of a comprehensive report by the NBBJ Fellowship Program which outlines ways to mitigate stress for frontline healthcare workers, how to create new work rhythms and how to remain human in a hybrid virtual-physical world. To learn more about these concepts and the supporting research, please email socialmedia@nbbj.com.

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