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Code Lavender

By Danielle Angeloni, MusicWorx Intern

As I was running out the door to the cafe I’m at now, I placed my laptop into my backpack right next to Francoise Mathieu’s Compassion Fatigue Workbook. I haven’t taken the book out of my backpack for about a month now in hopes I’ll find a free moment to read up on how to improve my self care rituals. I have also never taken the book out of my backpack because I have not had time to read up on how to take better care of myself. Luckily, I’ve had opportunities to discover helpful wellness practices during my music therapy education at Berklee College of Music and implement the practices into my daily life. But what about other healthcare professionals with more time consuming and stressful jobs? Take nurses, for example. How do nurses cope with vicarious traumatization? Where can they turn for support? Something tells me they didn’t have classes titled “Music and Wellness” as a part of their nursing school curriculum. 

I decided to do a Google search of wellness programs for healthcare professionals and found since the Affordable Care Act took effect in 2014, there has been a greater initiative to improve health and wellness for hospital employees. An American Hospital Association Survey (AHA) survey comparing 6,000 hospitals in the United States summarized that between 2010 and 2015, hospitals initially offering health and benefits programs in 2010 have increased their health and benefits programs. Other positive increases include employee participation in health and wellness programs, hospitals offering health and wellness programs to the community, and hospitals offering employee incentives for participation in health and wellness programs. If you are curious, as I was, to know what is generally included in a hospital’s “health and benefits programs,” see the chart below. 

Interestingly enough, multiple health programs focus on physical health (biometric screening, weight loss programs, exercise facilities, personal health coaching, nutrition/healthy living classes) and only one strictly focused on mental health (stress management). This is a blatant example of the US healthcare system exacerbating the American societal issue of “putting the horse before the cart” and forgoing mental health awareness in efforts to appear physically healthy. Yes, physical health is important, but continuous exposure to the high-stress situations that hospital staff experience feed larger mental health issues such as chronic stress, anxiety, depressive disorders, and chronic fatigue. Many physical health issues result from lack of mental health attention.

The Becker Hospital Review compares 10 health systems across the nation with stand-out employee wellness programs. Among them are Sharp HealthCare in San Diego, CA, and UCHealth in Aurora, Colorado. Sharp HealthCare’s employee health and wellness program provides “free access to a digital mindfulness and yoga platform, free annual wellness screenings and health coaches,” and highlights a focus on self-care and a compassionate community. UCHealth employee health and well-being promotes mental health by offering “24/7 emotional well-being counseling and peer chat to all employees.” Unsurprisingly, UCHealth is also on the Becker’s Hospital Review “52 great health systems to know” list along with Scripps health system. 

Since interning at MusicWorx, I’ve had the opportunity to work at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla. While working closely with the palliative team, I met a Healing Touch practitioner who organized a Code Lavender for the hospital. Code Lavender is a nationwide initiative to improve the well being of nurses and staff members working in the medical setting. The program was originally created at the North Hawaii Community Hospital by Earl Bakken in holistic efforts to support family and patients during particularly stressful or traumatic situations. The practice soon grew into a hospital staff support tool. When Code Lavender is called on a unit, nurses and staff may report to a secure meeting space where support from a chaplain, social workers, music therapy and/or art therapist, and healing touch practitioners are available. Mandala art work, essential oil diffusers and inhalers, relaxing music, and helpful conversations bring to life a restorative healing space. An article in Nursing2018 Journal lists benefits of Code Lavender including “a purposeful physical presence, individual or team support, debriefing and follow-up, complementary therapies, prayer and other affectively based interventions, (and) tea and snacks.” By providing a “physical presence,” Code Lavender acknowledges the work healthcare professionals do as difficult and provides an opportunity to acknowledge and process traumatic experiences.

At the Cleveland Clinic at Hillcrest Hospital in Ohio, Code Lavender received positive feedback from upper level management. Managers reported that Code Lavender created a “concrete plan” for their employees in crisis, which “eased their stress as well.” In my last blog post for MusicWorx I wrote about how stress impairs cognitive functioning and negates executive functions such as short term memory, organizing, decision making and goal setting. Stress reduction needs to be a top priority for employee health and wellness programs to ensure quality patient care. As healthcare professionals, it is our duty to speak up and advocate for positive changes to our work environment not only for our own well-being, but also for the well-being of our patients. 

As explained by Rabbi Susan B. Stone in the article linked above,  more lengthy research is needed to understand the impact of the program on hospital staff around the globe, and present it as a necessity. The individual therapies and counseling services provided during Code Lavender are all evidence-based practices. In order for more research to be completed professional like music therapists, art therapists, social workers, psychologists, and chaplains must advocate together with nurses and hospital staff to implement Code Lavender. 

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