Michigan Medicine has opened three "recharge rooms" at its 1,043-bed Ann Arbor medical center in an effort to alleviate staff stress and reduce burnout that a recent survey found was widespread before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Michigan Medicine and the University of Michigan School of Nursing partnered with Studio Elsewhere, a New York-based design and technology company, to license the AI-powered environments.
The virtual reality technology creates environments that stimulate the senses through light, sound and scent. The purpose is to relax and improve the cognitive performance of the viewer.
Nancy May, Michigan Medicine's chief nurse executive, said Michigan Medicine heard about Mount Sinai Health System's use of recharge rooms and found donors interested in supporting a similar experience in Michigan.
"We were pretty impressed with the conversations that we've had with the owner of that company (Studio Elsewhere)," May said. "They set up about 10 of the recharge rooms at Mount Sinai during the height of the pandemic in the spring. The testimonials of the nurses that came out of the rooms were so impactful and powerful that we thought it would be a great way to give our nurses a way that they could go into those rooms during a stressful period in the beginning of their shift, at the end of the shift or if they had a stressful situation."
Health care workers at Mount Sinai in New York City who used to rooms reported a 60% reduction in stress after only 15 minutes, according to a study published last November in Frontiers in Psychology.
At Michigan Medicine before the pandemic, a survey of nurses revealed the negative effects of job stress, with 62% reporting burnout, 43% feeling overwhelmed by their workload and 45% experiencing anxiety or depression.
The Michigan Medicine recharge rooms have been available since early April and have been used by about 100 staffers. So far, May said users have expressed positive feedback. Two groups of donors—Ken and Kimberly Whipple and Ken and Jeanne Levy-Church—contributed a collective $100,000 toward building and operating the recharge rooms.
Kathleen Robertson, director of Michigan Medicine's Office of Counseling and Workplace Resilience, said the rooms can induce short-term decreases in blood pressure, stress hormones and heart rate.
Robertson described the experience of the rooms that feature dimmed lighting, relaxing music, abundant greenery, comfortable seating and tranquil imagery projected on a video wall. Because of social distancing requirements, the rooms limit staff to four to six people, depending on the size of the room.
May said a fourth recharge room could be built in a regional outpatient site, depending on the ability to raise similar donations. Future plans include featuring aromatherapy in the rooms, she said.
Besides nurses, May said physicians, medical students, technicians and other hospital employees can use the rooms on a 24/7 walk-in basis.
"On any given day, countless clinicians look for an oasis to pause, reflect and ready themselves for the next challenge. Too many of us have done this outside patient care areas, call or work rooms, or in hallways without the privacy or intimacy needed for these critical moments," said Dr. Vineet Chopra, division chief of hospital medicine at Michigan Medicine, in a statement. "Having these rooms provides a much needed sanctuary for front line staff to decompress and regroup."
For example, when clinical teams experience a difficult patient case or death, the rooms also can be used to provide a healing environment for small group debriefs, Robertson said.
"We had a multidisciplinary and there were four people in the room, and all different disciplines, and they were sharing the experience together. So that's what we want," Robertson said.
May said a research study on the recharge rooms will be conducted in the next two months to evaluate the rooms' efficacy in improving emotional and mental health.
"An empirical study to learn more about how these rooms will allow health care workers to rejuvenate after great duress is compelling to us," according to a statement by donors Ken and Jeanne Levy-Church. "Hospitals should be warm, nurturing environments, both for patients and the staff that take care of them."
This story first appeared in our sister publication, Crain's Detroit Business.