On a Sunday night in 2018, Stephanie Smith, BSN, RN, CCRN, was the senior clinical nurse on a medical intensive care unit (MICU) at Cleveland Clinic’s main campus when four patients were actively dying. A team of caregivers, including four clinical nurses, provided compassionate end-of-life care to the patients.
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“When the patients died, I didn’t know how to support these four nurses, who were upset,” says Smith. There was no immediate access to the Code Lavender team for emotional support.
The situation spurred her to action. Smith wrote a proposal for a Lavender Lounge – a room on the MICU where caregivers could grieve a patient’s death – and submitted it to Cleveland Clinic’s Caregiver Catalyst Grants program that same night. Smith received an $11,000 grant in 2019, and the Lavender Lounge opened in early 2020.
Components of the emotional healing space
Smith conceived the idea for the Lavender Lounge several years before submitting the grant application, when one of her patients died. “I found myself very distraught over his death, and I was literally sitting on the bathroom floor crying my eyes out in the middle of the night because there was no place to go,” she says. “I needed time to reflect and pull myself together.”
In the intervening years, she researched dedicated areas for nurses to sort through their emotions after patient deaths or other difficult situations. After receiving the grant, she was ready to turn her ideas into reality, but she faced one major obstacle – finding a space for the Lavender Lounge.
“Finding real estate in my building took five months and a lot of communication with facilities management,” she says. “My nurse manager and nursing director really fought very hard for me and my idea.” Eventually, Smith was given permission to build the Lavender Lounge in a room on the MICU previously set aside for family conferences. It was rarely used for that purpose because most conversations occur at the patient’s bedside.
The Lavender Lounge is painted in warm tones and includes a picture of a lavender field and a framed poem validating the grieving process. When caregivers enter, there is a Keurig machine with coffee, tea and mugs, as well as a small refrigerator with water. A sheer purple curtain divides the entry space from the larger, main room, which includes the following:
- A chair and footrest next to a rejuvenation station with hairbrushes, hair ties, face wipes, rejuvenating face spritzers, and other items
- A round table with chakra stones, a large journal to share thoughts with other caregivers and small journals to write in and take home
- A charging station for phones
- A full-body massage chair
- A music station hooked up to Bluetooth® wireless technology, headphones and guided meditation CDs
- A shelf with books on nursing, wellness and philosophy, as well as coloring books and origami
- Yoga mats, blocks and CDs
- A beanbag chair
- An over-the-door basketball hoop
Smith’s goal was to add a variety of items in the room so caregivers can “be vulnerable and work through their feelings” in whatever way suits them best.
The Lavender Lounge is used daily, sometimes just for a quick quiet moment. The room is locked, and caregivers get the key from the health unit coordinator or a manager to access it. “If someone is in some sort of emotional distress, I wanted leadership to know so they could let the person in the Lavender Lounge, then check back on that person in a few hours to make sure they are OK,” says Smith.
Advice for creating a Lavender Lounge
Smith offers several tips for nurses who would like to carve out space for processing emotions on their units. The first piece of advice, which is applicable to any inspiration, came from her mentor: “No never really means no. It just means you have to find the right person to say yes,” she says. “If you have an idea and you’re passionate about it, follow through until someone says yes.”
Finding money to implement ideas is often an issue. Smith encourages nurses to explore alternate avenues for money. “It doesn’t have to come from your nursing budget,” she says. “Look for grants.” They may be available from your hospital, nursing associations, local foundations and other sources.
While Smith was fortunate to land an $11,000 grant and create her dream space, she acknowledges that you can accomplish the same purpose with much less. “Start small. Ask your colleagues to each donate one item,” she says. “You don’t have to have the Cadillac of massage chairs. You can have a recliner, some music and aromatherapy.”
Finally, when you’ve created a Lavender Lounge, be sure to support each other’s use of it. “If someone needs to go to the lounge, cover their assignment so they can take a break and provide wellness for themselves.”
Self-care is paramount to maintaining wellness and avoiding burnout. “It’s so important that we take care of ourselves,” says Smith. “If we don’t, we really can’t take care of our patients.”