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Unique Programs and Projects for Staff Support and Care

Unique Programs and Projects for Staff Support and Care

Kate Eastman
Alan Johnson

Five areas of interest on staff support and care came to the surface as a result of the responses we received from across the country.  Where we deem it important for our readers to be in touch with those who have given the ideas, we have put the person’s name following the program/idea.  Where there is no name, we summarize the content of what we received to indicate that many people are also offering similar ways of offering staff support and care.  We hope that the summaries will confirm the good work that is being done as well as encourage others to take up the challenges implicit in the ideas offered.  The names of those who responded and ways to be in touch with them follow this article.

  1. What are the shared concerns, themes, and approaches?
    Staff is offered counseling for individual as well as group settings by chaplains who also make rounds, respond to referrals, and focus on staff as wall as patients and families.  The Employee Support Program is a resource for staff providing personal, private counseling.  There is an interdisciplinary committee that plans events to improve employee morale.  Mediation is offered in the chapel on a weekly basis and bereavement rituals are shared at staff meetings. 

    Debriefings regularly occur with a designated leader, such as a Critical Incident Stress Management Team or a regularly scheduled debriefing with an outside consultant.  During weekly psychosocial rounds losses are announced, along with a summary of how the family and staff members are coping.  Educational sessions are provided to deal with various modes of stress management.

    There are programs that are monthly, quarterly, or annually to remember the children who have died.  These are Memorial Services that staff plan and in which they participate.  Such services include appropriate readings, music, stories, and photos in a supportive setting for the staff and the families of the deceased child.

    There are educational opportunities for staff in self care and off campus retreats.  There are hand massages weekly or free massages given regularly.  Someone needs to recognize the need for support and care in self and others.  Getting help doesn’t happen if no one notices that someone is having a difficult time.

  2. What are specifically unique, regular, and structured programs?  
    • Come to Your Senses” is a weekly staff rejuvenation program that focuses on the five senses and adds a sixth one: Nonsense.  It offers a “pause” in the workplace to renew the staffs’ energies and is a resource notebook with 6 CD’s for the night as well as the day shifts.  It can be led by anyone.  This resource is listed in the Educational Opportunities section of this newsletter.  (Allison and Heather)
    • The SEED program of the hospital is a way to recognize and support our coworkers.  It is highly visible and used throughout the hospital.  There are rewards that come from the recognition by coworkers.  (Allison)
    • “Good Grief” is a monthly program focusing on an issue of grief affecting the staff.  It is a free lunch for one hour sponsored by the Bereavement Council of the hospital.  (Allison)
    • There are scheduled and organized devotionals, blessings, and worship services for staff and have prayer at nursing stations.  (Karen)
    • There is a Remembrance Week sponsored by the Hospital Wide Bereavement Committee and is dedicated to “caring for ourselves while remembering those who have touched our hearts.”  (Kristen)
    • “The Art of Being a Healing Presence” is a workshop of the fundamentals of human interaction.  It affirms the power of human interaction and how another person’s experience impacts us.  It encourages staff to become more aware of their internal responses, strengths, and limitations.  (Kristen)
    • “Personal Death Awareness Training” encourages participants to explore their own loss histories and perceptions of death.  Kristen
    • “Self-care” tools through the hospital’s benefits program, such as: back-up child care, focused health support and education, a wellness library, financial counseling, a contract with Errand Solutions, discounted tickets for entertainment/food, onsite bachelors/masters level classes, and Spanish language classes.  (Kristen)
    • The Butterfly Program is pediatric palliative care that lets the family know someone is there for them as their child enters into the end of life.  It offers 24-hour availability with medical director, nursing, social work, and a chaplain both in the hospital and at home.  (Trish)
    • ACT or “Attending Caring Team” initiatives are based on Jean Watson’s theory of “Human Caring,” and have incorporated Lundin’s FISH philosophy.  (Bridget)
    • “Soul Food” was started in the Cynthiana office of Hospice of the Bluegrass, created by the team of chaplains.  The purpose of this 5-10 minute activity is to encourage staff members and provide an outlet for some of the stresses felt by working with a specialized, pediatric population.  Some examples of “Soul Food” provided are:  poems, stories, karaoke performances, pictures, newspaper articles, comics, guided relaxation exercises, and announcements.  The items are usually humorous, although many are serious, encouraging, and reflective.  “Soul Food” is shared on a weekly basis among the staff members, at the beginning of a staff meeting.  It is widely participated in by all disciplines, and received well by all staff.  (Donna)
  3. What are singular and/or sporadic activities?  
    There are organizations that have a Sunshine Committee, a group that supports staff through flowers, cards, etc., when there is a birthday or a crisis or a personal concern that is affecting the staff person. 

    A chaplain is encouraged to walk with the staff to take the deceased patient to the morgue and occasionally a chaplain has performed a ritual of cleansing or renewing or simply has prayed with the staff before another patient is admitted into the room where a death has occurred.

    It is imperative to have available someone who can cover for a coworker when another coworker needs some time to reflect, renew, or rejuvenate after the death of a patient.  It would be helpful to make a more concerted effort to give some well-earned time off and/or a retreat may give time for staff to spend time together and focus on a topic of interest.

  4. What are the obstacles?
    We need more staff, more time, more financial support, more space to meet, and management support to provide support.  Even recognizing our own needs, it still is difficult to make it priority to give and receive structured support.  There is also resistance to being seen as “needing” support.  Yet the lack of funds prevents us from bringing in speakers and changing ingrained behavior that says, “I’ll be just fine.”

    Time outs, mental health days, in-services, and retreats can offset the expectations of being an “Iron Maiden.”  It would also be great to get the doctors on board in this approach of staff support and care!!

  5. And what is most needed?
    It is helpful to hear from others as the above information indicates.  Get in touch with each other to pursue ideas and questions, share programs and resources.  Along with the programs and sporadic activities we learned that “generous listening—allowing us to vent without being judged and to be recognized for our own needs” is significant, as well as having support systems that are available.  An open and safe atmosphere for sharing frustrations and grief leads to support when the context is non-threatening.

    Volunteers have also been good at offering staff support just by caring and kindnesses.  The gift of just being present is still a hallmark of support.  It is crucial for someone to effectively be the champion for the money, time, and space for staff support.  Along with this comes the specific needs of having inpatient coverage during staff support (although if there is just a 30 minute “check in” twice during each shift one staff will cover their coworker who attends one session and then that staff will cover their coworker for the second session.)  And integrating cultural differences into this support may be an issue for a future newsletter.

    Support doesn’t happen if no one notices that someone is having a difficult time.  Being attentive to one another is the first step in offering support.


These are the people from whom we excerpted portions of their responses to the survey as they wrote it.

Allison Sickel. The Children’s Hospital, Denver. Sickle.allison@tchden.org

Bridget Darden.  The Children’s Hospital, Denver. Darden.bridget@tchden.org

Donna Armstrong.  Daniel’s Care, Hospice of the Bluegrass, Lexington, KY. darmstrong@hospicebg.org

Heather Soistmann.  The Children’s Hospital, Denver.  Soistmann.heather@tchden.org

Karen Black. Our Children’s House at Baylor, Dallas, TX.  KarenBl@BaylorHealth.edu

Kristen James.  Children’s Memorial Hospital, Chicago.  krjames@childrensmemorial.org

Trish Montano. The Children’s Hospital, Denver.  Montano.trish@tchden.org

These are persons who responded to our survey; their responses were interwoven in the text of this newsletter on staff support and care.

Cynthia Trapenese. ctrapanese@bellsouth.net

Bev Hatter.  Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital and Health Center, Tacoma, WA.  Bev.hatter@multicare.org

Brent Peery.  Memorial Hermann Children’s Hospital, Dallas, TX.  Brent.peery@memorialhermann.org

Diane Thrush.  Methodist Children’s Hospital, San Antonio, TX.  Diane.thrush@mhshealth.com

Doreen Duley.  Doreen.duley@chsys.org

Evelyn Keever.  EKEEVER@chkd.org