When hospital officials at Montefiore Medical Center in New York came to Elodia Mercier, R.N., in 2006 for suggestions on how to improve patient satisfaction on her floor, reducing noise immediately came to mind.
Patients and staff were constantly complaining to Mercier, an administrative nurse manager, about noise; the culprits included loud late-night conversations, squeaky carts and even pill crushers. Decibel levels on the floor averaged in the 90s, Mercier says.
“A train or a motorcycle is 95 decibels,” she notes. “We wanted to bring back a quiet healing environment.”
Mercier, and other floor managers charged with finding ways to reduce noise, started a pilot program, Silent Hospitals Help Healing, or SHHH. Hospital staff kept their cell phones on vibrate, wore soft-soled shoes, replaced loud pill crushers with quieter pill grinders and regularly lubricated cart wheels. Nurses and physicians were also instructed to talk in quieter tones. Signs suggesting employees to “SHHH” were placed throughout the hospital. Noise levels on Mercier’s floor fell to 65 decibels when tested after the new policies were in place.
Hospital noise can do more harm than simply raise stress levels, says Anita Reedy, R.N., a nurse manager at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center in Baltimore. There are safety concerns if two clinicians can’t hear each other when discussing patient care, she adds. Like Montefiore, Johns Hopkins has worked to reduce noise, using personal digital assistants to eliminate overhead paging. At the cancer center, the hospital used fiberglass panels to absorb noise that was bounced around the floor by a circular hallway.
This article first appeared in the May 2008 issue of HFM magazine.
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