Wellstar’s wellness rooms use color, materials, scents, lighting and sound to create a calming environment for staff.

Image courtesy of Wellstar Health System

It’s no secret that care provider burnout is on the rise. Of the 11,000 health care professionals surveyed for the American Medical Association’s 2022 National Burnout Benchmarking report, 58% reported experiencing burnout, a 4% increase compared to the previous survey’s findings. As health systems adopt strategies to enhance well-being, many are bolstering employee support programs with more proactive steps. This focus on staff well-being is shining a spotlight on the physical spaces where health care employees decompress. 

For Atlanta-based Wellstar Health System, wellness emphasizes tranquility. The system opened 15 communal wellness rooms and six single-person rooms across major locations in 2022. Here, team members can grab a healthy snack or experience a moment of stillness in a massage chair. Lights can be dimmed, the air is filled with calming scents and background soundscapes lightly play. 

Those sounds — content licensed from HealthTunes that uses auditory beat stimulation to increase positive brain waves — are part of a pilot test using audio technology from Spatial Inc., Emery, Calif. The platform responds to biosensors or can be controlled through a smartphone or tablet. The result is a highly personalized experience that helps individuals find the right playlist to decrease stress.

“Evidence shows that experiential sound works effectively as a therapeutic tool,” says Hank Capps, M.D., FAAFP, executive vice president and chief information and digital officer at Wellstar Health System. “The immersive wellness rooms present an exciting opportunity for Wellstar to leverage the healing power of sound for our clinical team members.” 

The wellness spaces are in high demand. In the first few months of use, Wellstar tracked 4,700 uses of the communal rooms and more than 2,800 uses for the individual rooms. 

Tracking use around utilization is a key way to determine the success of these types of rooms, says Jeremy Segall, assistant vice president and system chief wellness officer at NYC Health + Hospitals. 

At one point, NYC Health had 31 temporary wellness spaces open during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic to provide respite for care providers. It is now working toward a permanent rollout of wellness rooms at every acute hospital within the system, beginning with four pilot sites to open in fall 2022. 

Tracking utilization of its temporary spaces provides guidance for how to develop permanent spaces. However, Segall emphasizes that each facility within the system aims to tailor its approach to meet its staff members’ unique needs. 

Of the 21 temporary spaces open today, three sites feature recharge rooms borne out of a collaboration with the Greater New York Hospital Association and Studio Elsewhere LLC, New York City, which specializes in interactive and immersive environmental design. These rooms feature a virtual reality experience that allows staff to relax with 20-minute simulations of tranquil scenery, paired with dim lighting, aromatherapy and calming music. Across sites, the health system has discovered that 15 to 20 minutes spent in a wellness room helps staff experience an average 69% decrease in stress, 38% increase in cognitive alertness and 36% increase in positive mood, Segall reports. 

In identifying spaces to convert, the team emphasized areas with high-traffic and close to critical care. “Spaces were identified by the executive leadership teams, who made sure that they were spaced out from other wellness rooms so that it was equitable,” Segall says. 

Each space will be tailored to reflect the results of staff surveys for that facility, with a focus on creating rooms that are comfortable and inclusive for all staff members.

Northwell Health’s Northern Westchester Hospital in Mt. Kisco, N.Y., took a different direction when gifted with a donation to cover the construction of staff well-being rooms. The system long had staff relaxation rooms, explains Whitney Wasserman, senior major gift officer for the hospital. However, staff had requested an employee gym for years. 

The hospital converted a nearby storefront it used for storage. “While it’s not exactly within the footprint of the campus, employees can walk to it easily during a lunch break,” Wasserman says. 

An employee wellness committee was convened to survey staff and provide guidance on the direction for the space’s look and feel, as well as the type of fitness equipment to include. That input was delivered to the hospital’s architect and facilities team, who made recommendations for achieving these goals. The result is a 1,350-square-foot, nature-inspired space fully outfitted with a range of workout systems and machinery. Two bathrooms with showers round out the space, and inspirational messages painted onto walls offer encouragement. 

While feedback has been positive, the hospital is still working to enhance the wellness resources available in the space. 

“The plan is to provide content that supports team members on their journey,” Wasserman says.