When Cleveland Clinic staff are troubled, they file 'Code Lavender'

Program aims to combat stress and burnout among physicians, nurses

Similar to "Code Red" alerts for fire and "Code Blue" alerts for medical emergencies, the Cleveland Clinic has created a new alert, "Code Lavender," for another prevalent threat to hospital staff: stress and burnout, the Huffington Post reports.

Grief-struck doctors can suffer compassion fatigue, burnout

The aptly named Code Lavender is a "holistic care rapid response" serving patient and providers in need of intensive emotional or spiritual support, according to Amy Greene, director of spiritual care at the Cleveland Clinic.

"It was an idea to indicate that we were going to respond quickly as possible to a need for emotional and spiritual support," she told the Post.

When the program first launched in 2008, "We thought originally that it would be for patients and their family members, but as it turned out, we started doing them mostly for staff," Greene says. While Clinic providers are used to difficult cases, "even they are going to buckle when they get hit two or three times in one day," she notes, adding that the program is a way of saying, "'Hey, we've got your back.'"

Through the program, a provider who summons emotional support is met by a team of holistic nurses within 30 minutes of a call. The team provides Reiki and massage, health snacks and water, and lavender arm bands to remind the individual to relax for the rest of the day. The Holistic Services Team also offers a variety of other methods, including spiritual support, mindfulness training, counseling and yoga.

The program has been welcomed by physicians and nurses alike. In a recent survey, one nurse wrote, "I love the whole concept of Code Lavender. It makes us feel appreciated and valued," while another commented,"[It's] good to know that our workplace feels out pain and is willing to be there for us."

Hospitals increasingly offering holistic care

According to the Post, the Cleveland Clinic is one of a growing number of hospitals and health systems that are integrating holistic therapies into their services. A 2011 American Hospital Association report found that 42% of hospitals surveyed offer one or more Complementary and Alternative Medicine therapies, including acupuncture, homeotherapy, and herbal medicine—up from 37% in 2007.

Moreover, Code Lavender at the Cleveland Clinic is not the only program created specifically to address burnout among providers. And for good reason: Nearly half of all physicians experience burnout, more than any other type of U.S. worker, according to a 2012 national study.

Research has shown that holistic methods can be effective tools in reducing burnout, as well as boosting levels of compassion among physicians. The strategy goes "against an old style of medicine where it was just, 'Go go go, stay tough, don't be impacted by it, keep moving,'" Greene says, adding,  "We're seeing that this is long-term not sustainable. Doctors and nurses are human beings" (Gregoire, Huffington Post, 12/2).  


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