With more healthcare systems taking measures to improve their employees’ health and well-being, nurses at some hospitals in the New England region might feel as if they have free spa memberships.
That is the case, for example, at South County Hospital in Wakefield, R.I., where nurses and other staff members have 24/7 access to the hospital’s own full-service gym and state-of-the-art fitness equipment in the Cardiopulmonary Wellness & Fitness Center.
The facility serves patients recovering from cardiac or pulmonary surgery or disease, but nurses such as Sharon Garofano, RN, also take advantage of it.
Garofano, a staff nurse in same-day surgery, participates in the center’s exercise ball classes on Mondays and Fridays, and she also takes part in the high-cardio circuit training courses on “Wicked Wednesdays.”
Garofano, a lifelong fitness advocate who has worked at South County for 26 years, said beyond the obvious benefits of improving health and maintaining weight is the social interaction the center provides.
“I’ve met a lot of new people down there, including patients that go there,” Garofano said. “I’ve gotten to be friends with some of them.”The hospital has an integrated therapies committee, which examines alternative therapies, not only for patients but also for staff and the community.
Lisa Kanakry, RN, a staff nurse in the med/surg hospice pediatric unit, is in charge of the committee and is one of its reiki volunteers.
Reiki is a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation. Kanakry describes it as a “gentle-touch energy balancing modality” that can be performed by putting hands on or just above the body.
Kanakry, who has worked at the hospital for six years, always is on the lookout for colleagues she can help.
“I’ll say to a nurse who I know is having a bad day, ‘Can I give you a little reiki?'” Kanakry said.
Often, according to Kanakry, she must use persuasion on those who insist they don’t have time for a break.
“If I can get them to get away from their job just for a moment to sort of refocus on themselves, they end up being happier,” she said. “I’ve had people tell me, ‘Oh I could fall asleep. I was so stressed out before you started.'”
Kanakry said the hospital recently formed a partnership with the Community College of Rhode Island’s therapeutic massage program, and last semester a student provided massages for the staff. This spring the hospital also began offering monthly guided-imagery relaxation sessions for staff.
“The better we can manage our stress, the better we can take care of our patients,” Kanakry said. “I’m a big proponent of self-care. I feel like we need to do whatever we can to take care of ourselves so we can take care of others better.”
Other hospitals in the New England region offer a variety of wellness programs for nurses.
At Exeter (N.H.) Hospital, the employee assistance program counselors provide a Compassion Fatigue program for those who are dealing with work-related stress, have witnessed a traumatic event or might be approaching burnout.
The Exeter program is offered twice a month at the hospital and gives nurses a chance to lift their spirits with colleagues or independently.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston offers its employees a Cardiovascular Wellness Service dedicated to raising awareness of heart disease and improving heart health.
Among the current and past program offerings included in the wellness service are Smart for the Heart — which provides a free health risk assessment to calculate one’s risk for heart disease — gentle Hatha yoga, line dancing and Weight Watchers.
Brigham and Women’s also offers free monthly Healthy Cooking and Tasting Demos to all patients, families and staff.
The cooking program is a joint effort between the hospital’s departments of Nutrition and Food Services and the Cardiovascular Wellness Service to offer regular cooking demonstrations and provide information on meals, samples and recipes to take home.
Tom Clegg is a freelance writer.