How Employers Can Help Keep Nurses Healthy
When employers provide the right tools, employees can create and foster healthy habits both at work and at home. Whether an on-site fitness center, weight loss plan reimbursement, or free cancer screenings, wellness perks all contribute to the health and longevity of staff members. Take a peek at what hospitals and other employers nationwide are doing to enhance the health of their nurses.Vegetable gardens
Many hospitals are converting rooftops or unused outdoor space into vegetable or herb gardens for their staff. “Our rooftop vegetable garden has tables, chairs, and umbrellas so we frequently go there for lunch, breaks, or for meetings,” says Deirdre O’Flaherty, MSN, APRN, BC, NE, ONC, and Senior Administrative Director at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
At Lenox Hill Hospital, a premier partner of the Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation™ (HNHN) Grand Challenge, the garden provides opportunities for education and renewal for the staff, such as:
- “Snipping parties” where everyone brings a zip-close bag and scissors and can take some of the fresh bounty.
- Cooking classes in which participants learn how to use garden-fresh herbs and vegetables.
- Special treats for the hospital staff. For example, O’Flaherty says it’s not uncommon for them to make mint tea or mint water and hand it out, when they’re trying to use up excess of the herb.
Many nursing leaders have begun to take their teams outside of the hospital for meetings or special occasions. At Lenox Hill, nurses often have potluck celebrations or picnics in nearby Central Park. The trips serve as team-building opportunities and a chance for fresh air.
Organizations that don’t have an accessible green space can put up tents in the parking lot and have picnics there. O’Flaherty sometimes takes her staff to a frozen yogurt shop across the street to enjoy the low-calorie treat. Even something that simple can boost mood and morale.
Many organizations are providing leadership seminars to nurse-leaders so they’re better equipped to recognize when staff members are suffering from stress, burnout, or just need a day off. Seminars like these help nursing directors encourage and empower their employees and build safe and healthy teams.
Many hospitals now provide renewal rooms for nurses. These quiet spaces include myriad forms of self-care such as aromatherapy, music therapy, massage chairs, and journal writing.
The rooms proved so successful that the administration at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) at Midwestern Regional Medical Center (Midwestern) supported the creation of six additional renewal rooms in various locations throughout the hospital. Read our blog The Case for Taking a Break to understand the importance of why rest is so important.
Hydration and healthy snack stations
Since nurses frequently cannot carry water bottles around the hospital due to infection control concerns, organizations have started creating “hydration stations.” The lobby at Lenox Hill, is outfitted with water coolers that have fresh fruit and vegetables in them. Also at Lenox Hill, “hydration carts” visit nurses on the floor, giving them an opportunity to pick up a healthy snack or fruit-infused water.
Virtual health challenges
Hospitals and organizations have also been encouraging staff members to join virtual challenges, like Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation's Make Time for Yourself Challenge or Safety Challenge, that are focused on health and wellness. In these challenges, a new tip is emailed out to participants each day. O’Flaherty and her staff participated in a “Walk Across America” challenge from Northwell Health (the organization that owns Lenox Hill Hospital). Participants even have the opportunity to win prizes for completing the tasks.
Even when employers don’t have special events or sessions for their staff, they still often provide reimbursement or discounts for programs such as:
- Smoking cessation
- Weight loss
- Nutrition counseling
- Gym membership
- Group fitness classes
Keeping the night shift in mind
Unfortunately, hospitals and organizations that provide seminars and special events to staff often don’t include night staff. At Lenox Hill, the administration makes an effort to include activities in the evenings so that night shift nurses can take part as well. The hospital recently held a spa night for the nighttime nurses including aromatherapy and massage sessions.
Special events and self-care sessions may help nurses put themselves back on the priority list. Perhaps even more important, they serve as evidence that their leaders want them to succeed. O’Flaherty says, “These activities help our staff recognize how much we care about them. Just letting your team know how important they are can make a huge difference.”
Talk to your employer about adding these programs at your workplace
If your employer doesn’t offer special services to employees just yet, don’t despair. Try these strategies:
- Come up with one or two ideas and talk to your supervisor about them. Volunteer to help set up an event for them. Your team leader is likely focused on day-to-day tasks, so they may not be thinking about how programs like these can help in the long-term.
- Look at the resources that are already available to you. Reach out to other departments within your organization to see what they can offer. A member of the nutrition department may be happy to conduct a seminar or perform a cooking demo for your team. The physical therapy department may be able to give a talk about fitness. Even a local yoga studio, YMCA, or massage therapist may be willing to offer discounts or freebies to nurses, too.
- Let your employer know about the Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation™ (HNHN) Grand Challenge focused on improving the health of the nation, starting with nurses. The HNHN Grand Challenge includes a variety of blog posts on topics that affect the health of nurses, wellness challenges, inspiring stories from real nurses, and more.
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