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The Importance of Being Zen

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Ryan Blank started his first nursing job in October 2019 as a teaching and research nurse in the Cardiac Acute Care Unit. Like any new nurse on a busy floor working 12-hour overnight shifts, he said that stress was just part of the job and the learning process. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, that all got harder.

“It became even more stressful because there were constantly changing protocols to follow and patient care changed entirely where we couldn’t even see our patients because all the rooms on our unit had their doors closed,” he said. “It created a bigger barrier between the nurses and the patients, and therefore the doctors, too. It was just much more difficult to communicate.”

The long shifts in uncertain conditions took their toll. He said it was hard to find time to sleep, eat and exercise.

“And there was so much more going on emotionally,” Blank continued. “I was more anxious than usual to go into work just because I didn’t know what I was going to be walking into or if I would be needed on another floor where it would be unfamiliar. It was definitely super stressful.”

The nurses in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health noticed what Blank and others were experiencing and responded by providing a respite lounge for employees as a calming retreat. It was created under the leadership of Jessica Marangio, assistant director of nursing for psychiatric acute, and Adam Gonzalez, director of behavioral health at Stony Brook Medicine. 

An employee takes a moment to relax in the serene resilience at the Brook lounge.
Relaxing in the Resilience at the Brook lounge.


Marangio said, “We staffed the unit with our psychiatric nurses to address those basic physiological and psychological human needs and also to give a sense of belonging and self-esteem.”

The respite room was temporarily located in the Pediatric Psychiatry unit, which was not being used at the time. Because it was set up for young patients, it had multisensory features with projectors that created soothing scenes like a bubble tube with colors and an aquarium. There was music and aromatherapy, as well as rest spaces, complete with hotel features like towel animals and chocolate on the pillows, and snacks, video games, adult coloring and sandboxes. Resources for mental health and wellness were also available.

Marangio said that between April 4 and July 27, there were over 19,000 visits from physicians, nurses and other staff who used it as a quiet retreat.

Blank, who visited the room several times during the crisis, said it was a perfect place for him to take a break.

“It was a place to have some snacks and treat yourself and just relax and get away from the noise and the chaos that was going on in the hospital during that time,” he said. “It allowed me to let go of a lot of my stress, which in turn allowed me to have a new mindset going back to work after break.”

“One of the many lessons COVID-19 has taught us is the value of having a place within the Hospital where our employees can go to relax and unwind,” Marangio said.  “And they were so appreciative to have a great place to get out of chaos.”

So much so that there were over 600 positive comments and requests to keep it — which were honored. The room has found a permanent home on Level 5 of the Hospital and been renamed “Resilience at the Brook.” The large, peaceful area features plants, calming wall art, a pod for private mediation, and relaxing materials, such as coloring books and miniature Zen gardens, to help employees rejuvenate. Employees can also add encouraging messages and quotes to inspire each other on the Motivation Mural Wall. The room experience will continue to evolve based on employee input and needs.

There’s also a new website offering resilience resources, covering such topics as stress, anxiety, depression and grief, and a wellness channel has been established on Microsoft Teams for additional staff support.

Please click here for more information on several other programs Stony Brook Medicine recently initiated to support the mental health of its employees.

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