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Rx for Burnout: Healthy Snacks, Massages and Sneakers
Thanks to wellness-themed rewards, morale among adult ED staff soars.


Hopkins' WIPES campaign
Emergency Department nurse Pat Peltier takes advantage of the department's new perk for relief from aching muscles (pictured with Wellnet massage therapist Margie Dean).

About a year ago, Tina Tolson attended an emergency department leadership meeting to brainstorm about ways to reward staff for their hard work. Mirroring a national trend, burnout and high turnover had been recurring problems in the Hospital’s ED, where Tolson is nurse manager.

“It’s understandable,” she says. “The overdrive pace here is incredibly stressful on the team, most of whom work 12-hour shifts. At any moment, they can be pulled into another crisis.”

In search of something sustainable to boost morale for her staff of 150 nurses and another 150 medical providers and support staff, Tolson suggested handing out tokens (worth $1) to purchase food in the vending machines, which were stocked with healthy choices, including animal crackers, granola bars, and tuna and chicken salad sandwiches.

Then someone suggested massages. Available through Wellnet, a health promotion program for Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System employees, massage services can be performed at the work site in a designated chair. The ED would foot the $15 per 15-minute massage charge.

Massage therapists now come twice a month, in the evening and at 2 a.m. and 4 a.m.

Months later, Tolson reports tangible results from the ED’s “Caring for Our Caregivers” campaign. Turnover has been holding at 14 percent, and morale is soaring. Many on the team have told her how much the incentives mean to them—particularly the massages. It confirms the research, says Tolson, showing that regularly scheduled mini-breaks are beneficial. “Clearly, they rejuvenate staff and improve performance,” she says, “which ultimately raises patient satisfaction.”

Physician assistant Stephanie Figueroa can attest to that fact. “I’ve had a few massages before,” she says, “but the time I need one the most is during a 12-hour shift. A massage refreshes me so much more than a cup of coffee would.”

More recently, the department announced yet another perk: half-price sneakers at Charm City Sports. “By far the biggest complaint I get is that peoples’ feet hurt,” reports Tolson, who, as an ED nurse for eight years, could appreciate that fact. Jim Scheulen, ED administrator, had suggested partnering with the running store that specially fits high-end sneakers to the way people walk. So far, 99 employees have taken advantage of the program.

Marcia Updike, another PA on the team, has felt a difference since she started wearing her new sneakers. “My feet finally don’t ache to the point that I’m miserable,” she says.

Though budget constraints might preclude continuing these perks, Tolson remains optimistic, considering the institution’s recent widespread efforts to improve employee satisfaction. “Wellness perks like these demonstrate that leadership cares about staff,” she says. “I hope it encourages other departments to do the same.”

—Judy Minkove



Johns Hopkins Medicine

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