UAMS Opens Rejuvenation Room for Clinical Workers

By Linda Satter

Suddenly, you’re free from the glare of overhead lights and the cacophony of phones, loudspeakers and beeping machines. You are removed, albeit temporarily, from the all-encompassing, heartbreaking reality of patients you’ve come to know who are fighting to stay alive.

Calling to you from the dimness are two towering bubble lights in opposite corners of a large carpeted room filled with soft, gray easy chairs. Each lamp releases a hypnotic current of richly colored illuminated blobs that float upward from the floor and then disintegrate at eye level with a subdued gurgle.

A wall of windows covered in light-filtering shades lets in just enough natural light to provide a soothing ambience.

As you move forward, guided by the soft glow of floor lamps and flameless tabletop tea light candles, your racing thoughts are calmed by the all-encompassing roar of softly crashing ocean waves emanating from a sound machine.

Your senses are immersed in calm, and you can’t help but begin to relax.

Welcome to the Rejuvenation Room, where you are free to stay for mere minutes or long enough to fall into a deep sleep in one of about 30 fabric-covered recliners or two large leather massage chairs.

Rows of recliners await employees in need of relaxation

Rows of recliners await employees in need of relaxationBryan Clifton

Formerly a room reserved for family members of ICU patients, the Rejuvenation Room opened Aug. 26 for clinical workers — doctors, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, respiratory care workers and patient care technicians. It’s accessible 24/7, but only to them, with badge access required at the door.

The idea for the space had been brewing among members of the UAMS Hospital Auxiliary for a couple of years, and donations from auxiliary members and outside donors had provided some seed money that led the board of directors to approve the purchase of two large massage chairs, some sound machines and some tea lights. The auxiliary was also receiving offers of in-kind donations from the community, but they didn’t yet have a way to bring it all together.

Then, during the August monthly meeting of the College of Medicine basic science chairs, “The topic came up of what we could do to show support for our clinical colleagues, who are not only overworked but also risking their lives every day,” said Fred W. Prior, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Biomedical Informatics.

Attending the meeting was Susan Smyth, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the College of Medicine and executive vice chancellor for UAMS, who soon shared the chairs’ desire to get involved with a project with Jennifer Huie, manager of the auxiliary and Volunteer Services, creating a dynamic connection.

“We had two massage chairs and a dream, and we were thinking, ‘What can we build with that?’ And just at the right time, this group came forward, allowing us to make the dream a reality,” said Erin Gray, director of patient experience for the auxiliary and Volunteer Services.

Gray said Smyth and Nancy Rusch, Ph.D., executive associate dean for research in the college and chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, “came to us with the science chairs’ desire to do something, and we presented multiple ideas, and they immediately jumped on this.”

Rusch explained in a letter that soon went out to research faculty, staff and trainees that the idea of raising funds for a Rejuvenation Room had surfaced as the top choice among ways for the research community to adopt a high-impact project to help clinical colleagues.

“This would provide a place for frontline workers to relax before or after their shifts, or during breaks in patient care. Or even between shifts if they couldn’t make it home,” Rusch wrote.

She included a link for donations, as well as a link to a podcast about a “recharge room” that a research professor set up last year in his COVID-closed lab at the Mount Sinai Health System in New York City.

The chairs of the various research departments — biochemistry and molecular biology, biomedical informatics, biostatistics, microbiology and immunology, neurobiology and developmental sciences, pharmacology and toxicology, physiology and cell biology, medical humanities and bioethics, and the Department of Pathology, which asked to be included because it has research and clinical components — sent out a plea for funds to their colleagues, staff and trainees, Prior said.

The researchers met their $5,000 fundraising goal in less than one day, Huie said.  “And then they kept going.”

Before long, other employees from the College of Medicine heard about the fundraiser and donated to it.

Jennifer Huie, manager of Volunteer Services and the UAMS Hospital Auxiliary, points to baskets of donated plush slippers and skin-care goody bags.

Jennifer Huie, manager of Volunteer Services and the UAMS Hospital Auxiliary, points to baskets of donated plush slippers and skin-care goody bags.Bryan Clifton

By the end of the two-week fundraiser, she said, the basic science chairs had raised $12,050 to supply the room. Then a private donor provided $10,000, for a total of $22,050.

“The College of Medicine research group has helped us tremendously,” Huie said.

On opening day of the Rejuvenation Room, she pointed out wicker baskets overflowing with new amenities – some purchased, others donated by local businesses – that sat near the door, available for all clinical visitors to take home.

Fluffy white slippers stuck out of one large basket, while others held fleece throws in ribbon-tied bundles.

There were neatly organized baskets of adult coloring books, Sudoku books, writing journals, colored pencils and markers lined up on a table. Smaller baskets containing sealed packages of ear buds, eye masks and sanitary cloths were positioned next to chairs. A bookcase nestled in a row of recliners was filled with advance copies of books from a local bookstore.

Bottles of water leaned out of a large basket situated near dozens of “goody bags” full of skin products, courtesy of a local spa.

Off to one side was a yoga mat with an exercise ball and a high-density foam roller. Huie lay face-up on the roller to demonstrate how it can be used to stretch tense back muscles.

“It’s heavenly!” said an ICU nurse as she emerged from an elevator near the room a few days later.

“We’ve had people come in and almost fall asleep in a chair,” Huie said, referring to a preview tour by department chairs.

Prior was on that tour and said, “The UAMS Hospital Auxiliary did an amazing job, and I think we’re all proud of them.”

Although the recliners that are positioned side-by-side along walls, as well as back-to-back in the center of the room, could accommodate 30 people at once, Huie said social distancing requirements will keep attendance to about 10 people at a time.

However, the fundraising was so successful that another rejuvenation room is in the works for the Department of Emergency Medicine.

Prior said he learned during the tour that Emergency Department workers had been using a “shower stall” as a temporary retreat during the pandemic.

“They live in a constant state of crush, even in the best of times,” Prior said. “We needed to find a place where they can get away. To me, that was the most important thing. The E.D. lives in this world constantly.”

Bubble lights provide a soothing ambience.

Bubble lights provide a soothing ambience.Bryan Clifton

Huie said that when the spacious fourth-floor room reverts to its original purpose when the pandemic subsides, she plans to move the furnishings into two smaller spaces, preferably each on a different floor of the hospital, as a permanent haven for stressed-out providers.

Until then, if you’re a clinical worker that provides direct patient care and are looking for a place to escape and recharge, simply take the B elevators to the fourth floor and look for that inconspicuous door across from the atrium. It’s the one where all the smiling people are exiting.