In January 2022, a team of staff volunteers organized at each of NYU Langone Health’s campuses began responding to calls across the enterprise. These requests, though, weren’t coming from patients, and the responders weren’t wielding medical supplies. Instead, they toted lavender bags brimming with snacks and water—essentials during stressful events—and even relaxation tools, such as aromatherapy packets and prayer cards. The teams are trained to help frontline workers through the emotional crises they face on the job every day, providing them with a caring, comforting presence.
The Lavender Response Team comprises specially trained volunteers from different disciplines—the group varies in number depending on available personnel—who serve as a kind of psychological first aid unit for hospital employees. “The pandemic reinforced what we already knew: healthcare workers have to face stressful, even traumatic, situations,” says Debra Albert, DNP, MBA, RN, NEA-BC, chief nursing officer and senior vice president for patient care services at NYU Langone. “We have to put the days of ‘putting on a brave face’ in the past.”
Team Lavender was developed collaboratively through the nursing, social work and care management, integrative health services, and spiritual, religious, and chaplaincy teams at NYU Langone. Anyone in the hospital can summon a Lavender response, but most of last year’s 128 calls were spurred by a stressful care situation or patient death. When a call comes in, a volunteer responds to provide immediate support. “Where the magic happens is having someone standing in front of you asking, ‘What can I do for you right now?’” says Kathleen DeMarco, MSN, NE-BC, CPHQ, RN, system senior director of nursing wellness and resilience. Team Lavender follows up after a visit as needed.
Each response not only assists a healthcare worker in distress, but also generates data that help the program improve its performance. For example, when several nurses reported in late March 2022 that they felt overwhelmed without the assistance of support staff who could spend time with patients to meet their nonmedical needs, hospital leadership restored the volunteer services that had been suspended due to COVID-19 precautions.
“The ultimate goal,” says DeMarco, “is for employees to know that the institution cares for them and that we are going to be physically present for them.”