Lavender Cart provides ‘morale booster’ for Sentara hospital staff
Inside every hospital, there are health professionals caring for patients. But sometimes those professionals need support too.
At Sentara Health, one way hospital chaplains provide that support is through the Lavender Cart.
The Cart makes the rounds once or twice a week at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital (SNGH), visiting units that have experienced difficult events, from deaths to stressful workload surges, said James Hoy, Sentara’s Manager for Chaplaincy Services.
“Nurses will swarm to the Cart because they love having it come on the unit,” Hoy said. “It gets immediate recognition.”
The large, restaurant-grade Cart arrives loaded with stress-relief aids: chocolates, tea bags and hot water, snack bars, lotion, even miniature scrolls with inspirational quotes. It also has resources for when staff go home, like QR codes that link to deep breathing and muscle relaxation videos. The most popular item? Dark chocolate, said Hoy.
A key benefit is enabling chaplains to check in with staff and assess if they are experiencing distress, Hoy said. “The Lavender Cart gives a concrete way of connecting with them. And it gives them a relaxed environment to let their guard down.”
Hospital staff regularly deal with stressful situations. In 2022, 46% of health workers reported frequently feeling burned out, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Lavender Cart got its start at SNGH in 2019. It emerged from Code Lavender, a nationwide initiative to support hospital staff during challenging times. Code Lavender has been likened to “psychological first aid.”
Hoy explained, “Here at Norfolk, we said, ‘Let’s do a cart. And let’s do a purple cart.’”
Why lavender? The lavender plant was used in ancient medicine and is known for its calming properties, according to Hoy. It has become a symbol for stress relief.
When the Cart shows up at SNGH, it’s a “nice morale booster,” said Georgia Magnussen, a nurse manager. “It really helps change the tone of the day.”
Chaplains also use a Lavender Cart at Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center (SNVMC) in Woodbridge, Va., and at Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital (SVBGH).
The Cart offers a moment of pause, said Chaplain Asha John of SVBGH. “When we take the Cart to the units, we create a supportive and nurturing environment, ensuring the well-being and success of our beloved staff.”
Other Sentara hospitals have adopted different approaches to support staff. For example, at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital (SMJH) in Charlottesville, Va., an Intentional Caring Committee team rounds daily with a basket of wellness offerings.
While the Lavender Cart is meant for staff, chaplains offer spiritual care to patients and family too. As certified professionals, chaplains complete clinical training focused on areas such as spiritual distress, how people find meaning, and the need for acceptance and community. They work with individuals regardless of their faith background, or lack of one.
“We meet people where they are, we assess their spiritual well-being, and then we provide interventions to help them be in a more spiritually whole place,” said Hoy.
Hoy has been a chaplain for 23 years. He said the day-to-day has its highs and lows.
“It’s very stressful, and yet it’s very, very rewarding to be in that space.”
Learn more about Sentara’s chaplain and spiritual care services here.
By: Clancy McGilligan