architecture · design · family · health

Beauty in sadness: reflecting on hospice | @offbeatfamilies

Dying is tough stuff. No question. So it is wonderful to see how facilities are making it easier on the dying and their families to feel comfortable via the design, look, and layout of a space, with everything from the hues on the wall to the view from their window. Amy Marquez shared her observations about her mother’s hospice space a couple of years ago on Offbeat Families (now retired, but visit the sister sites for Pete’s Sake before they meet a similar fate!), and it is a wonderful ode to both her mom and people who cared for her and her family during her last days, but also the importance of creating a great, peaceful, and sometimes playful space.

At first I was impressed with how sensitive and involved the staff was. They made sure she was comfortable, asked us how we were doing and offered to help us if we needed anything. And although my mother had lost the ability to communicate verbally by the third day that she was there, they spoke to her as though she was able to answer and talked her through everything they were doing to assist her.

I spent enough days there to really start looking around. This facility was, at first glance, a very nice, tranquil place that was inviting and welcoming to family and friends of loved ones in residence there. Then I really started looking and I was amazed at the amount of thought that had to go in to building this hospice.

read the entire breakdown at Beauty in sadness: reflecting on the hospice in which my mother passed away | @offbeatfamilies.

Patient's room

anthropology · behavior · brain · community · culture · happiness · health · mental health · play · psychology · Social

Unhappy Employees Cost More (and how to reduce that cost)

Employment Exhibition
What does it take to reduce on-the-job depression and create an overall happier work environment? (Photo credit: Modern_Language_Center)

A recent study of health factors and their associated costs at seven companies, published in the journal Health Affairs, found that “depression is the most costly among 10 common risk factors linked to higher health spending on employees.”

The analysis, found that these factors — which also included obesity, high blood sugar and high blood pressure — were associated with nearly a quarter of the money spent on the health care of more than 92,000 workers.

First the employees were assessed for health risks, then researchers tracked their medical spending from 2005 through 2009.

The average medical spending for each employee was $3,961 a year. In total, $82 million, or 22 percent, of the $366 million annually spent on health care for the workers was attributed to the 10 risk factors, the study found.

The relationship between higher spending and depression was the strongest, with 48 percent more spending for workers with a propensity for that widespread problem.

via VPR News: Depression And Health Spending Go Together.

Now, to be fair, this is a fairly small study of just seven companies, and the article didn’t say how many employees worked at these companies. However, this is definitely a trend that has been spotted at least anecdotally by many HR managers, so it’s nice to see that there is some “official” analysis being done on the issue.

So what can employers do about this? My fear is that employers would discriminate, unintentionally or intentionally, against people who suffer from depression. But these days many people will be diagnosed with depression due to a temporary life situation such as a death in the family, or their jobs, so being fired for temporary sadness is probably not a good idea for companies.

Instead, my hope is that companies would invest more on making people’s job satisfaction higher. As of two years ago, Americans reported the lowest job satisfaction ever recorded. That means employers can be doing A LOT more to improve their employees’ lives at work. And a lot of that has to do with feeling supported by their managers, and feel like they are heard and respected and overall a part of the team. A lot of that comes from having fun at work.

This philosophy has been spouted in several different books and magazines, and has been shown to work well in classrooms as well, referred to as the “Responsive Classroom” approach.

The Responsive Classroom approach centers on several ostensibly mundane classroom practices. Each morning students form a circle, greet one another, share bits of news, engage in a brief, fun activity and review the day’s agenda. The idea is to build trust, ensure a little fun (which adolescents crave) and confront small problems before they become big. Students might welcome one another with salutations from a foreign language. An activity might involve tossing several balls around a circle in rapid succession. Students share weekend plans or explore topics like bullying before lessons begin. (New York Times)

This approach could very easily be applied to a business setting, in fact it sounds like a team kick-off meeting one might see in a corporate environment. Taking time to connect with other coworkers and laugh a little before diving in to the day’s work has been shown to work wonders for productivity and boost morality in both school and work settings.

There is definitely a  drive and expectation in many industries to work longer, faster, harder hours, and be available and working at all hours. But that drive is unsustainable, demonstrated by the low job satisfaction and high burnout rates in many industries, from high-tech to physicians. Taking time to play a little bit at work, or just connect with coworkers, is being shown as an effective way to reduce depression related to work and job burnout, increase productivity, and create a more cohesive company with more loyalty overall to the company’s mission.

So long story short: remember to bring the koosh ball to your next meeting.

brain · happiness · mental health · music

Treating the Whole Patient

Icon from Nuvola icon theme for KDE 3.x.
Treating the whole patient, including mind and body, is becoming "cool" again. Image via Wikipedia

The faculty at University of Washington is pretty progressive in a lot of its research surrounding neuroscience and the mind, especially when it comes to Mental Health Care:

Researchers and professors at the UW, such as Dr. Jürgen Unützer, are driving innovative ways to improve access to high quality mental health care delivered in a manner that treats the whole person. Their efforts are focused on health care models that integrate behavioral health services into the primary care clinic and other heath care arenas, where the patients already receive care and have established provider relationships. Known as collaborative or integrated care, these models put the patient at the center of a health team – including their physician, a care coordinator and a psychiatric consultant – that collaborates on a patient’s treatment plan.

Unützer says he knew his research into new models of mental heath care delivery was on the right track when a patient described feeling like a tennis ball. This patient had a combination of health problems associated with diabetes along with alcohol problems and depression. As is common in the current health care system, the patient was being bounced around to different specialists to treat his individual symptoms. Dr. Unützer was concerned that patients like this, with a combination of behavioral health and medical conditions, were falling through the cracks and not receiving care that treats the whole person.

“The patient expects that the various providers are all talking to each other, but that is often not the case,” he says. “Who’s connecting the dots? Patients expect their care providers to sync up and know what’s going on with all of their conditions.”

More at UW Professional & Continuing Education.

architecture · design · environment · health

Building a smoother ride to recover

A patient having his blood pressure taken by a...
Understanding environmental impacts like vibration can have a positive affect on patient recovery. Image via Wikipedia

I happened upon this tweet today:

@AIASeattle Did you know floor vibrations can affect patient outcomes?

Um, why no, no I didn’t. So I dug around a little bit and affirmed that, in fact, structural vibrations can in fact have an impact on patient recovery:

“Noticeable vibration leads many to fear structural collapse, although such fear is unwarranted in most cases because of the small displacements and stresses produced. Noticeable vibration is nevertheless undesirable in many occupancies because of its adverse psychological effect…It has been observed that continuous vertical floor oscillation becomes distinctly perceptible to people when peak acceleration reaches approximately 0.5 per cent g, where g is the acceleration due to gravity. People in residential, office and school occupancies do not like to feel distinct continuous vibration…

Continuous vibrations, defined here as vibrations lasting more than about 10 cycles, can arise from the periodic forces of machinery, from certain human activities such as dancing, or from vehicle traffic nearby. They can be considerably amplified when the periodic forces causing vibration are synchronized with a natural frequency of the structure – a phenomenon called resonance.”

Not only is shaking a problem, but there is also more and more research coming out that discusses the effects of the overall environment on a care-givers’ professional performance as well as a patient’s healing process:

“In a review of more than 600 articles, researchers found that there was a link between the physical environment (i.e., single-bed or multiple-bed patient rooms) and patient (e.g., fewer adverse events and better health care quality) and staff outcomes (e.g., reduced stress and fatigue and increased effectiveness in delivering care).

“There have been five other significant reviews of the literature relating to the physical environment and patient outcomes. Nelson and colleagues10 identified the need to reduce noise pollution and enhance factors that can shorten a patient’s length of stay (e.g., natural lighting, care in new/remodeled units, and access to music and views of nature); according to their study, patients can benefit from the skillful utilization of music and artwork. Ulrich and colleagues7 found research that demonstrated that the design of a hospital can significantly improve patient safety by decreasing health care associated infections and medical errors. They also found that facility design can have a direct impact on patient and staff satisfaction, a patient’s stress experience, and organization performance metrics. Three other reviews found that hospital design, particularly when single-bed rooms are employed, can enhance patient safety and create environments that are healthier for patients, families, and staff by preventing injury from falls, infections, and medical errors; minimizing environmental stressors associated with noise and inefficient room and unit layout; and using nature, color, light, and sound to control potential stressors.11–13

The Seattle branch of the AIA (that’s the American Institute of Architects) has hosting a talk specifically about how to design better, less drum-like floors, but is a nice indicator of how serious architects, designers, and other groups are taking this need to design and create better care facilities:

“Vibration criteria for hospital floors have become more stringent in the 2010 Edition of the Guidelines for the Design and Construction of Health Care Facilities (the FGI Guidelines). These new vibration requirements will increase structural construction costs in Healthcare construction. Understanding vibrations sources, criteria and benefits of different structural and non-structural approaches will provide healthcare designers with effective strategies to mitigate vibration issues and minimize cost impacts of the new requirements.”

For those who live in Seattle, there is a class on December 14th, 2011.

I’ve found some great examples of designing better medical facilities, but I’d love to hear about other projects you’ve seen, experienced, or even read about. Leave a comment with your thoughts.

behavior · brain · creativity · culture · happiness · health · mental health · play · Social

Playing is good for work productivity

Editor’s Note: Hi! I just wanted to take a minute to acknowledge that this post is VERY similar to a  post this week on the blog of digital agency Plexipixel. That’s because they were BOTH written by me, but I didn’t want to plagiarize my own work. For the original version of this post, check out their site.

The title of this blog post sums up the entire concept. There’s no other way to say it: you need to play to be a productive member of society.

However, this idea doesn’t seem to be sticking. 

The perception in America is that the harder and longer you work, the more productive you’ll be. Especially now when jobs are scarce and companies are holding on by the skin of their teeth, people sacrifice play, exercise, and good old legitimate downtime, not to mention sleep (September 30th was National Coffee Day!), to get more work done.

But it turns out we weren’t built to work that way. We need breaks, we need downtime, and we most certainly need to cut loose and be a little silly every once in awhile. As biology professor Robert Sapolsky pointed out in his book “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers,” occasional stress is good – it makes sure we get that report in on time and we are aware of our surroundings in a new city. But constant stress just wears us down.

Several studies have found that play increases new ideas and overall productivity at work. Germans, and other European countries, have more vacation time than Americans, and yet have overall higher productivity, according to data presented in an article in Open Forum. The O.E.C.D. put Americans at 1,804 work hours a year on average and the Germans at 1,436 hours in 2006.Author Thomas Geoghegan believes that Americans weren’t always this overworked. In an interview, Geoghegan explains that in the 1960’s, Americans spent more vacation time than they do now, and many people in their 50s or 60s will tell you that they take less vacation time than their parents did. In the same New York Times article, another commenter noted that Americans view time as a currency in the workplace, as opposed to output, whereas Germans view results as the biggest indicator of results.

And it’s not just time away from work that’s rejuvenating. Repeated research has found that play increases new ideas and overall productivity at work. Psychology Today reports that telling stories and jokes makes us better writers. It also reports that even a little bit of physical play or just boring old exercise – a brisk walk around the block three times a week – fights depression. 

New business, products, and companies stem from play. The t-shirt company Threadless, for example, started off 10 years ago as a hobby. The company has since grown to employ 80 workers, but Jake Nickell, founder and chief strategy officer, “has made sure playtime remains a part of company culture. Shooting a potato gun at plastic parachute guys is a way to relieve stress.”

 Pamela Meyer, author of “From Workspace to Playspace: Innovating, Learning and Changing through Dynamic Engagement,” agrees that taking time out for fun is a good workplace practice.

“This idea of play space is very much a key part of business success” because it fosters dynamic employee engagement, said Meyer in an interview with the Chicago Tribune. “Companies that engage their workers by giving them space to create, try new roles or test new ideas benefit from higher employee retention, greater productivity and better financial returns.”

So, to re-re-emphasize my point: Go play, it’s good for your work.