Code Lavender: A different way to handle stress and trauma at the hospital

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WAIMEA — Code blue, red, pink, yellow or orange in hospitals signifies an emergency.

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WAIMEA — Code blue, red, pink, yellow or orange in hospitals signifies an emergency.

At North Hawaii Community Hospital (NHCH) in Waimea, there is a code of a different color — Code Lavender.

A Code Lavender is a call for support and prayer, says NHCH’s Service Excellence and Holistic Team Leader Arielle Faith Michael. It is non-denominational and respects all religions and cultures.

The concept behind the code is that while in the hospital, the stressful circumstances of a patient’s condition, treatment or situation may at times leave them, their family or caregivers feeling overwhelmed and in need of emotional or spiritual assistance.

“A Code Lavender serves as a holistic intervention of sorts to rejuvenate and support patients and caregivers during those stressful times,” Michael explained.

Anyone can request a Code Lavender for any reason.

When contacted, an announcement is made on the hospital’s paging system five minutes before the Code Lavender will take place, and anyone available gathers in the hospital chapel. Participants form a circle, while Michael shares the request’s purpose and leads a prayer for the person or situation. She also brings a prayer blanket sewn by community members and blessed by local churches, which everyone takes turns holding in order to transfer loving thoughts. The blanket is then gifted to the person or family. An item important to the patient can also be used.

Because NHCH is a Level III Trauma Center, Trauma Program Manager Kimberly Bastien has seen her share of traumatic and stressful situations. She is particularly appreciative of the Code Lavender program.

“At the hospital, there’s almost always some form of sadness, unpredictability or just unexpected loss or trauma that patients go through,” she said. “I am extremely grateful to have Code Lavender to help support them and their families with the healing process.”

But the service is not just for patients. Bastien shared a recent experience when one of their nurses, Faith Kalei-Imaizumi, was injured by a boat propeller during a canoe regatta. The Code Lavender was attended by so many co-workers that it overflowed out of the chapel and past the stained glass windows.

“It was very loving and warm, and really spoke to the true sense of ohana that we strive to maintain here,” Bastien said. “I was particularly grateful that through the Code Lavender mechanism we were able to show that kind of love and spirit — just the coming together of everybody.”

She continued, “Sometimes people go through that alone. But when you have a program like Code Lavender, it really gives people the hope they need.”

NHCH’s Infection Prevention and Control Coordinator Ally Kawamura is equally supportive. Prior to coming to Waimea, she worked for big hospitals on the mainland and said none of them had such a program.

“Code Lavenders are truly one-of-a-kind and are very powerful,” Kawamura said. “When we’re all gathered in the chapel, you feel that energy regardless of your personal beliefs, religious beliefs or background. In every Code Lavender I’ve participated in, I’ve felt an immense sense of peace and comfort. I think they’re an amazing gift that we are able to give each other.”

The concept fits in perfectly with NHCH’s mission to provide patients with a blended, medicine/healing environment, Michael said. The support and enthusiasm for the program are shared by the hospital’s administration and leadership team, who often join the services.

In addition to complementing the holistic care culture there, Code Lavender bolsters employee morale and helps reduce stress and fatigue, as well as strengthen bonds between staff members. As an example, after being acquired by the Queen’s Health Systems, NHCH scored the highest among its member organizations for patient satisfaction, demonstrating the positive impact of Code Lavender and the hospital’s other holistic integrated therapies, Michael said.

“This has formed a strong, heart-centered connection between our staff members and gotten us through both professional and personal challenges,” she remarked.

Code Lavender was invented at NHCH in 2004. It is now in use at large hospitals throughout the United States, including the Cleveland Clinic and hospitals in Ireland, Korea, Israel, the Philippines and elsewhere.

In 2015, the Code Lavender program received national recognition when featured in a national publication, Healthcare Business Insights, recognizing its innovation and positive impact on patient satisfaction.

In another article, noting the positive effects of the program, Rev. Amy Greene, director of spiritual care at the Cleveland Clinic, wrote, “What Code Lavender and other holistic support services are now showing us is that the whole patient-family-employee system ecosystem is interdependent, and when one part of the whole is nourished and supported, all benefit.”

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Michael couldn’t agree more.

“Caregivers who work so hard at the hospital caring for others often forget to care for themselves,” she said. “Code Lavenders provide spiritual and emotional support to our caregivers when they need it the most.”

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