Staff lounges in hospitals are not necessarily anything new. The physicians’ lounge has been an amenity for time immemorial, and it's not unheard of for “found space,” such as an old office or unused patient room, to be converted to space where nurses and others can sit and relax for a while.

St. Anthony Central Hospital, Denver, Colorado, fits in with that description. About 10 years ago, St. Anthony nurses taking a class in holistic medicine asked permission to convert a surgery prep room into a relaxation area, with wall murals, light music, rocking chairs, and soft lighting-a place to kick back for 15 or 20 minutes and gain relief from intense work pressures.

“I've visited there a number of times over the years,” says Tracy Jose, project director of integrative healing services at the hospital, “and each time I open the door and step into the room, I almost forget that I'm in a hospital. Nurses often have described to me how just a few minutes in this serene space on a busy, hectic shift helps lower the stress they're feeling and rejuvenates them for the next push in their day. That's a powerful boost for just a few minutes!”

But here's where the story takes a unique tack. When St. Anthony planned a new 222-bed tertiary hospital in Lakewood, Colorado, scheduled to open in mid-2011, the facility made a conscious decision to purpose-design not one, but seven respite spaces. These professionally designed Oasis Rooms, as they're called, will be conveniently available to staff on every unit. Far from a casual makeover, the Oasis Rooms are the product of serious healthcare architecture and interior design-specifically the work of designers at Earl Swensson Associates (ESa) of Nashville, Tennessee.

“It's highly unusual to design dedicated space of this type,” says Sam Burnette, principal-in-charge at ESa. “In fact, we toured 10 ‘best practice’ hospitals of healthcare design around the country to get some ideas for this and, while we saw some very nice spaces, including dining spaces, there was nothing like this.”

Occupying 80 to 120 square feet, each Oasis Room will offer the relaxing amenities of the existing lounge, but stepped up by an order of magnitude. “We proposed backlit art; controllable lighting; soft colors of natural blues, greens, and browns; ergonomically supportive furniture; and soft music,” says Ken Bowman, manager of interior design at ESa. “It was great to see that spaces like these survived the design development process.”

Both Bowman and Burnette note that it took commitment from the top at St. Anthony for this to happen. “So many times you see this sort of thing on the potential chopping block during the design process,” Bowman says, “and you really need a champion to bring it off. St. Anthony had its champions. And it's a good thing. My wife, daughter, and daughter-in-law are all nurses, and the stories I hear of the frustrations they experience, especially in acute care areas, are stressful. I believe that it is the spiritual component of St. Anthony that kept these rooms alive.”

“There is no way you would find space like this after the design is set,” Burnette adds. “You wouldn't find space without removing areas for storage or for offices, and that's unlikely to happen. In a finished design, you seldom find even 100 square feet that isn't already taken by mechanical chases, an electrical room, or required support spaces.”

Once a commitment is made to creating these spaces, how will they be managed? “We are working with managers and their teams on each clinical floor to determine the schedule that best fits for chair massage, meditation space, sessions with chaplains, and other spiritual needs our associates might have,” says Tracy Jose. “I can definitely say that we plan to offer massage therapy in all of them; it's such a highly requested support service during long shifts. Also, in the past, we've found that people don't want to use this space for phone calls, computer work, watching TV, or eating meals. They want it to be different from a staff lounge or other work space-they're seeking a calmness, an oasis, not found in other places in their work.”

Not all of the rooms will be what they dreamed of, however. “But we didn't expect that,” Jose says. “For example, in designing healing spaces, natural light is a plus, but after making sure patient rooms had windows, there weren't many left. Also, being located near a waste jet vacuum disposal machine in some spaces won't be acoustically ideal, but it's something we can work around with pleasant sounds of harps, water fountains, and such. We're just excited that administration supported these sanctuaries as part of the healing environment they are committed to creating.”

The rooms will be open to all working staff-not only nurses, but housekeeping, pharmacy technicians, social workers, transport assistants, and more.

For more information, visit Earl Swensson Associate's Web site at or St. Anthony Central Hospital's Web site at Healthcare Design 2010 December;10(12):34-36