The recent pandemic has created working conditions that many healthcare providers have never experienced, including long hours, supply shortages, and lack of emotional support. But even before the emergence of COVID-19, medical professionals were actively leaving the field, citing stressful working conditions as a primary reason, according to a survey by RNnetwork, part of healthcare staffing organization CHG Healthcare. Those who remained on the frontlines are now being diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety, and depression at soaring rates.

A national study published in 2018 by the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine showed that excess stress and poor mental health are directly correlated to an increase in medical errors and employee leave, both of which can cause financial and operational strain on an already stretched-thin healthcare system.

It’s imperative to prioritize staff well-being and positive emotional health in order to retain talent, reduce medical errors, improve patient outcomes, and minimize revenue loss associated with medical errors and decreased staff productivity. One tangible way hospitals can invest in the mental and emotional health of their staff is to provide quality respite spaces that are conveniently located and accessible by all employees.

Here are some best practices to consider when designing respite areas in a healthcare facility:


  • Respite spaces should be distributed in all hospital departments to provide easy access for all team members with minimal travel required.
  • Embedding respite spaces inside the “red lines” of isolation pods can encourage staff to stay in their pods for breaks, cutting down on cross-contamination risks and personal protective equipment (PPE) changes.
  • Not segregating respite spaces between physicians and clinical staff encourages a sense of community across disciplines.


  • Large group respite spaces allow gatherings of team members, which supports increased communication and a sense of community.
  • Small, private respite spaces should be sized to accommodate one to three team members to allow for individual or small group reflection.

Design features:

  • Seating: Larger spaces may contain bar top and/or standard table seating, with the ability to rearrange groupings. Private rooms should provide a comfortable chair and bench to allow for user choice and to accommodate private consultations. Relaxation amenities such as massage chairs, couches, and recliners are also good additions.
  • Acoustical privacy: Spaces should have a Sound Transmission Class (STC) rating of 45 or higher to limit the transmission of loud voices, which promotes a feeling of privacy and separation from operational areas.
  • Natural light: Bringing in as much daylight as possible can help support circadian rhythms, vitamin D production, and a feeling of being connected to nature. When natural light is unavailable, digital displays of nature scenes can be an effective alternative.
  • Materials and finishes: Finishes should be smooth, easily cleanable, and durable enough to withstand a regimented cleaning schedule. A cushioned rubber floor provides physical relief for staff members who are on their feet all day, in addition to easy cleanability and sound reduction.
  • Telecommunication: Receiving current, clear communication from administrators has been shown to reduce staff anxiety. Installing easily viewable digital displays in respite areas can supply this information and keep staff members informed even during breaks.

As evidenced by the successful use of Snoezelen sensory therapy rooms, which are designed to reduce agitation and anxiety for those with sensory processing conditions, the combined use of sensory-stimulation tools to create customizable, immersive environments based on user preferences is effective in supporting a variety of mental health needs.

Features from sensory therapy rooms can be incorporated in smaller, private respite spaces to create customizable environments where staff can “turn off,” reflect, and collect themselves during a tough shift. Typical components include:

  • Adjustable lighting levels and tools such as fiber optic displays, bubble tubes, and pattern projections to provide a user-controlled, relaxing, and soothing environment.
  • Ability to play music from a personal device or integrated sound therapy device, allowing users to fine-tune their surroundings to best suit their needs.
  • Tactile manipulation tools, including items to squeeze, stretch, touch, or pull to stimulate self-soothing.
  • Telecommunication that allows staff members to consult with mental health professionals via video-conferencing.
  • Wi-Fi and cell phone signals for staff to contact loved ones during a break.

Utilizing these best practices can help healthcare facilities create respite spaces that support staff members.

Sara Robinson is an associate in the healthcare studio of McMillan Pazdan Smith (Spartanburg, S.C.). She can be reached at