Include environment in making ICU user-friendly

Beepers also a big hit

Sometimes the little things can mean a lot to families facing the stress of a loved one in an ICU.

When the St. Joseph Health Center in Kansas City, MO, decided to revamp its relationship with patients and families, the effort included physician improvements as well as better communication.

The physical redesign of the waiting area has helped put families at ease. In fact, one room has been converted into a "serenity room" with a television, VCR, and radios with headphones. Family members can use this room to talk with someone from chaplain services or to relax in a quiet atmosphere.

The waiting room also was given a facelift, with the addition of new carpet and furniture, plants, framed pictures, and cabinets with blankets and pillows for those who stay the night.

The hospital also realized that many family members are reluctant to leave their loved ones, even to eat dinner, because they are afraid staff would not be able to contact them in an emergency, says Ardith Ubben, a hospital volunteer. For that reason, St. Joseph issues pagers to the main spokesperson in each family.

"The beepers have really gone over big," says Ubben. "It makes [the family] feel a little bit better about leaving."

Here are some of the other services provided through the Family Support Program at St. Joseph:

4 pamphlets and brochures — some of which are specifically geared toward the family spokespersons — to help families cope;

4 message board with room numbers and messages from/to family members or from staff to family members;

4 signed passes to shower in the hospital’s gym area;

4 money from the hospital’s auxiliary for families from out of town who cannot afford a hotel. Also the social services department works with families to find reasonably priced hotels in the area.