The members of Altru’s Code Lavender team know that, sometimes, it’s OK to not be OK. Now, they’re spreading the message to their fellow employees as they support them through times of stress and tragedy.
In 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic strained healthcare systems across the country, a multidisciplinary group of Altru employees came together to develop ways to recognize and celebrate their colleagues. Known as the Care Team, this group kept returning to the notion that the people they worked with every day needed support—and their peers were uniquely positioned to provide it.
“Often, healthcare workers neglect themselves as they give everything they have to care for others,” says Deneille Haberstroh, MSN, RN, BSN, manager of cardiology, the stress lab, cardiopulmonary rehabilitation and interventional radiology at Altru, and a co-founder of Code Lavender. “This can lead to burnout, anxiety and depression. We had always debriefed with employees and staff following high-stress events, but it never felt like enough. The COVID-19 pandemic made it obvious that our teams needed support. This led us to establish Code Lavender.”
Supporting Their Own
Code Lavender is a program by and for Altru employees that allows any member of the Altru team dealing with stress, trauma, burnout or personal difficulties to seek support from a Code Lavender member. The program’s goal is to help employees rest, reflect, replenish and refocus.
In establishing Code Lavender, which began serving employees last summer, Altru joined other health systems across the country that have similar peer-to-peer support programs.
“There had long been an attitude in healthcare that you shouldn’t bring personal problems to work,” says Katie Richardson, MSN, RN, practice manager of cancer services and palliative care at Altru and a co-founder of Code Lavender.
“Healthcare workers were supposed to put their game face on and push through for their patients and community because they’re the face of healthcare and they need to inspire confidence. That’s not realistic. Problems come up at work and home for healthcare workers, and the Code Lavender team is there for them when they do.”
The Code Lavender team consists of 15 Altru employees from a variety of backgrounds and departments, including pastoral services, case management, inpatient units, human resources, health system administration and Altru Health Foundation. This diversity of experience is one of the program’s greatest strengths.
“Employees who are struggling and reach out for help have varying comfort levels with different people who may be able to assist them,” says Brittany Caillier, director of philanthropy at Altru Health Foundation, and a co-founder of Code Lavender.
“Some people want to connect with others who’ve been through similar situations and may know them well, whereas other employees might be more comfortable talking with someone from a different department.”
The Power of Being Present
Employees and teams can request assistance from Code Lavender through Altru’s internal intranet portal or directly from Code Lavender members. A Code Lavender member is on-call 24/7. Assistance can take a variety of forms, from offering a hug or a shoulder to lean on to providing a kit of resources. The kit includes a tablet loaded with calming apps, items to promote relaxation, such as essential oils, and information about breathing exercises and Altru’s Employee Assistance Program. A Code Lavender member follows up one week later.
Since its inception, Code Lavender has supported employees as they navigated a variety of challenging and tragic situations. These include the death of a former employee of Altru Clinic in Thief River Falls due to domestic violence, a vehicle accident that claimed the life of an employee and an employee who lost a child due to illness. For many employees and teams, the most meaningful form of assistance is the simple act of fellow employees being present for them in their time of need.
“I’m a member of Code Lavender, but I’ve also received support from the team,” Deneille says. “My experience provided me with a deeper appreciation and understanding of what the Code Lavender team can provide to employees. The team members were quick to respond, they provided a listening ear and, most importantly, they showed their compassion for others.”
Code Lavender’s co-founders point to the breakdown of the stigma around seeking help and equipping employees with the tools to build resiliency as some of the program’s biggest victories. They think Code Lavender is poised to play an even bigger role at Altru.
“I hope people start to use Code Lavender more so that reaching out for help becomes the norm,” Katie says. “Employees should be comfortable saying, ‘I need help, so I’m going to ask for it.’”
Altru employees and staff are the heart of our mission. If you’re interested in joining our team, visit altru.org/careers.