Sebastian River Medical Center Doesn’t Smell Like a Hospital

Sebastian River Medical Center
Sebastian River Medical Center

The scent of lavender greets patients and as soon as they pass through the doors of the emergency department. In other areas, warm, inviting whiffs of vanilla waft through the air. In the main lobby, part of the hospital’s recent 90,000 square-foot expansion, the aroma of freshly brewed coffee beckons visitors to grab a cup of joe to enjoy indoors or head out to the lushly landscaped courtyard to sip in the sunshine.

The pleasant scents and other ambiance are part of an overall design to create a patient experience that is second to none for residents of the Treasure Coast and beyond.

“Clinical care is of the utmost importance, but patients and families need a place where they feel supported and cared for,” said Martin Shimko, RN, patient experience coordinator for the 174-bed community hospital in Sebastian, Florida.

Shimko should know. As a registered nurse, he has tended to patients at their bedsides and reassured their loved ones during his 29-year career in health care.

Much of Sebastian River Medical Center’s success in patient experience is employee ownership. Shimko precedes his references to specific departments with the word “my” as in “my emergency department,” “my lobby,” or “my diagnostic department.” Shimko’s reference not only reflect his sense of ownership, but also the sense of pride and teamwork felt by the entire staff at Sebastian River Medical Center.

Since he arrived last year, Shimko has maintained a laser-like focus on what those in the health care industry refer to as “the patient experience.”

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality defines patient experience as “encompassing the range of interactions that patients have with the health care system, including their care from health plans, and from doctors, nurses, and staff in hospitals, physician practices, and other health care facilities.”

The goal is patient-centered care. Studies have shown that positive patient experiences ultimately lead to improved healing, more favorable outcomes for patients, and increased efficiency across the health care system.

The range of interactions during the patient experience can include those things we can’t physically see. Smell is a powerful sense and can create a range of emotions in people, including having a calming effect. “Being in the emergency department can be stressful, and we wanted to reduce the stress level,” said Shimko. “We purchased a system, very similar to those you experience in theme parks, that pumps the smell of lavender throughout the emergency department to have a calming effect during what can be a stressful situation.”

Shimko adds, “Vanilla has also been shown to reduce anxiety in MRI facilities, decreasing feelings of claustrophobia and tension. One hospital saw a significant decrease in the number of MRI patients requiring sedation and a 50% decrease in cancellations.”

Landscaping also has a substantial effect on healing. A study suggests that visiting and viewing landscaping at hospitals accelerates patient’s recovery from surgery. Sebastian River Medical Center gave attention to detail when it came to the outside landscaping of the new addition, as well as the enclosed courtyard located beyond the lobby. Not only do these improvements help patients and families at Sebastian River Medical Center, but the staff benefits, too. The same study on landscaping showed that it also decreased the staff’s mental fatigue and lifted their spirits.

Shimko also knows, without doubt, that taste drives satisfaction. He regularly samples the food cooked up by hospital chefs, who, in addition to preparing food sent to patient rooms, also cater special events at the hospital.

“We do everything we can to make sure the food is the perfect temperature when arrives in the patient’s room,’ he said. “No one enjoys a cold meal.”

However, dietary restrictions may mean that a patient with cardiac issues won’t be getting salty food. “We always follow doctor’s orders,” he explained.

Shimko’s work, and all the efforts of the employees at Sebastian River Medical Center, are reflected in Google patient reviews. The hospital has been seeing many positive and uplifting reviews on a regular basis. The staff is happy to not only have their efforts recognized but to know they are leaving a positive imprint on the lives of their patients.

“Everyone I came in contact with was friendly and caring. I wouldn’t go anywhere else to get care when I’m sick! I even had other leaders in the hospital visit me to make sure my experience was what I expected! Thank you for the caring behavior exhibited by all your staff!!” – Feedback received from a member of the Sebastian River Medical Center.

Shimko isn’t done yet. Next time you visit Sebastian River Medical Center, listen. You might soon hear some light jazz playing softly in the background. “I promise, it will not sound like elevator music,” affirms Shimko.

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