"Wobble room" provides time-out for COVID-19 frontliners

wobble room team

Working in a busy, major hospital can be incredibly demanding and stressful. But the COVID-19 pandemic brought on a different kind of stress for staff at the Vancouver General Hospital emergency department—one that they had never encountered before.

“People were coming in feeling anxious even before their workday had started,” said Lara Gurney, the department’s head nurse educator. “They were worried about their families and their financial situation. There was a lot of fear going around, but we all still needed to come in to care for our patients and to support our colleagues. We had to do something — fast.”

That something turned out to be the “wobble room,” a time-out space that is open to any emergency department team member at any hour of the day. In collaboration with colleagues, Gurney converted a conference room into a space where staff can come in to unwind, to vent or to connect as needed, at any time of day.

“The COVID-19 crisis can be overwhelming for frontline workers and so maintaining staff safety and wellness are key,” says Gurney, a UBC nursing graduate whose master’s thesis focused on ways to reduce compassion fatigue and burnout among healthcare staff. “We’re saying here’s a space for you to take a moment, or to yell or cry if you want to. You can be vulnerable. You’re not alone and you don’t have to be alone.”

The bright, quiet room, inspired by similar spaces in U.K. hospitals, allows up to six people to gather together while maintaining physical distancing. A large-screen TV with Zoom capabilities is available, and an encouragement wall for staff to communicate positive or inspirational thoughts is prominently displayed.

The wobble room welcomes nurses, unit clerks, care aides, housekeeping, physicians and residents, social workers and other staff, according to project co-lead Julie Lockington, a nurse clinician. A trained counsellor, Cristina Ciccone, is available via Zoom for group check-ins twice a week, or staff have the option to reach out for personal support 1:1 at any time.

“We come in to share updates on our work, swap stories, even jump into Zoom calls with colleagues who may not be working that day but want to show support for others on the team,” says Lockington.

While B.C. may be seeing a slowdown in the outbreak, health care staff know they have to stay vigilant and so the wobble room will continue to provide that much-needed breathing space.

“Lara and Julie and others involved in the project are making a valuable contribution to the health and wellbeing of frontline staff, which ultimately is important for patient health,” says Lori Quinn, patient services manager in the emergency department and a UBC nursing alumnus.

“It’s important that we recognize the potential for burnout during and after the pandemic, and how important it is to implement mitigation strategies. The creation of the wobble room will help us be ready to deal with the situation, knowing the COVID-19 pandemic is a marathon, not a sprint," added Quinn.


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