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Bay Pines VA Healthcare System

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What We’re Doing About Noise


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Female caregiver talks to a senior patient lying in bed in a hospital.
By Susan Wentzell
Monday, January 30, 2012

It’s a proven fact that rest is good medicine--a quiet environment is a healing environment.  And if you’ve ever been a patient in the hospital you know it can be anything but quiet.  People shout down the hallway, carts thump and rattle, doors bang, and overhead announcements blare.  It’s hard enough to rest in a strange bed without the added challenges that hospitals pose.

In patient-centered hospitals, protecting the sleep of patients is a top priority.   Initiatives to reduce noise levels help build awareness among staff and make for a better overall hospital experience for patients.

Hospitals in the VA Sunshine Healthcare Network (VISN 8), which include VA facilities in Florida and the Caribbean, have undertaken campaigns that significantly reduce noise on in-patient units.  Here’s a snapshot of some of the initiatives.   

The stoplight-style "Yacker Tracker" is an audio-visual reminder to VA staff and others to reduce the noise in a patient area.  It monitors noise levels and alerts caregivers when they exceed an acceptable level. Yacker Trackers are being tested on in-patient wards at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa, FL., the Bay Pines VA Medical Center in St Petersburg, FL, and the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center in West Palm Beach, FL.  

Employees at the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center (VAMC) in Gainesville, FL closely monitor noise levels with designated quiet times and adjusted medical and treatment times so patients get the rest they need.  A common patient complaint is the noise associated with cleaning which often takes place during hours Veterans are trying to sleep.  At Malcom Randall, housekeeping tasks are done at times other than in the early morning or at night.  Likewise, respiratory therapy services are provided at times that minimize night-time disturbances.   Since these steps were taken, hospitalized Veterans are significantly less bothered by noise on these units and they report being more satisfied with their in-patient experience.  How do we know?  We asked them.

Lowering telephone ring volumes at nursing stations, making changes to the way meals are delivered, providing headphones for Veterans who want to watch television, and replacing noisy wheels on carts are all ways VISN 8 hospitals protect patients’ sleep.  At the Bay Pines VA Medical Center, generous donors help the VA provide comfort kits to patients that include ear plugs and sleep masks.     

On selected wards at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital, overhead pages are limited to emergency communication due to Vocera, a hands-free, voice-controlled device that caregivers wear around their necks to communicate between staff and patients quickly and quietly.  At Haley, Vocera is just one aspect of the hospital’s multi-faceted "Shhhh" Campaign to reduce noise.   
In VISN 8 hospitals, caregivers are focused on respecting Veterans’ need for quiet.  Some of the other ways VA reduces night time noise and distractions include the following:

Hallway lights are dimmed at night--lighter lighting levels encourage softer speaking.  Cell phones and pagers are placed on vibrate, and TVs in patient rooms are tuned to soothing music on the relaxation channel.  

Caregivers use their "inside" voices--they don’t shout down the hallway and they watch how loudly they talk to those on the telephone.  They ask patients for permission to close their door when leaving their rooms.  Heavy doors block a lot of noise from the hallway.  

Read more health-focused articles in the Winter 2012 issue of Veterans Health Matters, a  new wellness magazine for Veterans.