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NEWARK, NJ – Saint Michael’s Medical Center in Newark is taking a step to help employees deal with job-related stress by giving them a quiet respite when conditions become overwhelming.

The hospital recently cut the ribbon on a Zen Room, a darkened space with relaxing sounds, soothing smells and comfortable furniture that employees can access any time they feel the need.

“We want to give employees the opportunity to pull themselves away from their areas, sit down and reflect, get themselves in a better mental state of mind and then be able to go back to work and contribute in a positive and efficient way,” said Sue Bruno, the director of human resources at Saint Michael’s Medical Center.

While working in a health care setting has always been stressful, the coronavirus pandemic has raised the level of anxiety as front-line health care workers have had to deal with conditions that have been compared to a war zone.

During the peak of the pandemic last year, nearly every bed in Saint Michael’s was filled with COVID-19 patients, with many in critical condition on respirators.

A recent study by Mental Health America (MHA) of 1,119 health care workers across the United States found increasing levels of anxiety, depression, loneliness and other mental health concerns.

The responses collected from the 1,119 healthcare workers surveyed indicated they’re stressed out and stretched too thin: 93% were experiencing stress, 86% reported experiencing anxiety, 77% reported frustration, 76% reported exhaustion and burnout, and 75% said they were overwhelmed.

The most common answer for how health care workers were feeling over the previous three months was emotional exhaustion, followed by trouble with sleep, physical exhaustion and work-related dread.

A new Zen Room for employees at Saint Michael’s Medical Center with relaxing sounds, soothing smells and comfortable furniture.

Donna Zeuner, the director of physician services who spearheaded the transformation of an unused space into the Zen room, said it was designed in response to the pandemic, but it will continue to be a place for employees to unwind once the pandemic is over.

“We need our employees to be calm so that they are treating patients with kindness and dignity,” Zeuner said. “It’s just as important our employees to have a calm demeanor and for them to have well-being for themselves.”

Michel Pierre, a respiratory therapist who came to check out the Zen room, said he would definitely use it.

“It’s very calming, very soothing,” Pierre said. “Sometimes you just need to take some time out to meditate.”

For more information about careers at Saint Michael’s, visit our career page.