Thrive by IU Health

May 27, 2021

Calling a Code Lavender

IU Health Bloomington Hospital

Calling a Code Lavender

If you’ve watched a hospital-based television show, you’ve probably seen the following situation play out at least once:

It’s quiet in the halls, when all of a sudden, an overhead announcement calls a “Code Blue.” The nurses and doctors rush to the room of a patient going into cardiac arrest, ready to provide life-saving care as quickly as possible.

Codes are a repeating theme used to indicate urgency to the viewer, and it’s true that codes are used in real life for informing healthcare team members of issues that need immediate attention.

But what happens when it’s a team member who needs assistance instead of a patient?

What happens when it’s not a physical ailment but a mental or emotional concern?

Healthcare workers converse in the hallway

During COVID-19, many healthcare workers have been living with increasing stress levels. New protocols add to the time required per patient, but the number of patients isn’t going down.

These healers have been working for the past eight months, and no end is in sight.

That’s why IU Health Bloomington Hospital offers Code Lavender. IU Health Bedford Hospital and IU Health Morgan will also have this resource soon.

“Code Lavender was designed to be more of an informal intervention for units that were particularly stressed,” said Shawn Gerber, IU Health South Central Region Chaplain Manager. “They may have had a series of really difficult patient care cases; they may have had high census—this was designed to show that we care about the team. We know this has been a heavy time, and we want to be here to support them.”

While the chaplaincy team does facilitate these sessions, Code Lavenders aren’t religious.

“The only thing that would make it religious is if a team member would come and they would share from their own experience that they’re struggling with something on a religious or spiritual level,” said Gerber. “Then I would engage them, or the chaplain usually would engage them around that.”

IU Health staff wait in the hallway

But overall, Code Lavenders are an informal intervention designed to offer a listening, compassionate, and empathetic presence to team members.

Scheduling a Code Lavender starts when a unit manager reaches out to Gerber. They’ll meet to go over their team’s individual needs and try to schedule the session when it won’t interrupt workflow.

And while some team members may just stop by to pick up a refreshment, others can take some time to speak about what is bothering them.

“People will sit down and begin to talk about what their experience has been,” said Gerber. “They’ll just kind of vent and share what’s on their heart.”

Gerber tailors the experience for each unit based on their needs. He does this by choosing who facilitates the Code Lavender: just himself, other chaplaincy team members, including social workers, etc.

Most recently, Gerber has been working with a clinical nurse specialist who, like him, is trained in unit-based ethics conversations.

“In talking with managers, I’ve noticed that there’s been some moral distress with the team members,” said Gerber. “That’s basically when team members feel like they know what they want to do in terms of offering care from their professional perspective, but there’s either internal or external barriers to them doing it.”

In these situations, Gerber and his team can sometimes offer possible language or interventions that might lessen the moral distress the unit is feeling. But overall, these individuals are here to offer support during a trying time.