Mariam Zakhary, a Assistant professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital, remembers what 7 p.m. in Manhattan looked like last April: Residents cheered and cheered on frontline health workers as they ended their shift. It’s 2021 – the celebrations have mostly ceased, cases of Covid-19 are on the rise, and our medical workers are experiencing mental anguish far beyond burnout.
Before the pandemic, doctors died by suicide in double the price of the American population. Covid-19 has strained the ability of health workers to testify to severe suffering. A team of artists, technologists, neuroscientists and medical researchers have come together and created recharge rooms to tackle this problem.
Zakhary works in the post-acute Covid-19 clinic on Mount Sinai with “long haul” individuals still suffering from post-Covid-19 symptoms, months after being diagnosed.
“It’s scary,” she said. “I see marathon runners unable to walk up and down stairs, and lawyers unable to string correct sentences without word search due to severe ‘brain fog.’ We’ve seen thousands and thousands more are on the waiting list. “
She is preparing for an increase in need in the coming months. “The worst is yet to come,” she said. “The hardest thing to tell these patients is that we don’t know what’s going on, but we’re going to do our best to treat it. I’m not sure it’s something we’ve ever had to say to a patient, that the science has failed us, and we can’t understand the pathology.
Long hours and difficult treatments also weigh on healthcare workers. For reference, some experts are looking to September 11 for clues as to what the future will look like for frontline workers. In a 2020 study published in the Journal of Clinical PsychiatryResearchers from Mount Sinai found that 26.8% of police officers and 46% of “non-traditional responders,” such as construction workers, had symptoms of PTSD 12 years after 9/11. These results underscore the importance of treating subthreshold PTSD for first responders.
A recent study from Italy, where the pandemic raged months earlier than in the United States, offers more information. All of the health care providers that were studied experienced high levels of psychological distress, suggesting that immense personal and emotional involvement in this trying time may put their psychological health at risk in the near future.
Long before the peak of summer in cases of Covid-19, David Putrino, Director of Rehabilitation Innovation at Mount Sinai, converted his neuroscience research lab into a nature-inspired relaxation space for frontline healthcare workers.
Putrino collaborated with Mirelle Phillips and her team to Studio elsewhere to design and install multisensory charging rooms. The rooms use biophilic design principles, or a setting that mimics nature, and the idea is that it can promote healing. Phillips designed spaces of comfort and tranquility to connect healthcare workers with nature to offset the otherwise sterile hospital environment. Biophilic design is also more than adding plants to interior spaces. It is an interior design philosophy aimed at improving the mental and physical well-being of people.
Phillips, the daughter of a Mexican immigrant, wants to take advantage of emerging technologies to tackle health inequalities – to design a more imaginative, inclusive and connective experience of health, wellness and care. “Our mission is to be co-creative with the communities we serve and to ensure that we take our interventions to vulnerable populations who are often the last,” she says.
Phillips called Jacob Marshall to EMBC Studio, his partner, Hai-Jin Marshall, and award-winning violinist Tim fain to create immersive sound for charging rooms. “We built on Mirelle’s ongoing work on how design with nature helps us heal ourselves and use technology and art to deliver an immersive multisensory aesthetic experience that could break the cycle of stress and stress. burnout, ”says Marshall.