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Creating a Trauma-Informed Environment: Empowering Patients and Employees for Healing and Resilience

August 22, 2023 Posted by Remede in Blog
Female nurse assisting and elderly woman up from a seat with a walker

At the core of healthcare lies a crucial responsibility: creating a trauma-informed environment that empowers both patients and healthcare professionals alike.  

In recent years, trauma-informed care has been considered somewhat of a buzzword or trend, but in reality, this practice is far from trendy—it’s a cornerstone of safe and inclusive care. 

Trauma can leave a profound and lasting impact on patients—imprinting emotional, physical, and psychological scars that may significantly affect their interactions with the healthcare system. Healthcare professionals themselves may also experience the effects of trauma given the demanding and emotionally charged nature of their work environment before, during and after the pandemic. It’s imperative for Chief Nursing Officers (CNOs) and other healthcare industry leaders to foster a culture of trauma-informed care, ensuring wellbeing and resilience across the board.  

In this article, we’ll discuss the importance of trauma-informed care, its impact on patients and healthcare professionals, and the transformative potential it holds for the entire healthcare community. 

Understanding Trauma-Informed Care

Trauma-informed care is not a new concept—despite it being such a hot topic in the healthcare industry and beyond over the last few years, most notably since the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Trauma-informed care involves a paradigm shift in the approach to healthcare, emphasizing compassion, understanding, and sensitivity to the impacts of trauma. At the core of this approach is The Six Principles of Trauma-Informed Care. 

The Six Guiding Principles of Trauma-Informed Care

  • Safety: Ensuring both physical and emotional safety for patients is paramount. Creating an atmosphere where patients feel secure and comfortable is essential to building trust and promoting healing. 
  • Trustworthiness: Maximizing trustworthiness involves being transparent, making tasks clear, and maintaining appropriate boundaries. Consistency in care and communication helps establish a sense of reliability for patients. 
  • Peer support: Offering peer support and self-help resources provides patients with safety and hope. Connecting patients with individuals who have experienced similar traumas can be a powerful way to foster understanding and empathy. 
  • Collaboration and mutuality: Emphasizing partnership and power-sharing between patients and healthcare providers is vital. Allowing patients to have control over their treatment and recovery process promotes empowerment and autonomy. 
  • Empowerment and choice: Promoting client-centered recovery means respecting the power differentials and involving patients in shared decision-making, goal setting, and treatment choices. Encouraging self-advocacy empowers patients to actively participate in their healing journey. 
  • Cultural, historical and gender issues: Offering services that are sensitive to the gender, culture, and unique background of each patient is essential. Recognizing and respecting these individual differences creates a more inclusive and supportive care environment. 

When healthcare providers prioritize these principles, they create an environment where patients feel validated, heard, and respected, fostering a sense of safety that is crucial for healing and recovery. Recognizing that everyone’s response to trauma is unique, healthcare professionals embrace flexibility, empathy, and cultural competence to tailor care to patients’ specific needs.  

For trauma-informed care to flourish, healthcare organizations play a vital role in cultivating environments that prioritize empathy, resilience, and healing. And it starts with leadership’s commitment to integrate trauma-informed practices with every aspect of the organization’s culture.   

Healthcare leaders, including CNOs, drive this cultural transformation by promoting ongoing training and education for staff, providing resources to support self-care and resilience, and implementing policies that prioritize patient safety and dignity. By fostering a trauma-informed environment, healthcare organizations empower both patients and employees, promoting better health outcomes and enhancing the overall quality of care.  

Empowering Patients With Trauma-Informed Care

Trauma-informed care is a powerful approach that fosters healing and resilience among patients, placing emphasis on compassion, understanding, and sensitivity to the impacts of trauma. For CNOs and leaders in the healthcare industry, it’s crucial to recognize the transformative potential of trauma-informed care in empowering patients and creating a supportive environment for their healing journey. 

Building Trust and Safety  

One of the fundamental aspects of trauma-informed care is building trust and safety in patient interactions. But before we dive in, it’s important to acknowledge that safety and trust are not things that can be assumed or earned on the spot. They’re built over time. 

Safety is a highly individualized feeling. As Katie Kurtz, MSW LISW-S, writes in this Instagram post:

“What may feel safe for me, may not feel safe for you, and vice versa.    

Because we are two different people, with different lived experiences, identities, advantages, social contexts, bodies, etc. 

Therefore, we are not able to guarantee safety for everyone who is in our spaces. 

We may not be able to guarantee safety for others, but what we can do is take intentional and aligned action to ensure our spaces are designed and held with the ability for people to access a felt sense of safety.” 

There are myriad ways CNOs can ensure healthcare environments are designed for their patients to access safety. 

First, actively listening to patients and acknowledging their experiences, healthcare professionals establish a foundation of trust that allows patients to feel validated and respected. Creating a brave, nonjudgmental space that encourages open communication fosters a sense of security, enabling patients to share their stories and collaborate in their care decisions.  

Additionally, maintaining consistency and reliability in care delivery contributes to a sense of safety and predictability for patients, which is particularly vital for those who have experienced trauma. 

Offering Choice and Control in Patient Care

Another key element of trauma-informed care is providing patients with choice and control over their care. Health concerns and emergencies aren’t just traumatic for some patients due to the nature of their injury or condition. It can also be incredibly confusing and unclear as to why certain decisions are being made in their care plan and what the repercussions for them might be.  

This is why it’s so essential for their overall wellbeing to empower patients to be active participants in their treatment and recovery journey. By involving patients in decision-making processes, respecting their preferences, and offering choices in their care plan, healthcare professionals enable patients to take ownership of their healing process. This sense of agency can have a profound impact on patients’ sense of self-efficacy and their ability to cope with the effects of trauma.  

How to Support Employees in Trauma-Informed Environments

While trauma-informed care significantly focuses on patients’ healing and well-being, it’s equally important to recognize the impact of secondary trauma on healthcare professionals—the emotional toll that comes from witnessing the suffering and challenges faced by patients.  

Healthcare providers, including nurses, physicians, and support staff, are on the front lines of care, navigating emotionally charged situations daily. The cumulative effect of these experiences can lead to what is known as secondary trauma, the emotional duress that results when an individual hears firsthand about the traumatic experiences of another, or compassion fatigue and burnout. But, with a proactive approach, there are steps CNOs and healthcare organizations can take to prevent this from happening to nurses and critical care professionals.   

Fostering a Culture of Self-Care and Work–Life Balance

To foster a trauma-informed environment that empowers patients, healthcare leaders must also prioritize the wellbeing of their employees. Recognizing the signs and effects of secondary trauma is essential in providing support and intervention. Offering opportunities for staff to debrief, discuss difficult cases, and process emotions in a safe, nonjudgmental space can help alleviate the emotional burden.   

Promoting self-care and resilience among healthcare professionals is fundamental to maintaining a healthy and sustainable workforce. Encouraging employees to take regular breaks, engage in relaxation activities, and seek support from colleagues or counselors helps prevent burnout and compassion fatigue. Additionally, integrating wellness programs that address mental health, stress management, and work-life balance can further support staff resilience. 

Trauma-Informed Training and Education

Trauma-informed care cannot be a set-it-and-forget-it thing—it’s an ongoing practice. Regular trauma-informed training and education sessions offer healthcare employees continuous opportunities for growth and development. These programs go beyond theoretical knowledge into practical application, encouraging staff to implement trauma-informed practices in their daily interactions with patients and colleagues.  

By staying up to date with the latest research and best practices in trauma-informed care, healthcare professionals can refine their approaches and enhance the quality of care they provide. Such training fosters a culture of learning and improvement, where staff members feel confident and competent in their ability to respond effectively to the diverse needs of patients who have experienced trauma. As a result, healthcare organizations create a collaborative and empathetic environment, deeply committed to the wellbeing of patients and employees. 

Support Systems and Resources

A compassionate and caring workplace acknowledges that healthcare professionals may face emotional challenges due to the nature of their work, and it ensures they have the support they need. By proactively providing resources and support systems such as regular check-ins, debriefing sessions, and access to mental health professionals, healthcare organizations demonstrate their commitment to their employees’ wellbeing.  

Peer support programs can be incredibly valuable as well, allowing staff members to connect with others who understand the unique experiences and emotions that come with providing care in trauma-informed environments. Moreover, organizational leaders who lead by example and prioritize the mental and emotional health of their teams foster a culture of trust and openness, encouraging employees to seek support when needed.  

Implementing Trauma-Informed Care in Your Healthcare Facility

Creating a trauma-informed environment requires a deliberate and thoughtful approach, one that involves assessing the current state of trauma-informed care within your healthcare organization.  

Find Out How Your Facility Measures Up With Trauma-Informed Care

Conducting a comprehensive evaluation helps identify strengths, areas for improvement, and opportunities for growth. Engage with frontline staff, leadership, and patients to gain diverse perspectives on the effectiveness of current practices and the areas that could benefit from a trauma-informed approach.   

Based on the assessment findings, develop and implement policies and protocols that promote trauma-informed care throughout your facility. These guidelines should outline the principles of trauma-informed care and provide clear instructions on how to apply them in various healthcare interactions.  

Lastly, as a facility committed to cultivating a trauma-informed environment for employees and patients alike, integrating trauma-informed care practices into your organization’s mission and values is a must. Your core values aren’t meant to be mere words for your website or employee handbook. Make sure you and your teams are striving to live them daily, however that takes shape based on role.   

Most Importantly, Trauma-Informed Care Is Values Work

Trauma-informed care is a means to work on strengthening values. It gives us humans greater capacity for self-awareness and attunement to others, so we are in alignment with our values. So, by infusing trauma-informed principles with your organizational values, you equip your team with the skills and mindset to promote these values through intentional and aligned action in their daily work lives. 

Furthermore, embracing trauma-informed care means you’re committed to using your company’s power and influence to promote equity, trust, belonging, and safety. It’s about fostering a culture that prioritizes not only the physical health, but also the emotional and psychological wellbeing of patients and staff. This commitment involves providing ongoing training and support to your team, ensuring they have the tools and knowledge to implement trauma-informed practices throughout the organization. 

By walking the walk of trauma-informed care and living your organization’s values, your facility creates an environment where compassion and empathy flourish. It’s a place where patients feel heard and supported, and where healthcare professionals feel empowered to provide the highest quality of care. As you continue to prioritize trauma-informed care in your facility, you nurture a culture of healing, resilience, and empowerment, benefiting everyone within the healthcare community. 

Ready to Cultivate a More Trauma-Informed Environment for Your Patients and Employees?

A trauma-informed environment is more than just a concept—it’s a powerful approach with the potential to transform healthcare for the better.  

Embracing trauma-informed care is an ongoing journey that requires dedication, empathy, and a commitment to living out your organization’s values. By aligning your mission and values with trauma-informed principles, you create a culture of resilience and compassion—a culture where every individual feels seen, heard, and valued.   

At Remede, we’re passionate about empowering healthcare facilities to embrace trauma-informed care and create environments that promote healing and resilience. Our dedicated team of professionals is ready to partner with you in establishing trauma-informed practices in your facility. With our extensive experience and commitment to genuine, long-term relationships, we can help you find and retain skilled healthcare professionals who share your dedication to patient care. 

Take the next step in creating a trauma-informed environment that empowers both patients and healthcare professionals. Partner with Remede and let us support you in making a lasting impact on healthcare.