Toronto Grace Hospital creates award-winning healthy workplace

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After breaking her leg in an off-site accident, a recently hired nurse at Toronto Grace Hospital was anxious to get back to work. But this was going to be a challenge, as she was wearing a full leg cast.For Toronto Grace, it wasn’t an issue. The RN had obtained a scooter, so she could get to the hospital and then, once at the hospital, she used the motorized vehicle to get up and down the corridors.

“We decided that just because, she had injured herself, there were other things she could do in the administrative area,” explained Maila Riddell, a member of the hospital’s Healthy Workplace Committee. “It’s a matter of adapting the workplace to the worker. It was better for this RN’s physical and mental well-being to come in and do something meaningful, instead of staying at home.”

This year, Toronto Grace was one of the recipients of the Ontario Hospital Association’s Healthy Innovators Awards. The hospital’s Healthy Workplace Committee won this award for the plan they developed to bring a healthy environment to their staff. The plan evolved from a survey that was sent to Grace’s workforce.

“Our eight member committee was very conscious from the beginning that the quality of care and service that we provide is very closely tied to quality of work life and having a healthy environment for our staff,” said Glenn Yaffee, the hospital’s Human Resources Consultant.

“Grace is a palliative care and continuing complex care hospital blessed with a dedicated and close-knit staff,” said Glenn. “The staff see themselves as being intrinsic to the quality of care that each patient receives.” The challenge for the committee, which included representatives of the hospital’s health and safety committee, was to help staff maintain that high level of commitment. To reinforce leadership’s involvement in the plan and their desire for a healthy environment, management participated in a variety of workplace initiatives and regularly communicated through an internal newsletter, posters, emails and the intranet.

In March 2005, the hospital surveyed its 282 workforce about how to achieve a healthy work environment. The committee selected a number of key staff priorities. “One was healthy eating so we had one of our clinical dieticians do a grand round,” says Glenn. “We sat down with the head of dietetic services and she introduced a number of healthy new items on the menu. We’ve found them to be best sellers.”

Another area prominent in the survey was smoking cessation. As an added means of encouragement, the hospital provides free prescriptions for medication to those trying to kick the habit. Regarding stress, the committee actively promotes the Employees Assistance Program. It is a confidential service provided by a third party, staffed by clinical social workers and psychologists to help employees with stress problems inside and outside the workplace.

“To maintain a healthy workplace, staff have to know that we stand behind them,” says Maila. “We do a lot to signal to staff that we value them and that comes from the President on down.”

As an example, the survey identified exercise as a high priority. As a result, the committee initiated the “Get in the Groove and Move Program”. Hospital staff got pedometres, to clock their steps with the goal of walking 10,000 steps, per day, the equivalent of about five miles. Maila smiles when she says “Ésome staff report, if they haven’t met their quota by 8 p.m., they’re out walking the dog again so they can achieve their steps.” During their lunch hours three days a week, staff met for half hour walks around the downtown Toronto hospital on interesting routes mapped out by members of the Healthy Workplace Committee.

Grace’s commitment to health and workplace safety is reflected in the dedication of staff at this 100-year-old facility. The average sick time per employee at Toronto Grace is about 3.5 days a year. The industry average is 12.8.

“Our philosophy is that our employees are knowledge workers so, even if they are physically restricted, we create modified work plans where their minds and hearts are actively engaged in patient centred activities”, Glenn said “Whether it is working on a research project, updating policies, reviewing documentation or reading to patients, all of these things matter.”

The hospital is proud and grateful to be a recipient of the OHA Healthy Hospital Innovators Award and equally proud of its staff’s continuing commitment to a safe and healthy workplace.