The Positive Impact of EVS on Patient Mental Health

May is mental health month, yet focusing on mental health year-round has never been more critical. Approximately 1 in 5 Americans lived with a mental illness before the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, there was a threefold increase in adults reporting symptoms of depression. In 2023, diagnoses of depression among adults reached an all-time high, as did the number of suicides. Meanwhile, emergency department visits for children suffering from mental health conditions rose 8% annually between 2015 and 2020.

Exacerbating the problem of growing need are mental healthcare staffing shortages that show no signs of reversing any time soon. If the trend continues, the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts the United States will face a shortage of between 14,280 and 31,109 psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers by 2050.

While these shortages are tough enough for hospitals and other healthcare institutions, studies show mental health disorders extend the length of patient hospital stays, impede healing, and increase post-surgical pain, complications, readmissions, and even mortality rates. Poor mental health also reduces patients’ perceptions of the quality of care, which can lower HCAHPS scores.

While there is no single panacea to the plight of eroding mental health for already overtaxed healthcare systems, there are resources that can help ease patient’s healthcare fears and anxiety. This includes choosing the right environmental services (EVS) provider and recognizing and supporting its trained technicians as an integral part of the caregiving team.

The Power of Fear

In her study, The Empathy Project, RN and national expert in the patient/customer experience Colleen Sweeney found that 96% of patients suffer from “clinicophobia,” a term Sweeney coined to describe the fear of healthcare. According to the Mental Health Foundation, fear is a feature of nearly all clinical mental health problems and a root cause of some of the most common ones, including anxiety, depression, psychosis, and suicide. Fear is also strongly linked to poor physical health, which, in turn, creates more stress and anxiety.

While EVS technicians are not qualified or expected to treat mental health disorders, they can play a vital role in reducing patient fear and anxiety.

Common Characteristics

Studies suggest that most healthcare EVS workers share three traits:

  • Respect for patients’ humanity
  • A sense of duty to protect people from disease
  • The desire and ability to make therapeutic connections with patients, i.e., empathy.

These characteristics have proven key to helping patients feel safer and less fearful while improving patient outcomes, satisfaction, and HCAHPS scores. With this in mind, let’s look at these characteristics and their potential for reducing patient fear and anxiety.

EVS and Patients Mental Health

Seeing the Whole Human

Dehumanizing deprives a person of essential human qualities, like personality or dignity. Studies have shown that invasive tests, procedures, abrupt encounters with busy doctors, and other facets of a hospital stay can leave patients feeling dehumanized. This feeling is associated with cognitive deconstructive states, including less clear thinking, anger, and sadness.

Well-trained EVS technicians knock before entering a room. They greet each patient cheerfully and ask how they are doing today. They answer questions and engage in friendly conversation with patients who express interest. These seemingly small actions make patients feel they are being seen as the people they are, which lowers anxiety and can cheer patients up and improve their day.

Impressive Infection Prevention

Infection prevention starts the moment a patient enters a healthcare setting. So, too, does the impression of cleanliness. Imagine the anxiety level associated with entering a healthcare facility for a major operation to find a lobby with a dirty floor, unwashed windows, and overflowing trashcans. Now consider a patient entering that same facility where the floors and windows are clean, the trash cans are empty, and you see a smiling EVS technician wiping down table surfaces. First impressions matter greatly in a healthcare setting, and making a good first impression starts with the EVS department. Of course, EVS’s role in protecting patients from disease goes much further.

Studies show that patients’ No. 1 fear of being in the hospital is contracting an infection, a fear that is not unfounded. Each year, an estimated 1.7 million patients will acquire at least one healthcare-associated infection (HAI), and 99,000 will die from one. In a study reported by Elsevier’s ScienceDirect from the Journal of Hospital Infection, patients described how the experience of having a HAI can be isolating and distressing and carry life-long implications, all of which impact them emotionally and mentally.

EVS plays a significant role in infection prevention, which includes helping safeguard against HAIs. Patients in a clean environment are less likely to be exposed to these dangerous pathogens that can make them sick, hamper recovery, and extend their hospital stay, which creates stress. Meanwhile, research shows that seeing cleaning personnel performing cleaning and disinfecting tasks helps alleviate patient concerns, easing their minds that they are in a clean, safe environment. This can positively impact patients’ mental and emotional state, leading to faster healing and better overall outcomes.

The Power of Empathy

On average, EVS technicians spend more time in patients’ rooms than most doctors or nurses. Some patients don’t have family or friends to visit them or are far away from home. Some patients may be hesitant to confide in other medical staff and feel more comfortable sharing their fears or concerns with EVS workers, who they view as more approachable. Other patients have families that mean well but insist on discussing their loved one’s illness when all the patient wants to do is talk about anything else. These patients may turn to EVS workers to talk about things other than their diagnosis, from the weather to how their favorite baseball team is doing. For some patients, simply having another human being in the room who isn’t carrying vital information about their health can have a calming effect. The best EVS workers have empathy, which includes the ability to listen. Sometimes, all it takes to lower patients’ stress is feeling heard.

These interactions can help relieve stress by taking patients’ minds off the reasons for their stay and providing some sense of normalcy in abnormal healthcare settings. The same EVS worker often cleans the room for a patient’s entire stay, allowing the two to form a bond. This bond can prove especially important to the mental well-being of patients with extended hospital or rehabilitation stays.

Hospitals and other healthcare facilities need to use all available resources to combat today’s mental health crisis. That includes realizing and using the many benefits available through the right EVS team.

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