‘The Pause’ Helps Providers Process Patient Loss

The UConn John Dempsey Hospital is embracing a practice of taking a brief moment for care team reflection following the death of a patient, to honor the patient’s life and acknowledge the efforts made to preserve it.

candle burns with two procedure masks behind it

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The Pause badge card
A sentiment is printed on a badge card for staff to refer to when initiating The Pause following the loss of a patient. (Image provided by Kaitlyn Standish)

When a patient dies in the hospital, those final moments of life are often physically, mentally, and emotionally draining for the health care providers involved.

And sometimes the best way to handle that is to take a purposeful step back.

That is, to take a brief moment of reflection — to acknowledge the life that just passed as well as the efforts made to care for that person.

The UConn John Dempsey Hospital is starting to embrace what’s become known as “The Pause.” It’s when a member of the care team initiates a quick break from the rigors of the job, in which all those involved are encouraged to stand together for 60 seconds to try to achieve some closure.

Let’s all stand in a circle, honor this person, and support each other by taking a moment to recognize what we collectively did in delivering that patient’s care. — Kaitlyn Standish

It happened Monday on the third floor of the University Tower, where a patient “coded” — a term used when a patient goes into cardiac arrest or respiratory failure. The man ultimately died despite tireless resuscitation efforts.

Kaitlyn Standish self portrait
Kaitlyn Standish, UConn Health nurse aide, is the driving force behind bringing The Pause to the UConn John Dempsey Hospital. (Photo provided by Kaitlyn Standish

“The code was an emotional experience, as it was a huge loss for both the family and the team,” says Maggie Pierce, the nurse manager. “Once the patient was pronounced the provider initiated The Pause. It was a short-term moment to say a few words and honor the life of the patient. It provided the team a few seconds to pause and honor him while also honoring their amazing efforts. The Pause gave the caregivers a short time to be together in the moment of loss and grief.”

Nurse aide Kaitlyn Standish called for a rapid response and helped perform CPR on the patient for nearly an hour. She is one of the champions of the concept of The Pause, which she had observed in other heath care settings.

“This is really for us, the health care workers,” Standish says. “Let’s honor this person and all our efforts on behalf of them. Let’s all stand in a circle, honor this person, and support each other by taking a moment to recognize what we collectively did in delivering that patient’s care.”

Dr. Jennifer Baldwin portrait white coat
Dr. Jennifer Baldwin is a hospitalist at UConn’s John Dempsey Hospital. (Photo by Janine Gelineau)

Standish, who also is a firefighter and emergency medicine technician in Colchester, brought the idea to John Dempsey Hospital and convinced leadership to make it part of the workplace culture, backed by Pierce and Dr. Jennifer Baldwin, whose connection goes beyond her role as a hospitalist.

“Kaitlyn approached me a few months ago regarding this initiative after my father passed away in the hospital,” Baldwin says. “She had cared for him and wanted to start the initiative in his honor. I am very appreciative to Kaitlyn for her efforts in this area as it means a lot to me and my family. It is a wonderful initiative that honors both our patients’ lives as well as those that have cared for them.”

Daniel Warriner portrait
Daniel Warriner is UConn Health’s chaplain. (Photo by Tina Encarnacion)

The Pause can be a reading of a sentiment or a moment of silence. It is meant to be an inclusive way for members of the care team to support each other, can include the patient’s family members, is completely voluntary, allows providers time to catch their breath and move on to their next patient with a clearer head.

“With the added stress and trauma our health care providers have been dealing with from the last year and a half, the timing is right,” says UConn Health chaplain Dan Warriner. “What can we do to take care of ourselves in the highly volatile environment we’re in?”

A badge card and a smartphone app are available to those who wish to participate in The Pause.