Code Lavender Program Receives Grant to Support Front-Line Caregivers

Originally posted at the Carilion Clinic newsroom. Andrew Tressler, BCC leads the project below as part of the Lab’s program on supporting resilience in frontline providers.

May 21, 2021

The program seeks to provide caregiver support and bolster resilience through rapid response to staff distress and long-term staff support resources.

A Carilion team was recognized as one of only 16 nationwide to receive a microgrant from the Henry Luce Foundation through the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab at Brandeis University. The goal of the microgrant is to provide resources for chaplains researching and supporting front-line staff wellbeing and resiliency.

Carilion’s interdisciplinary team – led by Andrew Tressler, board-certified chaplain; and Suzanne Bowser MSN, RN NEA-B, unit director for Medical Cardiology Progressive Care – aims to establish a new program to provide emotional and spiritual support to front-line caregivers through rapid response during a crisis. The program is called Code Lavender.

“We are thrilled for this support from the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab,” said Tressler. “The microgrant will help us to build on our staff support offerings, which have never been more critical than right now as caregivers continue to work through the pandemic.”

Surveys have shown that front-line provider burnout has increased as a result of the strain of COVID-19, which has impacted caregivers in and outside of the workplace.

The concept of a “code lavender” was first established in 2004 by Dr. Earl Bakken in North Hawaii Community Hospital as a holistic response for patients, their families and staff. In 2008, Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. Bridget Duffy launched a Code Lavender program through its healing services team. Dr. Duffy describes the Code Lavender team as their emotional SWAT team in response to ongoing indicators of staff burnout.

A small pilot Code Lavender program kicked off at Carilion in March 2020 as a means of staff support on the COVID-19 units at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital (CRMH). As part of that initiative, things like individually wrapped snack items, hot tea, and aromatherapy towels were provided to staff on various shifts throughout the week in each COVID unit. Grant funding, however, will allow Tessler and Bowser’s team to expand the scope of staff support through formalizing a centralized Code Lavender team and more robust rapid response resources.

“Our hope is to decrease staff burnout through offering rapid response to situations of staff distress,” explained Bowser. “Ultimately, our partnership between chaplaincy and nursing will act as a conduit for longer-term support. For instance, in addition to being present in the time of need, we will offer employees access to things like aromatherapy, healing arts tools, and Employee Assistance Services (EAP) for follow-up care.”

The Process of a Code Lavender

When any member of the caregiver team experiences a crisis, a Code Lavender will be called via direct page to the chaplain (CRMH has a staff chaplain in-house 24/7).

“No event is too small to call a Code Lavender. If an employee needs support, they’re encouraged to call,” said Tressler.

The chaplain will arrive within 30 minutes and locate a space away from where the event took place to be present with the staff member, allowing him or her time to debrief the crisis and offering additional resources as needed. As the leader of the Code Lavender, the chaplain will also alert the caregiver’s immediate supervisor of the event for follow-up and activation of other resources.

Implementation Plans

Code Lavender will be implemented in phases, allowing for an organizing body called the Wellness Council to gather data and measure impact along the way.

Initial implementation, which went live on April 15, is taking place in CRMH’s COVID-19 units and select intensive care units (ICUs). Phase Two will include expansion to every CRMH ICU and PCU (progressive care unit). Phase three will expand scope to include all units at CRMH – inpatient and outpatient. The long-term goal is to expand the program to include Carilion’s remaining six hospitals and the more than 250 outpatient clinics.

“Throughout implementation, it will be important for us to measure staff feedback, which we’ll do through a series of surveys,” said Bowser. “We’ll also invite staff that called a Code Lavender to participate in a focus group to offer insight into the program’s impact and opportunities for future improvement. Ultimately, we want to make sure that our caregivers feel cared for.”

About Chaplaincy Innovation Lab

Founded in 2018, the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab supports chaplains in all sectors as they recognize and respond to changes in American religious and spiritual life. The Lab brings chaplaincy leaders, theological educators, clinical educators, and social scientists into a research-based conversation about the state of chaplaincy and spiritual care. Driving its work are questions about how spiritual caregivers can do their best work. The Lab aims to improve how chaplains are trained, how they work with diverse individuals.

About Henry Luce Foundation

The Henry Luce Foundation seeks to enrich public discourse by promoting innovative scholarship, cultivating new leaders, and fostering international understanding. Established in 1936 by Henry R. Luce, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Time, Inc., the Luce Foundation advances its mission through grantmaking and leadership programs in the fields of Asia, higher education, religion and theology, art, and public policy. Learn more at