Healthcare News & Insights

De-stressing program gets a tails up from humans and canines

178788479There’s no doubt about it. Hospitals are stressful places to work. And for the men and women who provide care to patients, day in and day out, the stress can take its toll on them. But one nurse is helping her co-workers forget their worries and get happy with a special kind of therapy. 

When Heather Matthew, MSN, RN, CEN, started nursing, she had a hard time leaving thoughts of work behind once she got home. But that all changed when Annabella came into her life.

In fact, Matthew credits this slobbery, bundle of love with making her a better nurse!

No, Matthew didn’t have a baby that drooled a lot — well at least not a human one. Annabella is a lovable American Bulldog. And the reason she makes Matthew a better nurse is because she helps her change her focus and unwind when she gets home, so she’s rejuvenated for the next day.

Then Matthew had an idea, if Annabella helped her unwind, why wouldn’t it work for her co-workers?

Sharing the love … and licks

Pet therapy is nothing new. For years now, hospitals far and wide have been bringing canine companions in to put smiles on their patients’ faces. In fact, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP), where Matthew works as a clinical nurse specialist in the emergency department (ED), already had HUPs Pups therapy program for patients.

Combined with her experience with Annabella, this program inspired Matthew to create a similar program for her co-workers.

“They [patients] would play with the dogs and it made a huge difference on the stress level and morale in the Emergency Department,” said Matthew in HUP release. “So, I thought of teaming up with the SPCA to bring them directly to staff.”

So Matthew worked with Pennsylvania SPCA to bring in dogs and cats that were available for adoptions.

The first “Pet the Pooch Program” was held in June 2013. The staff took short breaks from their day to cuddle and play with dogs and cats.

“Basically, when you take that five-minute break out of your day, the pick-me-up makes all the difference,” Mathew said. “That animal isn’t judging you, they don’t know that maybe you’ve had to give a family some bad news and your heart is breaking over it.”

Win-win program

The program was so popular that with the support of Victoria Rich, PhD, chief nurse executive, AnnMarie Papa, DNP, clinical director of Emergency Nursing, and the SPCA, it’s now a monthly event at HUP.

Each month more than 100 HUP nurses and staff come to play with cats and dogs, for a little de-stressing and a lot of loving.

But the program isn’t just about her co-workers.

The mission of the program is two-fold:

  • to help co-workers forget about their worries, and
  • to help the dogs and cats at the SPCA find a forever home.

“The bond between humans and animals is well documented,” Jerry Buckley, PSPCCA chief Executive officer, told The Inquirer. “Not only are these dogs providing stress release for staff, but the opposite is also true. Having time away from the shelter and interacting with people in a positive way gives our dogs much needed enrichment and socialization, and helps increase their chances for a successful adoption.”

So far the program has been a success. To date, 50 pets have been adopted by staff.

Matthew even plans to promote the model of this program to hospitals nation-wide.

“We are not only providing a therapeutic service to our staff, we have been able to partner with people and dogs in our community to serve a dual purpose and hopefully bring happiness to everyone involved,” Matthew told The Inquirer.

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