Healthcare News & Insights

Some hospitals are expanding visitation policies to pets

Sure, patients need doctors, nurses, therapists and all the other providers hospitals have. But there is one thing the majority of hospitals don’t have that can also make a world of difference in a patient’s recovery … visiting rights for four-legged family members.

It’s a known fact that being with a pet has all kinds of physical and psychological benefits. Some of them include:

  • decreased stress
  • lowered blood pressure
  • less pain
  • lower cholesterol, and
  • better moods.

And while many hospital have pet therapy programs, which do a good job of cheering up patients and getting smiles, it’s just not the same for patients as having their own four-legged friends to cuddle with.

Furry family visitors

A few hospitals, however, are realizing the wonderful therapeutic value of patients getting to visit with their pets and are expanding their visitation policies, according to Medscape Medical News.

One hospital doing just that is Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. In February, Rush hosted its first furry friend visitor, Sadie the dachshund, who happily licked her owner’s face. And Bernadette Slesinski-Evans, Sadie’s owner, was all smiles thanks to those wet kisses.

But getting any kind of four-legged visitor into the hospital took almost three years to see the light of day. Diane Gallagher, RN, associate VP of nursing operations at Rush, told Medscape, the major challenge was making the policy safe for everyone involved without making it an enormousness endeavor.

The reason many people have issues with bringing pets into a hospital is they feel it’s not sanitary. However, the therapeutic benefits are powerful tools in a hospital’s arsenal of recovery weapons.Very few things can produce the same kind of endorphins, cheer and smiles as when an owner sees his or her pet again, after not having contact with it for a period of time.

The Mayo Clinic also has a pet visitation policy in place at its Minnesota campus. But unlike other facilities, the Mayo Clinic’s program has been around for 20 years and is considered an important part of its integrative medicine program.

Before patients can see their pets, they must get prior approval from their doctor and schedule the visit in advance. Also, the visit is limited to two hours so as not to overtire the patient, and patients can’t have open wounds or a compromised immunity system.

Factors to consider

If you’re thinking your patients would benefit greatly with visits from their wet-nosed friends, you might want to require that all pets:

  • Be healthy
  • Have proof of up-to-date vaccinations, especially rabies
  • Be bathed and groomed within 24 hours of the visit
  • Be transported in a carrier or on a leash
  • Wear coats or T-shirts to cut down on the shedding
  • Be at least one year old, and
  • Have an accompanying adult handler at all times.

Also at Rush, staff members call all dog owners to find out if their dog has ever growled at or bitten anyone. Then that staff member meets the handlers at the hospital to make the sure the dog has a non-aggressive  temperament.

It’s also important to check your state laws on animal visits.

Pet visiting center

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Ohio is breaking ground soon for an attached pet visiting center — the first of its kind in the US. Grant funding came from CancerFree KIDS, a Loveland, OH, nonprofit organization, will help pay for the construction.

The policy at this center won’t have as many dos and dont’s. Reason: It’ll have an exterior door.

Having outside access means pets won’t need to travel through the hospital, so there will be little risk of aggravating patients’ and staff’s allergies, or coming into contact with other patients, who may be afraid of certain pets. That’s why pets won’t have to be groomed within 24 hours of a visit, and they won’t need to be recently checked by a vet.

“Our goal is to allow pets to visit patients with a minimum of inconvenience and cost to patients, families and pets,” said Dr. John Perentesis, director of oncology at the children’s hospital, who came up with the idea to build the addition after seeing one at Alberta Children’s Hospital in Canada. “It will be easier for the family, who is already under a lot of stress.”

The center will have an indoor and outdoor area that’ll allow two pets to visit at a time.





Subscribe Today

Get the latest and greatest healthcare news and insights delivered to your inbox.