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NMCCL Stories

News | June 30, 2022

Wagging tails and smiling faces: Therapy dogs bring comfort to Medical Center staff

By Michelle Cornell

Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune staff are receiving comfort and support from four-legged friends. For the past several months, Beasley the Basset Hound, has been making her rounds in her Red Cross volunteer vest, providing treats for humans in the form of pets and cuddles.

Beasley’s owner is a member of the Alliance of Therapy Dogs [ATD], an international registry of certified therapy dogs. NMCCL’s Patient Safety Office reached out to the organization during the facility’s transition to MHS GENESIS, the Military Health System’s new structure for electronic health records.

“To prepare for the launch of MHS GENESIS, I had been meeting with other MTF [Military Treatment Facility] staff to see what helped during their transitions, and I heard others had used therapy dogs,” said Jennifer Cruz, patient safety manager for NMCCL. “I reached out to the ATD, and they contacted their local network. We got about four to five people interested, and their first visit was on our launch date.”

The launch of MHS GENESIS took place on March 19, 2022. The transition created an additional workload for a team that had been fighting COVID-19 and coping with staffing shortages for the past two years.

“As a patient safety manager, one of my primary roles is culture of safety, and when our staff are stressed out, they don’t operate at their highest level. Stress affects performance,” Cruz explained.

Therapy dogs have been used nationally to help health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the American Heart Association’s website, the use of therapy dogs has shown to improve mental health in the work environment, “Therapy dogs are proven to help: reduce work-related stress, help increase productivity, manage anxiety, increase activity and provide a sense of togetherness.”

Beasley’s owner, Donald Ingram, was one of the first handlers to visit NMCCL during the MHS GENESIS rollout. Ingram visits NMCCL on a weekly basis with one of his four, rescue Bassett Hounds who are each certified therapy dogs. As a retired U.S. Navy Officer, Ingram says he has a particular interest in working with and supporting the military community.

“In my experience, doing therapy dog work for six years, they are very well received in the community,” Ingram said. “I think the vast majority of people love to interact with the dogs, and it is almost always a positive experience for people. It’s a stress relief to do something different and enjoyable during the stressful workday.”

Ingram says he hopes to continue visiting NMCCL, and Medical Center staff are eager for more time with Beasley and her fellow therapy dog team.

“The day of the [MHS GENESIS] launch, I was the general surgeon/trauma surgeon on-call, and it ended up being a very busy day in trauma,” said U.S. Navy Lieutenant Alana Noritake. “I had no idea there were going to be therapy dogs at the hospital. When I saw her, I was so happy she was there, it was as if she could tell how stressed out I was. Her calming presence helped me.”

While right now the focus is on staff, the Patient Safety Office is hoping to eventually include patients during the weekly therapy dog visits.

“It’s a stressful time in medicine in general; everybody is stressed, everybody is short-staffed, and everybody is working as hard as they can,” Noritake said. “These visits help show our people that the community is trying to look out for us too.”

If you are a certified therapy dog owner and are interested in volunteering your time to visit with staff and patients at NMCCL, please contact the Red Cross Office at 910-450-4596 for coordination.
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