"Paw"erful Medicine - Using Animal-Assisted Therapy to Make "Ruff" Days a Little Brighter
Sacred Heart Foundation, Inc.
The mission of the Sacred Heart Foundation (the Foundation) is to be a philanthropic advocate in support of Sacred Heart Health System actively encouraging contributions and volunteer participation to support the work of Sacred Heart hospitals to improve health care and social services for the sick and poor of all ages in our region. In 1984, Sacred Heart Foundation was formed as a nonprofit, philanthropic organization committed to enhancing the current and future healthcare needs of the Gulf Coast by supporting Sacred Heart Health System’s programs, capital building and equipment needs. The original Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital facilities, built in 1959 to better serve the very distinct needs of a growing community, no longer accommodate the technologies and level of expertise the medical teams and staff provide. A new Children’s Hospital, the Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Sacred Heart, is being built for future generations and is the current focus of the Sacred Heart Foundation. Sacred Paws, Facility Dog Program, is also a growing program which the foundation supports.
Sacred Paws is an innovative program that uses dogs working alongside hospital employees to care for the emotional needs of children and families during their time in the hospital. The Studer Family Children’s Hospital currently has one facility dog providing this form of therapy to their population. IMPACT 100 funds will be used toward the expansion of this program and applied to the purchase of four highly-trained facility dogs to staff the pediatric intensive care unit, the school age/adolescent unit, the infant/toddler unit, imaging unit, preoperative services, autism center, and the outpatient rehabilitation units at The Studer Family Children’s Hospital. Additionally, grant funds will be used to purchase all supply and training expenses, which include vet establishment, food, a week-long training for the dog handlers, a lead-free protective imaging vest for the facility dog in the imaging unit, and marketing expenses. The total cost of this project is $120,900 and the additional funds will be provided through fundraising, in-kind support and individual contributions.
The Foundation’s goal with this project is to enhance physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of children and families in the care of The Studer Family Children’s Hospital through animal-assisted therapy. Research has shown that the lives of children and their families are strengthened physically and emotionally when facility dogs are incorporated into their hospital experiences. Interacting with a facility dog can lower blood pressure and heart rate, decrease physical pain, decrease anxiety and fear, increase self-confidence and increase motivation in relation to accomplishing goals. Currently, with Sprout, the initial facility dog, the Foundation is able to meet about 15% of the need for animal-assisted therapy within the children’s hospital. Once fully staffed, the program team could positively impact the lives of up to 600 children per week within the children’s hospital, spanning from newborns to age 20, all of which are facing some of the most difficult and potentially traumatic moments of their lives. The facility dogs would also impact the immediate and extended families of
these children, as they are typically present during visits. Through the expansion of this program, animal-assisted therapy in all areas of pediatric care will be provided so that on any given day, at any given time, if a child can benefit from engaging with a facility dog, it can happen, making “ruff” days brighter for all children and families in the care of The Studer Family Children’s Hospital.