News Blog

Notes and Tails of Patient Therapy at HUP

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At 2:30 on a Wednesday afternoon, I headed down to 3001 Market Street to meet Katie Deschaine, a Senior Applications Manager. She plays an important role in operations of the Health System’s electronic health records, EPIC, but I was there to see the epic performance by her therapy dog Robert in brightening the days of patients at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP). 

Deschaine brings Robert, a corgi chow chow mix, a couple days each month to patient rooms and hospital hallways. In exchange for belly rubs and affection along the way, Robert gladly visits patients, as well as their families and care teams. Much like the therapy dogs and owners in other Penn Medicine hospitals, including Pennsylvania Hospital, Lancaster General Health, and Chester County Hospital, Robert and Deschaine are crucial volunteers who help brighten the days of patients and staff.

After observing the great relationship between Robert and a relative of Deschaine’s with autism, it became apparent that Robert could also spread joy to those with other conditions – and the therapy training had begun. “We have Robert volunteer because he is so good with all people,” said Deschaine.

The week before that, I shadowed another Penn Medicine therapy dog superstar, Tugger. Tugger, a chocolate lab, went viral on social media over the holidays, starring in a Facebook video, dressed as a snowman to spread cheer to HUP patients. The video of Tugger has garnered more than 109,000 views on Facebook and YouTube to date, plus more than 125 comments from patients, staff and community members who shared stories of their own experiences with Tugger over the years, and of what therapy dogs have done for them. Philadelphia Magazine, CBS3, NBC10, and 6ABC also covered Tugger’s work with patients.

These HUPs Pups registered animal-assisted therapy dogs are indeed some of the friendliest, and certainly the furriest, members of our care team, and these two are no exception. Studies have shown that petting an animal can lead to a release of the hormone oxytocin, as well as other health benefits

More information about what HUPs Pups entails, check out this HUPdate article.

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Music therapy

David Cribb, director of volunteer services and video services at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, points to HUP's Pups and Musicians On-Call – in which musicians volunteer their time and talents by performing in patient rooms – as two of the Hospital’s most popular programs with staff and patients.

“There’s an unexpected delight that patients, families and staff experience when they get to pet a dog or watch a bedside concert,” Cribb said. “Those are not necessarily activities you associate with a hospital setting.”

Unlike many other hospital roles, volunteers need only to focus on the experience for patients and their loved ones. 

“The smallest gesture offered by a volunteer can make the biggest difference,” Cribb said. “Whether they are a friendly visitor challenging a patient to a game of checkers, a coffee cart server offering a free hot beverage to a family member who has been up all night, or a family caregiver center volunteer supporting a patient's family through a tough time, our volunteers give their time and attention to patients and caregivers without being tied to other responsibilities.”

The News Blog has covered music surgeons listen to while they operate, music played for hospice patients at home and in the in-patient unit at Penn Medicine at Rittenhouse, and my colleague Rob Press has written for the Blog on the REACT! Rhythm Experience and Africana Culture Trial, a collaborative study between the Penn Institute on Aging and the University of Pittsburgh’s Brain Aging and Cognitive Health Lab to study how exercise may reduce risk of dementia.

Recently, support from the Board of Women’s Visitors at HUP funded a few visits from a certified harp therapist, Cheryl Kripke Cohen, RN, MSN.  In just a short time shadowing her, I saw a peacefulness overcome patients, (and me as well) in a way I never imagined possible.

“The culture here at HUP  has come a long way in the past six years,” said Mary Walton, MSN, MBE, RN, director, Patient and Family Centered Care and nurse ethicist at HUP. “We have progressed from encouraging family member to stay home, to allowing their presence  overnight with a loved one in the hospital, to now truly welcoming family members and working to engage them in their loved one’s care. Their presence provides  emotional support, and helps them to understand the complexity of the illness and how they can help to achieve the best care outcome.”

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