Can dogs help hospitals retain staff and improve well-being? Guelph researchers want to find out

Guelph researchers will be working with Cambridge Memorial Hospital (CMH) in a new study that will look into whether having a service dog in hospitals will help retain staff and improve their mental well-being. The research will entail closely following Ember, a black Labrador service dog, who has been making her rounds at CMH since 2022 and works exclusively with hospital staff to reduce work-related stress.Basem Gohar, an assistant professor in the department of population medicine at the University of Guelph (U of G), said there is a huge need for healthcare employers to find new ways to support their staff.”Healthcare workers go through so much on a regular day and the data is showing that, for example, nurses are among the highest to go on sick leave so we need to find novel solutions to support the staff and increase their level of commitment to the workplace,” Gohar told CBC News. “One issue that we may face down he road is continuity of care. I think we’re already seeing it a little bit. Someone goes on leave so someone has to take over and this continuity can affect the service we’re providing to patients and it’s very costly to our healthcare system.”Basem Gohar is an assistant professor in the department of population medicine at the University of Guelph. (Carmen Groleau/CBC)Gohar said animal therapy is very effective with children on the spectrum or patients with severe illnesses and since Ember is the first national service dog to work exclusively with health care workers, he says there is a lot they can learn from her. “What I’m very interested in is to measure that level of commitment, not just well-being,” he said.’A lot of people are receptive to her’Ember is at the hospital eight hours a day, working four of those hours, according to Nina Grealy, one of Ember’s handlers.A typical day for Ember consists of a 7 a.m. start at which time Ember and her handler will start making their rounds in the emergency and ICU departments. Grealy said she will then have some down time and play time before visiting other departments in the hospital.She said Ember naturally gravitates to workers who have had stressful days and is trained on four visual cues, like hopping on someone’s lap or resting her head on their hand.”A lot of people are receptive to her,” Grealy said. “A lot of people are really happy to have her.”Ember makes her rounds throughout the hospital and even visits with the hospital’s maintenance staff. (Carmen Groleau/CBC)Wellness and well-being specialist Jenna Bilenduke says she has seen the difference Ember has made with staff in the two years she has been with the hospital.Bilenduke, who is also one of Ember’s handlers, says Ember has built a relationship with staff and sees their appreciation with having a familiar face stop by.”I’ve had certain people tell me many months down the line that she supported them through a tough time and you don’t know that in the moment, but it puts things into perspective because you don’t know what people are going through, whether its here or outside these walls,” she said.The research project between the U of G and CMH is slated to begin in May.

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