Therapy animals ease pain of pandemic for nurses, patients

Published: Sep. 27, 2021 at 8:25 PM CDT
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JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - Burnout from COVID-19 is as prevalent as ever in hospitals across the country. One Northeast Arkansas hospital is turning to man’s best friend for relief.

At St. Bernards Medical Center in Jonesboro, a few friendly faces are helping nurses and patients alike. Initially designed for patients, the therapy animal program has bled over into the world of nursing as well.

“It’s cheering them up and keeping their mind off their problems. It’s releasing some stress,” said Mark Holden, stroke coordinator at St. Bernards. “It really helps them a lot.”

The hospital began the program just before the start of the pandemic to help ease the stress and worries of patients. When the pandemic started, the program was put on hold.

Now, the program is back, and it’s benefitting not only patients but nurses and staff as well.

“The biggest complaint I have about pet therapy is that it doesn’t come enough. If I don’t bring them by, I get in trouble. That’s big time,” Holden said with a laugh.

Holden is in charge of taking the therapy animals from room to room. He makes sure to stop at the nurse stations so everyone can get in on the puppy love.

It’s not all slobbery kisses and tail wags, though, as the program has one unforeseen downside.

“The worst part is when we have to go to another patient. They don’t want to let go. They want to hold on forever. It makes you tearful,” Holden said.

Still, the pros outweigh the cons as the joy distracts from the heartache, even if just for a moment.

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