Service Dog Brings Comfort To Help Staff Fight Off Stress

How can we help you?

Published on December 29, 2021

Almost 2 Years Into Pandemic, Service Dog Brings Comfort To Help Hospital Staff Fight Off Stress

The following story was published by the Battle Creek Enquirer on December 26, 2021. You can read the story here with a subscription.

Photo of Katie Setler with Chewy, outside Bronson Battle Creek HospitalKatie Setler was having a bad day on the COVID-19 hospital floor at Bronson Battle Creek. "It was a really tough day," the acute care assistant said. "He knew that we were having a rough time and he walked up and looked at me and stood right there while I unloaded." Setler was sitting on the floor of the hospital hallway when Chewy, a 2½-year-old Black Labrador/Golden Retriever mix service dog looked into her eyes. "I sat on the floor crying and hugging him," she said. "We knew he was coming and it brought so much joy and took a big burden off to hug him."

Nearly two years of COVID-19 is taking a toll on hospital staff but now a dog is helping.

"He just brightens up the floor because he is there," Setler said. "You are just happy even if we can't interact. Seeing a dog makes people happy."

Chewy, a Canine Companion for Independence and his handler, Amber Depuydt-Goodlock, from Sexual Assault Services, visited the hospital and walked the floors on two consecutive Fridays in December.

Depuydt-Goodlock said the hospital was seeking ways to relieve some of the stress and learned that Sexual Assault Services has used a dog for support of survivors of sexual assault since 2013. Chewy is the second dog and has been at SAS since October and Depuydt-Goodlock was asked if she would take him to visit staff in the main hospital. "It was an opportunity to do the rounds and bring this comfort and something fun to other people," Depuydt-Goodlock said. "Our goal is to do it at least every Friday."

Photo of Chewy, a service dog who has been visiting with staff at Bronson Battle Creek Hospital"On one floor they called out 'Code Chewy' and staff from all over started running to come to see Chewy. People that are working say, 'Hey Chewy is here' and they spent time petting him and burying their faces in his fur and you can see the tension release," Depuydt-Goodlock said.

Dorothy Malcolm, Bronson Battle Creek vice president and chief nursing officer, said having the dog on the floor does help staff. "I have heard nothing but great things from staff in appreciation of him coming through," she said. The visits come as workers are exhausted after 21 months of the pandemic. "If you ask any health worker, they will tell you that they are overwhelmed. They are working extra hours and extra days. We have not only seen COVID patients but our regular patients and the census is quite high and it taxes the whole team." Malcolm said the hospital saw an increase of patients with the virus after Thanksgiving and expects to see another rise after Christmas. "This last surge of COVID-19 has hit Michigan and Battle Creek hard," she said. "It is the biggest surge since the pandemic hit." She said the hospital is always looking for ways to relieve some of the stress.

A nurse since 1996, Malcolm said the pandemic is unprecedented. "We have never seen anything like this. It is a challenge for everyone." She said workers saw great support at the beginning of the pandemic as the public brought food and drinks and there were support signs posted around town. "We are not seeing that as much as before. We need the community to rally with us," she said, and encouraged people to be vaccinated, wear masks, wash their hands and practice social distancing.

Photos of Chewy visiting Bronson Battle CreekBronson is reporting 75% of people in the hospital for COVID are not vaccinated. "The message has been that more unvaccinated individuals are getting admitted and it overtakes the whole health care system," Malcolm said. And it's complicated because some health workers are leaving the profession.

Photos of Chewy with staff at Bronson Battle Creek Hospital

On the hospital floors, Setler said the result is that work has been more difficult in recent months. "They have been a lot harder with COVID-19 on the rise and with staffing issues. We have a lot of patients and they are sick. They are very sick and sometimes they are here for a couple of weeks and they go home. But a lot of times we watch them decline and not get to go home."

And the holidays can add to the stress. "Some did not get to go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas," Setler said. "It is heavy on us because we are used to having patients come in when they are not well and stay with us and improve and then go home. However, with COVID we are not able to help everyone go home and be happy. Even those going home are pretty sick."

Depuydt-Goodlock said she had heard about the stress among the medical staff. "I heard about the stress and I understand stress but the first time I came to the floor, when I walked into the unit I gained a totally new perspective. Health workers are struggling and I felt what the impact is on workers. It is humbling." She said Chewy helps. "I am surprised how much the dog helped," she said. "He doesn't get to stay but people were smiling and laughing. On the second visit more people came out and people were looking forward to seeing him. That was telling the second time."

"He is so calm so that helps us feel calm," Setler said. "He is not excited or jumpy and that is different from the rest of our day and he takes us to a different place. He will walk up to someone who is not having a great time and I don't know how he knows. It was like that day in the hallway, he walked right up to me and looked at me and I started crying and he stepped closer and let me put my arms around him."

Setler said the holidays make time in the hospital more difficult for everyone. "No one wants to be in the hospital for the holidays but usually if you are here they really need to be here. They will be sick for a few more weeks and they can't have their family come see them and sometimes the family unloads on us. We can get a lot of burden put on us from the family and we carry a lot of grief that is not our own." The visits from Chewy can help. When an email was sent to staff about the upcoming visit, Setler said people were talking about it. "People were asking if they would be here that day. 'Are you going to be here on dog day?' They talked about it the rest of the day, 'Did Chewy come to your floor?' Everyone is just excited he is there. It is a little treat. It is a very small thing but it makes a big difference and I don't even know why."

More photos of dogs bringing smiles to Bronson staff

Check out more photos of Chewy's visits on the Bronson Battle Creek Facebook page.

Chewy's first visit photos

Chewy's second visit photos

In Kalamazoo and Van Buren Counties, another special dog came to visit hospital staff. Cosmo, a future leader dog, continues to round at Bronson LakeView, Bronson Methodist and Bronson South Haven Hospitals. Check out pictures of Cosmo and staff on Facebook.

Cosmo's first visit at Bronson LakeView and South Haven Hospitals

Cosmo's first visit at Bronson Methodist Hospital

The story above was originally published by the Battle Creek Enquirer on December 26, 2021. You can read the story here with a subscription.

Positivity Icon

Have you experienced Bronson Positivity?

Share your Positivity

We're Hiring Nurses!

Full-Time, Part-Time and PRN opportunities available. Apply today!

View Nursing Jobs

Bronson Health News

Get the latest health news, tips and trends from Bronson.

South haven e-news

See the latest news