Columbus, OH,
16:23 PM

Hospital Volunteer and Canine Companion Bring Comfort to Frontline Workers

During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many healthcare organizations have had to make changes to their policies regarding volunteers in an effort to maintain safety standards. OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital has been among these groups, at times pulling back hospital volunteers from their posts to help ensure their safety and the safety of hospital patients, providers and associates.

“When the COVID-19 pandemic began, we had to ask our volunteers to stay safe, which meant staying home,” said Rhonda Dixon, chief nursing officer for O’Bleness Hospital. “That was a difficult decision, because as much as we rely on our volunteers, our volunteers enjoy the camaraderie at the hospital and the satisfaction of giving back.”

One hospital volunteer recognized that they might have a new role to play during the pandemic. Steve Trotta, a physical therapist for Ohio University Therapy Associates has been making rounds in the hospital with his certified therapy dog Halle, a 9-year-old Golden Retriever, since 2018.

When he learned that the pandemic would bring a halt to volunteer service in the hospital, Trotta went to work reimagining what his and Halle’s contribution could be during this trying time. After speaking with hospital officials, it was determined that though ongoing safety protocols would not allow Steve and Halle to visit patients, they could come back in a new role—as support for tired frontline workers.

“Steve and Halle went above and beyond, learning our new safety protocols and meeting our system’s criteria to become ‘resilience therapy’ providers for our associates,” said Dixon.

“When I was informed that Halle’s therapy dog duties were put on hold due to the pandemic, I was very disappointed, but I understood,” said Trotta. “I was very happy when we found out that we could visit hospital staff and departments—hospital associates had always enjoyed seeing her before the pandemic.”

Steve and Halle have taken to their new role of providing relief to hospital and clinic workers, and now, are being formally recognized. O’Bleness will honor the pair on Wednesday, August 25 with the OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital Service in Excellence Award.

“I am extremely grateful and honored that Halle is appreciated for the joy, calming nature and general happiness she brings when performing her therapy dog duties,” said Trotta.

“At a time when our associates are suffering from enormous stress and at risk for burnout, Steve and Halle have been there for us,” said Dixon. “Steve can’t walk 10 feet in the hospital without someone reaching down to get a quick session with Halle—she’s built for comfort. We hope we can continue to allow them to serve our associates through the ongoing pandemic, and eventually get back to see our patients.”