Even from behind the masks, you can see the smiles Burke brings as he walks through the halls of Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) visiting staff.
Burke is a dog with a job. He is part of the Pups Assisting Wellness for Staff (P.A.W.S.) program, a People Wellness initiative in partnership with the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program to support staff and medical staff wellness.
“P.A.W.S is an innovative approach to providing support to medical staff and staff by using therapy dogs to help reduce stress, reduce burnout and increase morale," says Dr. Stacy Sprague, Executive Director, Safety, Health and Wellness.
Health-care staff have been disproportionally affected by the ongoing pandemic and while VCH staff have displayed an incredible amount of resilience and fortitude during these challenging times, a visit with Burke can give staff a reason to just stop for a moment and engage with the dog and with each other. Bringing therapy dogs into high-stress, high volume health care environments provides low barrier, accessible, just in time, and psychologically safe wellness support that doesn't require staff to leave their units.
“Having a visit from Burke is nice. It breaks up your day and brings some joy to an otherwise stressful situation," says Amy Foley, Clinical Nurse Educator, VGH ICU.
P.A.W.S started as a pilot project at VGH's emergency department, intensive care and burn, trauma and high-acuity units, but was put on hold during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic response. The program has returned and is expanding to community health centres on the downtown eastside as well as the Italian Cultural Centre COVID-19 immunization site. At this time, VCH's People Wellness team and St. John Ambulance are working on expanding the program to reach as many staff as possible.