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Morristown Medical Center Nursing Research Team Finds Pet Therapy Visits Reduce Anxiety in Hospitalized Children

April 3, 2019

Morristown, NJ – Results from a study conducted by a nurse research team at Atlantic Health System’s Morristown Medical Center found that pet therapy visits significantly reduce the anxiety of hospitalized children. The results were recently published in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing.

“Hospitalization can be an incredibly stressful time for children and families; they are out of their normal routine and surroundings, and may be experiencing fear, loneliness, pain, or worry,” said Katherine Hinic, PhD, RN, CNE, Professor in Residence, Morristown Medical Center, and lead study author. “While there has been limited research on the impact of pet therapy on hospitalized children, our study showed that pet therapy visits are an effective complementary therapy to help decrease anxiety while receiving care in a hospital.”

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Pet Therapy Program at Atlantic Health System

The study compared 93 children’s anxiety before and after study interventions. The children, ranging from age 6 to 17, were divided into two groups—one group received a pet therapy visit from a therapy dog and handler and a research assistant, and the second group received a visit from the research assistant and completed a puzzle. Groups were similar to each other with no significant differences in key demographic factors or baseline anxiety level.

Each child's anxiety was measured before and after the visit using the State-Trait Anxiety Scale for Children (STAIC) S-Anxiety Scale. Parents also completed a brief background questionnaire.

The study showed that while situational anxiety decreased significantly in both groups, children in the pet therapy group experienced a significantly greater decrease in anxiety (p = .004). In addition, parents reported high levels of satisfaction with the pet therapy program.

Peggy Grow, Program Manager of Soothing Paws® Pet Therapy Program, was instrumental in the implementation of this study, coordinating consistent volunteer dog handler teams to give children and families the best possible pet therapy experience. Completion of this study was also dependent on the dedication and commitment of volunteers and their therapy dogs.

The study team included Dr. Hinic, Mildred Ortu Kowalski, PhD, RN, Nurse Researcher, Morristown Medical Center, Kristin Holtzman, CCLS, child life specialist, Goryeb Children’s Hospital, and Kristi Mobus, BSPH, data coordinator, Morristown Medical Center.

About Pet Therapy at Atlantic Health System

Atlantic Health System's pet therapy program, Soothing Paws®, has approximately 80 pet therapy teams, each made up of a hospital volunteer and his or her trained dog, that visit patients and their loved ones in our hospitals.

Each therapy team goes through extensive training and must be registered through an independent organization. All of the therapy animals are at least one year of age, readily perform basic obedience skills, and have the necessary temperament. In addition, they meet all health requirements.

Visits by our animal teams are available for most patients, as well as their families and other visitors, by request at Morristown Medical Center, Overlook Medical Center, Chilton Medical Center, Newton Medical Center, Hackettstown Medical Center, Goryeb Children's Hospital, and Atlantic Rehabilitation. Our teams visit most areas within these sites, including the emergency departments, intensive care units, surgical waiting rooms, cancer units and the medical and surgical units.

About Atlantic Health System

Atlantic Health System is at the forefront of medicine, setting standards for quality health care in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the New York metropolitan area. Powered by a workforce of more than 16,800 team members and 4,800 affiliated physicians dedicated to building healthier communities, Atlantic Health System serves more than half of the state of New Jersey including 11 counties and 4.9 million people. The system offers more than 400 sites of care, including six hospitals in New Jersey: Morristown Medical Center and Goryeb Children’s Hospital in Morristown, Overlook Medical Center in Summit, Newton Medical Center in Newton, Chilton Medical Center in Pompton Plains, and Hackettstown Medical Center in Hackettstown.

In addition to the employed workforce, Atlantic Alliance, a Clinically Integrated Network represents more than 2,500 health care providers throughout northern and central New Jersey. This network includes 1,000 physicians and providers comprising one of the largest multi-specialty practices in New Jersey - Atlantic Medical Group, as well as members of the Atlantic Accountable Care Organization and Optimus Healthcare Partners which work to enhance patient care delivery.

Atlantic Health System provides care for the full continuum of health care needs including 12 urgent care centers, Atlantic Rehabilitation and Atlantic Home Care and Hospice. Facilitating the connection between these services on both land and air is the transportation fleet of Atlantic Mobile Health.

Atlantic Health System leads the Healthcare Transformation Consortium, a partnership of seven regional hospitals and health systems dedicated to improving access and affordability and is a founding member of the PIER Consortium – Partners in Innovation, Education, and Research – a streamlined clinical trial system that will expand access to groundbreaking research across seven health systems in New Jersey.

Atlantic Health System has a medical school affiliation with Thomas Jefferson University and is home to the regional campus of the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Morristown and Overlook Medical Centers and is the official health care partner of the New York Jets.