Ascension Saint Alexius Director of Nursing Keith Hill, RN, (left) brings Link — Ascension Illinois's first hospital dog — to meet members of the Foundation's Physicians Council. Thanks to generous donations, including a grant from the Physicians Council, Link will provide specialized, full-time support to patients, families and staff at Ascension Saint Alexius in Hoffman Estates.
Link, a dog born, raised and educated in Georgia, has a new home at Ascension Saint Alexius! Generous donations — including a grant from the Foundation’s Physicians Council and gifts from associates and other donors — enabled the hospital to acquire Ascension Illinois’s first hospital dog to provide specialized, full-time support to patients, families and staff.
Like a traditional therapy dog, Link will be a calm and uplifting presence for people during stressful times. As a hospital dog, though, he will work with one of his handlers onsite at Ascension Saint Alexius eight hours a day, five days a week — or more if needed. He not only will interact with patients and visitors, but also with physicians, hospital staff and volunteers.
“In these past few years, our physicians and healthcare workers have gone through so much,” said Physicians Council Co-Chair Rema Johnson, DO, who practices emergency medicine and is the Assistant Medical Director of the Ascension Saint Alexius Emergency Department. “The 115 physicians on our Physicians Council voted unanimously to fund a grant to pay for our hospital dog because we saw the vast need for emotional support that he will provide to our patients and staff. We are excited to have Link here to boost our patients’ spirits and clinical team’s morale, and to encourage us in the important work we do for our communities.”
Hospital dogs reduce stress, anxiety and more
Ascension Illinois Ministry Market Executive Polly Davenport, D.Sc., RN, FACHE, understood from past experience how a hospital dog could positively impact a hospital’s culture and experience for patients, families and healthcare workers. For example, in times of stress and physical distress, a visit from a furry, four-legged friend can reduce anxiety, fear and frustration.
Two years ago, then in a role overseeing ministries in the northwest region of the health system, Davenport spearheaded efforts to secure philanthropy to help bring the system’s first hospital dog to Ascension Saint Alexius. In addition to funding awarded by the Physicians Council, associates contributed to the effort in the Associate Giving Campaign, and Microsoft provided a generous grant.
Thanks to these contributions, and after some delays due to the pandemic, Link found his way to Ascension Saint Alexius.
Filling a void that medicine can't fill
The 14-month-old golden retriever-labrador-poodle mix made the trip home to the Chicagoland area the week of June 12 with Ascension Saint Alexius Director of Nursing Keith Hill, RN, and Child Life Specialist Katie Hammerberg. Link’s specialized skill set, which he received through teaching he began at 8 weeks old, will allow him to provide support and interventions for children and adults with medical, emotional and other needs at the hospital.
“The hospital dog fills a void that medicine can’t always fill,” said Hill. “We are grateful to the Physicians Council, Microsoft and all the people who supported such an incredible gift for the people we serve. Going forward, it also will be interesting to see how Link impacts the culture at our hospital.”
Watch the video above to see photos of Link meeting his new handlers, Keith Hill and Katie Hammerberg.
Helping on the pediatric unit, emergency department and more
Hill will be the dog’s primary handler, and Hammerberg will be his secondary handler. Link will live with Hill, who will bring Link to work with him at the hospital every day. In the emergency department and other departments, Hill said he sees Link providing walking support and a lot of comfort. Only days after arriving in Illinois, for example, Link made an impact when he was brought to the hospital to support the critical care team after a difficult case and outcome.
Hammerberg anticipates that Link also will be an essential part of her child life team, helping children meet medical goals such as taking medication on schedule and by mouth as needed. He will also assist with tasks that may be stressful or anxiety-provoking for hospitalized children, such as needle pokes, vital sign taking, and changing into a hospital gown.
“He’ll also help just by providing comfort and a snuggle,” Hammerberg said.
Getting his paws on the ground
For his first few weeks at Ascension Saint Alexius, Link will spend time working with Hill and Hammerberg to adjust to them and to his new home.
“Link needs to get his paws on the ground and get acclimated to his environment, his role and his purpose here,” said Hammerberg, who envisions over these first few weeks starting to bring him on patient visits and role playing with her staff to get more comfortable harnessing Link’s full set of skills.
Read more about how the Physicians Council makes a difference through philanthropy.