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Volunteer Programs to Support Patient Care At Newton-Wellesley Hospital...

Over the past few years, the Volunteer Services Department, in collaboration with other Hospital departments, has created programs to support patient care and help keep patients at the center of all we do. As stated in the literature, “The integration of all therapies – peaceful and comforting surroundings, stress reducers, caring health care providers, together with evidence based medicine – creates a healing environment.” (Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, April 2009). We are proud of the contributions we have made to enhance patient care.

Dog Therapy

Research studies have proven that encounters with therapy animals resulted in significant decreases in pain, respirator rate and negative mood state as well as a significant increase in perceived energy level. Hospital staff has even noted a reduction in their own stress (in addition to that of their patients) during pet therapy visits.

Pet therapy has become a standard of care and is available at multiple other Partners hospitals. As a Hospital we tried many years ago to start a pet therapy program which stalled. Patient and family interest/requests sparked the Child Life Specialist team and Volunteer Services to re-boot this effort in 2011. To that end, we commenced a multidisciplinary committee to create guidelines, examine best practices and address infection control and other common concerns. As a result, we established hand hygiene practices that all involved must follow, as well as, vaccination and health screening/maintenance requirements for the therapy dogs. Therapy dog handlers must curb their dogs prior to entering the hospital. On the day of visitation, therapy dog handlers must also brush the therapy dog prior to arriving at the Hospital to minimize shedding and dander. All our dogs are certified through the Pets and People Foundation which is based in Weston, MA. Pets and People ensure that all dogs have passed a temperament test and have gone through an orientation preparing them for hospital visits.

Our official dog therapy pilot program began in September 2012 on the Pediatric Unit. A Child Life Specialist accompanied the dog and handler on all visits for first few weeks. We surveyed patients following a visit for the first three months to assess program impact. We were pleased to see that the results were incredibly positive. Due to the pilot’s success, we opened the program to other units. Our second unit that welcomed a dog therapy volunteer was 3 West in November 2013. In March 2014, we expanded the dog therapy program further to include the Psychiatric Unit.


With encouragement from administration, a lobby piano was purchased in June 2011 through generous donations made to the hospital’s Charitable Foundation. There are many benefits of music in someone’s life. It can reduce anxiety and stress; it slows the pulse and heart rate; it has a soothing and relaxing effect; it helps with concentration and focus; it improves moods and can have an overall affect on improvement of the quality of life. There have been regularly scheduled volunteers who come to share their talents. The skill of these volunteers ranges from Julliard trained and professional pianists to lounge pianists and those that play recreationally. Volunteers are high school students, working individuals, as well as those who are retired. One individual is a student from the Perkins School for the Blind, who has been playing piano since he was a young child. Additionally, when no one is available, the piano plays on its own and music can be selected through an on-line radio software program.


In January 2013, we started a pilot program with Hearts and Noses, a Boston-based nonprofit organization, with a mission to bring a unique form of artistic and therapeutic medical clowning to area hospitals. All clowns in their program require 70 hours of educational and hands-on training. Working collaboratively with Child Life Services, we chose 6 West as our pilot site and welcomed three clowns to visit each week. The focus of these unique volunteers was to provide improvisational play and empowerment to patients. The organization’s motto is: “Clowning is not about being funny; it is about the gift of presence.” We are pleased to say that 112 children were seen during 2013. After each visit the clowns document their interactions and provide the information to both the Child Life Specialists and Volunteer Services. This gives us a general sense of how the visits went.

Volunteer Programs to Support Patient Care


The word Reiki stands for REI = universal knowledge; KI = life force energy. It is considered a noninvasive, light touch method to transfer energy. The practice of Reiki is said to relax the body, promote the body to heal itself, to decrease pain, to reduce stress, increase the feeling of wellness and promote sleep and to diminish the side effects of medical treatment. Our Reiki program started in January 2011 in the Vernon Cancer Center (VCC). Since then the program has been expanded to the Infusion Center and Tanger 4 West. Reiki volunteers also take requests from other departments. NWH has 15 active volunteers who have a level 2 or reiki master certification. The program is supervised by Wendy Caves, RN and staff member of the integrative therapy program in the VCC.

Programs in the Department of Psychiatry

We are pleased that we have been able to run two different programs on the Psychiatric Units. The first is an interactive music program that was started by the volunteer, Mace Miller in 2003. Mace brings patients together in the common room to engage them in musical activity. He does this by bringing in various household type items such as buckets, spoons etc. and uses the items and his talents to explain rhythm and variety in music. Mace has inspired several of the patients to consider using their musical talents in different volunteer capacities. A second program is yoga. Gretchen Daggett, volunteer, started doing yoga with patients in March 2013 and comes in weekly for half hour meditative yoga groups. Recently, a patient asked for more information about yoga as the group sparked an interest for her. Gretchen has been gracious enough to extend her audience to any staff who would like to participate as well! We are thrilled that the Hospital has welcomed all these different programs and that volunteers can be involved in new and different ways to “keep patients at the center.” For more information about these supportive programs, please contact Volunteer Services.

volunteer services



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