Animal therapy to be introduced at Bustamante Hospital for Children Loop Jamaica

The content originally appeared on: Jamaica News Loop News

In a historic first, the Ministry of Health and Wellness will this Christmas season introduce an Animal-Assisted Recovery and Care (AARC) programme at the Bustamante Hospital for Children.

The pilot project for the programme will last 18 months.

This was disclosed on Tuesday by Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr Christopher Tufton during a statement in the House of Representatives. The minister described the undertaking as “an innovation for Jamaica in public health”.

During the pilot, paediatric patients admitted to the health facility will begin to receive animal-assisted therapy.

Tufton told the House that AARC is a patient-centred intervention that will complement healthcare delivery to hospitalised paediatric patients undergoing procedures or who require long-term hospitalisation.

“The details of the project, in terms of objectives, is to reduce the anxiety and stress associated with hospitalisation, reduce the length of hospitalisation, reduce the need for pharmacological intervention, and to improve the social environment for healthcare delivery,” said Tufton.

A video of Dr Teddy Barks inside the visitors’ gallery at Gordon House on Tuesday. (Credit: @themohwgovjm)

He shared that Animal Assisted Interventions (AAIs) are recognised globally as having widespread benefits for both patients and healthcare staff and that AAI is defined by the International Association of Human Animal Interaction Organisations as a goal-oriented and structured intervention that intentionally includes or incorporates animals in health, education and human services for the purpose of therapeutic gains for the humans.

Tufton said those participating in the pilot must meet the patient inclusion criteria and parents must give their consent. He said the safety of all involved is paramount.

“The hospital has in place established infection, prevention and control protocols and the project will be implemented in keeping with these protocols. In the event that there is increased admission of children, overcrowding and or an outbreak of a communicable disease, implementation will be suspended,” Tufton said.

The South East Regional Health Authority will oversee the implementation of the project while a multi-sectoral Animal-Assisted Intervention committee has been convened to provide technical coordination and support.

Evaluations will be conducted every six months and, if the pilot is successful, a Cabinet submission will be made seeking approval for the development of an AARC programme in public health facilities islandwide.

In explaining the importance of the programme, the health and wellness minister referenced a 2021 report from the Caribbean Policy Research Institute which pointed out that there is currently limited data available on the mental health burden faced by children.

The report also highlighted that “the overall mental health services for children are inadequate and there is a need for specialised and consistent mental health services for children”.

Tufton said the pilot provides the opportunity for further studies to be conducted on the mental health needs of children.

Meanwhile, Tufton introduced a golden retriever named Dr Teddy Barks who was present in the visitors’ gallery at Gordon House, as the brand ambassador for the project. Teddy, who was in the care of the curator for the Hope Zoo, Joey Brown, will be the main therapy animal for the project.

All the animals taking part in the project will be sourced from the Jamaica Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Hope Zoo and Montego Bay Animal Haven. Apart from dogs, birds, rabbits and kittens will eventually be part of the programme.