Furry Employee Offers Comfort During COVID - VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System
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VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System

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Furry Employee Offers Comfort During COVID

Tootsie, COVID


By Khristie Barker, Public Affairs Specialist
Saturday, April 11, 2020

One thing is certain, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center looks vastly different. There are no groups of Veterans sharing stories, the waiting rooms are empty, tents are set up outside for various triage stations and much of our staff have been reassigned to the labor pool to assist with the impending battle. Through all of these changes, one thing has remained the same. Tootsie, the facility therapy dog, is still making her rounds with her handler, Clinical Psychologist Dr. Elizabeth Holman.

As freezing rain turned to snow on a blistering cold Colorado day, a call came into the Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) from Dr. Javier Perez, Emergency Department Chief. Perez’s team had been outside in the elements, testing Veterans for COVID-19. They were cold, tired and needed an uplifting moment.

The CIRT team consists of three psychologists, a chaplain and Tootsie, who when needed, always answer the call.

On this particular day, they ventured off to the Emergency Department to offer whatever support they could. During a time when we are instructed to keep our social distance, Tootsie shows us “how hungry people are for touch right now, for contact. Being with Tootsie allows people a moment of joy in a day of stress and a time that is really scary,” said Dr. Holman.

VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System was the first VA to have an acute inpatient therapy dog. Tootsie, our second therapy dog, takes her job very seriously by offering warmth and comfort to all who come in contact. Dr. Holman stated, “when we are with animals, we are in our hearts. In this setting and time, we guard our hearts and Tootsie gives us a chance to connect with the sweetness that’s inside of them.”

So, what are Tootsie’s plans as we ride out this health care crisis? As long as she can continue to support the employees, she will be available to staff. In her time off, she looks forward to lots of walks and a few playdates (with social distancing in mind, of course) to make sure she isn’t over stressed and her batteries are recharged.


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