ECRMC Introduces Creative Therapy Programs For Patients


The handlers in the photos are Mike Burk holding Goldie the German Shepard and Sharon Westerfield holding Mr. T the Schnauzer. Photo Courtesy of ECRMC

El Centro Regional Medical Center is getting positive results from its new productive therapy programs, said Billi Jo Achurra, hospital manager of patient and community relations and Nishall Gutierrez, department coordinator of patient community relations,  Achurra and Gutierrez are responsible for the patient’s hospital experiences, and oversee innovative productive therapies such as pet therapy, music therapy, aroma therapy, and spiritual care.

The hospital also has a new outreach campaign for the senior citizens or snowbirds, who are here for the winter season. ECRMC is the only hospital in the Imperial Valley that employs dog therapy.

It has three dogs that are certified through Therapy Dogs International and the dogs follow an actual pet therapy policy.

The dogs and their handlers each must abide by hospital policies with both required to have name tags. The dogs also have a file just like the patients and they are trained for hospital care. The dogs come to ECRMC on Thursday to visit the patients.

“The dogs bring a sense of home back to the patients.  They are good for mental and physical health, and it even brings tears to the patient’s eyes,” said Achurra. The dogs are very receptive, and can pick up the patient’s vibe and sense what the patient needs, she added. Patients are allowed to pet the dogs, cuddle, or simply have them as a temporary companion.

The hospital has a sanitary process when the dogs come to the hospital. The dogs must be bathed an hour before they come into the facility. The patient’s hands must be sanitized before they can touch the dog and their bed is covered with a particular cloth.  The patient is also sanitized after  interaction with the dogs.

ECRMC provides aroma therapy that helps patients and employees relax. The company that provides the aroma is also the same used by Disneyland and Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center. The aroma bags are placed in a special machine to diffuse the smell.

“It’s a nice distraction for the patient.  It calms their anxiety of coming in a hospital. It is beneficial to the employees as well since they are used to other aromas like in the emergency room. The aroma therapy helps mask all the uncomfortable smell,” explained Achurra and Gutierrez.

The hospital also includes aroma therapy in the MRI trailer to prevent patients from feeling claustrophobic.

Besides aroma therapy, the hospital offers music therapy and according to Achurra and Gutierrez, it is a big hit. Music therapy happens on Tuesday’s for one to two hours. All kinds of musicians come to play, including violinists, pianists and guitarists.

In order to become a musician volunteer, there is an application process done by the hospital, and anyone is welcome to pick up an application. “We have seen patients dance in the hallways with their loved ones. Others, cry of happiness because they hear their favorite song being played,” said Achurra and Gutierrez.

The spiritual care is based on a chapel program. The hospital has its own chapel inside the facility and a priest from San Diego comes five days a week.

There are two faith ministers and one Catholic priest in case a family of a patient decides to request a last rite. The senior program for snowbirds began last year when a couple of snowbirds who were in the Valley for six months kept coming in to the emergency room instead of a suggested doctor.

So, the hospital reached out and took the time to go to the snowbirds’ home, to pass out brochures and talk to them about the hospital’s services. Now the physician a snowbird uses in the Valley can communicate with the physician in Idaho, Wyoming, Michigan, and other places.

Achurra said the new therapies help the hospital achieve its goal of improved patient experiences.

“Our motto is to change the way we get things done in healthcare. We want the patient to heal their mind, body, and soul. You have to look at the whole person and the whole experience.  It is not just that they are sick, it is much more than that,” Achurra concluded.

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