NJ Department of Health issues request for proposal to support employee well-being through pet therapy initiatives
NEW JERSEY – The New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) is currently seeking proposals from up to four canine support vendors under its proposed six-month Project Willow Animal Assisted Support Employee Wellness Program.
The goal of the initiative, funded under a grant from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is to foster a positive, supportive and comfortable work environment for employees with the implementation of certified therapy dog visits at 12 designated NJDOH sites regionally located throughout the state.
The vendors must deploy certified and insured handlers and therapy dogs, develop educational materials for employees prior to the start of visits, and provide group pet therapy sessions. Details on the vendor bid, which closes on February 3, are available here.
Research has shown that therapy dogs in the workplace can lead to increased social support for employees; increased employee productivity and engagement; enhanced physical health; lower overall stress levels and other benefits.
Since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, NJDOH employees have been joined by an unofficial staff member – Willow, a 10-year-old therapy dog whose calming presence has helped staff cope with the challenging work of protecting and improving public health on behalf of New Jersey communities. In recognition of the many benefits provided by therapy dogs such as Willow, NJDOH is creating two initiatives to integrate additional therapy dogs as part of employee wellness programs at state and local health departments.
“Working long and exhausting hours throughout the pandemic has increased stress and anxiety among NJDOH employees,” said Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. “Willow’s engagement with NJDOH staff has provided a comfortable space and helped decrease stress as employees continue their mission to improve public health. All employees can benefit from these initiatives to improve emotional well-being, which would be a wonderful and lasting legacy for Willow.”
Through a second initiative that is under development, therapy dogs and handlers would be embedded for one-year increments among existing staff at state, county, and local health departments. The program is funded under a separate recent CDC grant New Jersey also received to support the Department’s work. Among other uses of this funding, the grant is meant to help facilitate the recruitment and retention of New Jersey’s public health workforce.
Willow, a rescued American Staffordshire Terrier who also works as a therapy dog outside of the office, is a fixture at staff meetings. As she makes her way through the Department hallways with her NJDOH owner/handler several days per week, she greets staff members throughout the building. Staff report enjoying giving her back rubs and even celebrating her birthday. Willow is also available for personal visits and on-demand visits such as for employees who experienced a loss of a colleague during the pandemic.