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News: Animal Assisted Therapy Law Changed

A small group of Centegra Health System Associates decided six years ago that to build a sound, successful Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) Program locally, they needed to change state regulation. So they did. New Illinois Department of Public Health regulation was adopted into law on August 12, 2008 and will allow Illinois hospitals to develop AAT programs that will add an important component to modern patient care.

Six years ago when the group began talking about the possibility of beginning an official AAT Program, they ran across an antiquated IDPH regulation that prohibited therapy animals from visiting in patient care areas.

“The passage of this revision will make a significant difference in the ability of hospitals to implement AAT programs that have proven benefits to all types of patients,”  said Bonnie Saban, manager of volunteer services at Centegra Health System. “It’s very rewarding to know that our work will impact hospitals all over the state of Illinois.” 

On February 9, 2005, Dr. Irfan Hafiz, co-chair of the Centegra Health System Infection Control Committee, and the AAT Committee went before the IDPH Governing Board to offer a proposal to revise the regulation and received unanimous approval to go forward with the proposal.

“For the next three years we continued to work with the IDPH Governing Board and their legal department to develop the language for the new regulation,”  Saban said. “This regulation recognizes not only the benefits to patients but aligns safety measures with the current CDC regulation on AAT.” 

The regulation states, “The Hospital Licensing Requirements are being amended to include a section on Animal-Assisted Therapy. A growing body of knowledge suggests that using animals in therapy can be a means for hospital patients to have shorter recovery periods and increased motivation to participate in other traditional therapies, resulting in shorter hospital stays.” 

Studies show AAT can improve a patients’ sense of well-being, reduce blood pressure, loneliness, stress and anxiety. It has also been shown to improve patients’ physical functioning as well as motivate them in the recovery process.

Centegra therapy dogs have also been visiting associates in the Medical Records Department at Centegra Hospital – McHenry for about one year. These visits began as a result of a study that showed associates who had regular interactions with therapy dogs were more satisfied and more productive in their work.

“A little puppy love is good for everyone,”  Saban said.

Committee members are Saban and the following:

  • Carol Block, coordinator of performance improvement and patient satisfaction
  • Angela Brown, recreation therapist at the skilled nursing facility and sub-acute rehabilitation
  • Diane Doty-Brown, committee co-chair and former Centegra Health System Infection
  • Control Practioner, now a nurse with the Department of Health
  • Katherine Feuillan, recreation therapist at Centegra Hospital-McHenry
  • Kris Germain, supervisor of the rehab network
  • Ria Moreland, volunteer coordinator of AAT
  • Cindy Schweder, infection control practioner
  • Ursula Torgersen, infection control practioner
  • Karen VanBuren, infection control practioner.
  • For more information about Centegra’s AAT program, call (815) 759-4203.

Centegra Health System is committed to meeting the healthcare needs of the residents of greater McHenry County and to making services available in multiple and convenient locations, including hospitals in McHenry and Woodstock, Immediate and Primary Care centers, Health Bridge Fitness Centers and more. As the region’s leading healthcare provider, Centegra Health System continues to bring the latest treatments and technology, along with the skills of nearly 4,000 medical professionals, to meet the needs of the growing McHenry County community. For more information on Centegra Health System visit or call 877-CENTEGRA.