“I love you.”
“You’re so smart.”
Those words of affection are often directed at Gili, the 20-month-old miniature Goldendoodle that is Northeast Georgia Health System’s first staff therapy dog.
Lynne Cox, employee assistance counselor for NGHS and Gili’s owner, said hearing staff say these things to Gili as she makes her rounds is the best part of her job.
“It’s just wonderful, and you watch their faces and see that for just a minute, it’s just them and the dog, not everything else that they are having to worry about,” said Cox.
Gili typically makes rounds at one of the health system’s locations three times per week, according to Cox. Department managers call ahead to schedule a visit.
When she is not on call, Gili stays with Cox in her office at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville. She occasionally pops in on therapy sessions or has visits from staff members who have had a rough day.
Regardless of if it is a group session or an individual, Gili makes everyone smile anywhere she goes.
During her rounds Wednesday at NGMC Gainesville's Labor and Delivery and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, nurses stopped to coo, giggle and smile while Gili performed tricks such as sneeze, take a nap and prayer hands.
Naturally, the employees were also allowed to love on Gili once they had cleaned their hands with hand sanitizer.
“She’s kind of like just a breath of fresh air,” said Maggie Mimms, a Labor and Delivery nurse at NGMC Gainesville. “You can be in a bad mood all morning and then she comes up and you can’t be in a bad mood around a dog, especially a dog like her…she’s been a light in this dark time.”
It is no secret that staff across the health system’s eight locations have been struggling physically, mentally and emotionally throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ellen Smith, a nurse in Labor and Delivery with Mimms, said Gili’s visits have helped to ease some of these struggles.
“I would say it reduces anxiety and stress, which has been very helpful,” said Smith.
Since Gili first started going on visits in February of this year, she has met roughly 3,000 NGHS staff members across all hospital campuses during more than 50 visits.
“She was purchased and trained to see all of our clinical and non-clinical employees,” said Cox.
Gili is used to the pandemic protocols at the hospital, as well. Cox purchased her from a breeder on March 2, 2020, just shy of a week before the world shut down.
“She is a pandemic baby, Gili has been raised with hand sanitizer and faces with masks,” said Cox. “She came to work the very first day that I got her, and ten days later everything shut down.”
Cox said Gili worked with a local trainer in areas such as basic and advanced obedience, as well as trick dog classes. She also has her K9 Good Citizen certificate.
And in keeping with her status as an NGHS “employee”, Gili wears an NGHS embroidered vest and employee name badge each time she is on a visit.
“Having her has been one of the most gratifying things that I’ve been able to do,” said Cox. “You see these people that have been giving so much, and for them to be able to just stop for a minute and be able to detach and distract themselves a little bit with a little puppy love is amazing.”