A 3-year-old child works at MultiCare Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup. It has four legs.
Sam, a purebred German shepherd, has been walking the hospital with K-9 handler Frank Fuchs since early September.
Site security and hospitality operations manager Justin Worthington said the hospital acquired the pair to give patients, staff and visitors an extra level of comfort and protection.
Sam is a dual purpose K-9. That means he’s trained in patrol procedures and drug detection, Worthington said. However, Sam can also provide a “calming and de-stressing factor” by interacting with people.
“He’s very social, always willing to work and very focused,” Fuchs said.
An unexpected result the hospital found with Sam was its therapeutic effect, Worthington said. Sometimes, his presence helps calm patients who are afraid of the procedures they are about to undergo.
Worthington recalls that there is a pediatric patient who is about to receive some vaccines. The patient was “really scared” but calmed down when Sam lay down next to the patient and let the clinical team work.
Worthington said people’s response to Sam has been “very positive.”
“His demeanor fits in very well here,” Worthington said.
Earlier this year, Fuchs was tasked with visiting a K-9 training school to select a potential partner. She chose Sam out of 14 dogs because of his good concentration and good temperament.
Sam’s training, answering machine and other things cost about $100,000, Worthington said.
The Good Samaritan Foundation funds Sam’s training classes and response tool, among other things. They also pay for food and veterinary expenses, Worthington said. Sam walks home with Fuchs.
Rebuilding the hospital’s security department is one of Worthington’s goals since joining the department. Having a K-9 contributed to that goal as Sam helped de-escalate the situation, he said.
“The driving force behind getting a K-9 is that we’re dealing with this epidemic of lawlessness in our community and the increasing workplace violence against healthcare workers,” Worthington said. “It’s something that’s really well studied and documented. It keeps going up and up. “Many people don’t realize that health care workers face violence at the highest level in almost any career field, including law enforcement.”
Public information officer Scott Thompson said Sam’s training is similar to what a police dog goes through, except Sam and his handler practice hospital-specific scenarios.
“Sam is a dual-purpose dog, meaning he can bark and bite on command; however, we would only use it in the most extreme circumstances, such as a life-threatening encounter with an armed intruder,” Thompson wrote via email. “The second function is drug detection, which we use to find and keep drugs out of the hospital because they can interfere with patient care.”
He said it was important to find a social dog for the hospital, and they found it was Sam.
“… he was chosen for his behavior because it allows him to have a dog that provides comfort and therapeutic interaction in addition to his patrol and drug detection functions,” Thompson said.
Sam and Fuchs aren’t the only duo at MultiCare. Tacoma General Hospital and Auburn Medical Center also have K-9s and handlers — duos they got before Good Samaritan.
The first public hospital to get a K-9 was Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Worthington said.