Colleagues discuss what it’s like to give back to patients through Final Roll Call, Caring Canines

Jenn Rodemeyer and Murphy, and Fred Regennitter, D.D.S.

In a "Mayo Clinic Employee Experiences" conversation, Fred Regennitter, D.D.S., emeritus Mayo Clinic staff member, and Jenn Rodemeyer, a child life manager, share their experiences of giving back to patients through the volunteer programs Final Roll Call and Caring Canines.

"Mayo Clinic Employee Experiences" explores the shared experiences of Mayo Clinic staff as they navigate life personally and professionally. Sharing these experiences increases understanding of others, and Mayo Clinic's culture and values, and ultimately contributes to finding connections, belonging and inclusion at work.   

In this conversation, you will hear from Fred Regennitter, D.D.S., an emeritus staff member who was an orthodontist at Mayo Clinic from 2001 to 2018, and Jenn Rodemeyer, a manager for the Child Life Program. They discuss their experiences of giving back to patients through volunteer programs at Mayo Clinic.

Dr. Regennitter is a retired Army colonel who is a volunteer at Final Roll Call, where volunteers pay tribute to service members in their final days. Rodemeyer and her dog, Murphy, volunteer with the Caring Canines program, where specially trained and certified dogs provide companionship and comfort to patients seeking care at Mayo Clinic.

Listen as Dr. Regennitter and Rodemeyer share their experiences in this podcast episode on Transistor:

Read the transcript

Narrator: This is the "Mayo Clinic Employee Experiences" podcast, where we build trust and belonging through the authentic storytelling of our Mayo Clinic staff. In this episode, you will hear Fred, an emeritus Mayo Clinic staff member who was an orthodontist at Mayo from 2001 to 2018, and Jenn, a Child Life manager, discuss their experiences giving back to our patients through Mayo Clinic volunteer programs.

Dr. Regennitter: I retired from the Army as a colonel. I was in from 1971 to 1995. After that I taught at the University of Louisville for six years before coming north to Mayo Clinic. I retired — sort of — but I became involved with the volunteer programs here at Mayo Clinic. One of those programs was No One Dies Alone, otherwise known as NODA. From that, I got involved with a veterans' recognition program that was renamed Final Roll Call at Mayo Clinic, and I've enjoyed it.

I was also pleased to be sharing this podcast with Jenn from our Caring Canines, and I'd be interested in how you got involved with Caring Canines.

Rodemeyer: First of all, thank you for your service. I want to acknowledge that service you've put in both with the military and your work here at Mayo Clinic.

I am a Child Life manager, and I have been here at Mayo Clinic since 2002. It was during my time here working with patients and families that I saw the value of having therapy dogs brought to our program. I always had a dream of maybe someday bringing a dog here to visit patients. But it wasn't until (Murphy) was about three years old that I really thought his temperament would be a really good fit to be a therapy dog here, and that's when I looked into how I could be part of the Caring Canines program.

When I moved into the manager position, I no longer had direct patient care responsibilities on a regular basis. I missed seeing patients, and I missed being with the kids. I thought this was an excellent way to see how I could make this work.

Tell me more about Final Roll Call.

Dr. Regennitter: Mayo Clinic has had a long tradition with the military. Both Charlie and Will [Mayo] were commissioned as Brigadier Generals in the Reserve Army medical core in 1921. This goes back a long way. To this day, there are military members on Mayo Clinic staff and allied health staff who were on active duty at one time or another. Perhaps, they are also retired. Many, many, many continue to serve in the reserves in some form or capacity.

This long history includes caring for veterans and participating in the Department of Veteran Affairs community healthcare network. This program, among other things, makes it possible for veterans to receive authorization for care at Mayo Clinic Health System locations where the community care requirements are met and are authorized by the VA.

Mayo Clinics is also a partner with the We Honor Veterans program. This is run by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. Veterans' recognition here at the clinic is known as Final Roll Call. It's in collaboration with the Palliative Care teams at Methodist and Saint Marys. A veteran's family will request this ceremony. Then the clinic and the Palliative Care team, specifically, will present a commemorative coin, a flag and a letter from the clinic recognizing the service member's role in the nation's defense. They'll receive gratitude and respect and a final salute from members.

Oftentimes, the team is accompanied by a musician who will play music and highlight the branch member's song — the Army's song, the Air Force's song or the Navy's song. Even when patients are not cognitively aware, many times you'll see this recognition — just the musicology — and see a smile appear.

Rodemeyer: What a cool thing to offer and to honor these patients in that way. I can only picture what it looks like. I bet it's pretty emotional. And what a special thing for the family to participate and even staff to participate in.

Dr. Regennitter: As often as the Palliative Care team sees this, I'm always amazed at their dedication. It's just amazing that they can continue to do this on a day-to-day basis. You're probably familiar with some of those beneficiaries as well, with the Caring Canines program.

Rodemeyer: Caring Canines is supported through Volunteer Services, and people bring their own personal pets here to spread joy to patients and families. Caring Canines can visit throughout the entire hospital, as long as the patient isn't in isolation and doesn't have specific restrictions.

When families are here, and they're in the middle of trauma or a crisis or there was news of a new diagnosis, or a sibling is here visiting a sibling who might be intubated and sedated — bringing an animal to that environment allows everyone to forget for a split second the reason why everybody's here. These four-legged animals come in and just brighten up the room. I'm really thankful that people volunteer their time.

Not all dogs are fit for the program. Personally, I was a little nervous about our dog because our dog likes to be around other dogs. I took a course to see if he would potentially be a fit to be here. We have the opportunity to have IV poles go by us, wheelchairs go by us, walkers go by us, have meal trays — does the dog react and respond OK in those situations?

After I took the class, I went through a certification process for him to become a therapy dog. I started bringing in Murphy on a monthly basis. I look forward to that time and cherish each and every moment. We're stopped along the way either by staff leaving their shift and needing a little bit of joy, or patients and families that we meet on the lobby level of the hospital.

What are some things that you experience when you're volunteering with patients and families?

Dr. Regennitter: We're in usually the Palliative Care section. This is kind of the end of days. So, sometimes they're quiet. Sometimes, they want to share their experiences. The care team is there to recognize them if they're lucky enough to have family members around. Often, if they're talkative, they share experiences that many times family members had no idea they did — large or small — whether they were deployed or were in some sort of connected support role. They're all important roles in our nation's defense.

If you're a veteran and you're talking to another veteran, they talk a little bit more because there are some shared experiences of overseas deployment or loneliness, or separation from family. The family members like to hear those stories, and the veterans like to tell them.

Rodemeyer: What an incredible memory for the family to hear that story.

Dr. Regennitter: You did talk a little bit about Murphy's training. But do you have any special training that goes along with this in the volunteer role?

Rodemeyer: To be in this role, you have to be able to have meaningful conversations with families. None of it is scripted. Another skill is being a listener in these situations. Not that you have to be trained in any way to listen, but being present and listening is key. And then, just always remembering to have fun in these situations, and how being a light and being a joy-maker for that split second is so important. And even though I volunteer in the same environment where I work, it's easy for me to take off that hat because I have a different focus and a different purpose when I'm giving back in that way of volunteering.

Is there one specific situation that really stands out to you of a time when you were just so excited about what was just being offered to this family?

Dr. Regennitter: There was one Vietnam Vet who was not very responsive. The musicologist played the branch song for the Army, and his eyes lit up. He raised his arm in a salute to no one. But it was just kind of a ...

Rodemeyer: … moment you won't forget.

Dr. Regennitter: Yeah, very heartwarming. Just having the folks in there see that was pretty cool. You probably have a similar story.

Rodemeyer: The story that really stands out for me was when I was the child life specialist at the time in the room with the patient. I had asked the volunteer to come in with the therapy dog. The mom was struggling to tell this teen patient about her oncology diagnosis being terminal. I had shared with the volunteer ahead of time and told the volunteer to just be a listener in this situation. "Don't feel that you have to say anything. I think the dog's going speak for all." And yeah, I got a lump in my throat sharing this story, too because the dog was a fairly big dog and ended up climbing right in bed right next to the patient.

I still see the patient just petting the dog. The mom said, "Do you know what the outcome is going to be with your cancer?" And she said, "Mom, you don't need to say anything right now." She (the mom) says, "I know." And the patient goes, "I just need to be in this moment and pet this dog." And it was complete silence in the room for a handful of minutes.

After she was ready, the patient said, "Mom. I know I'm going to die from this." And again, all three of us in the room just had tears in our eyes. But what an effective tool. The dog was able to help this patient cope and come up with the courage to be able to say those words. It was a pretty powerful moment, and I am so thankful that we had a volunteer with the dog who was able to help that patient in that situation.

Dr. Regennitter: That's an amazing story. I think it's an important part of the care that we give at Mayo Clinic.

Rodemeyer: When you think of the needs of the patient come first, it's an honor and a privilege not only to work at an organization that really holds true to that value but then to be able to turn around and give in this way of volunteering here.

I can't imagine going anywhere else with Murphy, and I'm glad I'm here. Fred, I'm glad you are able to come back here and be able to share and highlight these incredible people.

Dr. Regennitter: As you said as you said, Jenn, it's an honor and a privilege.

Rodemeyer: I can't say enough about the support. After listening to you talk about the support that you get from Palliative Care, I feel that Mayo does an incredible job supporting volunteers.

Dr. Regennitter: People feel a sense of fulfillment when they volunteer. They know that they're making a difference in the lives of others, and others volunteer for the sense of gratitude for the opportunity to give back.

The No One Dies Alone program seems to provide veteran-centric care and support for those who have served our nation. It's an honor to recognize this service and sacrifice and ensure that they receive the best care possible in their final days. We get the training to handle veteran-specific physical and emotional needs when they come to this point in their lives.

And I just like to echo your sentiments that volunteering can be a very rich and enriching experience. It can help you grow as a person, and you make a positive impact on the world around you. There's an urgent need, as in your area, for employees who are veterans to consider serving in this particular service area.

Rodemeyer: We've each been blessed to be a blessing to others and find a way to be able to use those gifts that you've been given. I would strongly suggest that anybody who is considering (volunteering) to think of what gifts they have and how they can give them. When you think of all the good that comes out of what your program has done for so many, (it would be great) if others could share in that way, too.

Dr. Regennitter: It's the culture in Mayo Clinic, right?

Rodemeyer: It is. That's why we're here.

Narrator: Thank you both for sharing your experience giving back to others and volunteering in this way. Both are impactful for our patients and their families. We appreciate you.

Sharing experiences like these increases our understanding of one another and ultimately contributes to finding connections, belonging and inclusion at work. For more stories, subscribe to "Mayo Clinic Employee Experiences" on popular podcast apps.

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