The Life of a Veterinary Clinic During COVID
If you have contacted or visited us since the start of this pandemic, you have undoubtedly noticed changes in the way we operate. Back in March, we had to dramatically shift our business model to curbside service, no longer allowing clients in the building. At the same time, we had to reduce our staffing in order to accommodate social distancing within our hospital and reallocate staff space within the clinic to allow for as little cross-contact as possible. A reduction in clinic hours was necessary, as well as scheduling longer appointments, to ensure that we had adequate time to complete our new protocols. The fallout of all this was decreased availability. With stay-at-home orders in place, wellness care was suspended, and the sick pets were getting sicker. We had already started telemedicine, but suddenly it skyrocketed in ways we never could have anticipated. It was a challenging time. Our leadership team held virtual meetings seven days a week, troubleshooting, finding solutions, and reinventing the way we do business. Even so, like many, we imagined this would be temporary.
More than four months later, we no longer think of this as temporary. COVID infection rates are higher than ever. This reality is here to stay, at least for a while. As a clinic, we are working toward more permanent solutions to improve our processes, our efficiency, and availability while we all do our part to ensure the health and safety of our staff, our clients, and our community. It is not easy.
All the while, we continue to see patients. If you have called us, you know – we are BUSY. Our phones ring non-stop, our email alone is a full-time 10-hr/day job, schedules are jam packed, our waitlists are long, and every single day our teams are masking up and come in, on a mission to help as many pets as we can. We care so much about your pets. Multiple times a day, front desk staff is scrambling to magically create more time on the schedule, coordinating with doctor teams – Can we work in one more? One more admission? One more urgent care? This one really needs to be seen, too. We pray for cancellations, pets who are feeling better, so we can pull from our waitlists and see a pet in need. It breaks our hearts when we have a no-show – our time is so precious that all we can see in that vacant slot are the pets we had to turn away earlier in the day.
Our staff is extraordinary. There is something about vet med. Something about the people this work draws. I have never worked with such committed, inspired, and empathetic people. Empathy is required when working with animals. It simply is.
When an emergency suddenly walks in, our teams drop everything and coordinate seamlessly – vitals, patient history, oxygen, drugs, x-ray, whatever is needed, the focus becomes singular. Work together, help the animal, save the life. It is the essence of our purpose and I am so proud of our teams in those moments. …Yet, even though we always do all that we can, we don’t always succeed. And when we don’t, there are always tears. Even if it was a pet we didn’t know, belonging to a client we had never seen before. Our staff grieves for the loss. We spend the rest of the day with a pain in our heart, even as we put on a smile and turn to the next patient, as we tackle our now backlogged schedule.
Our teams work through lunches. Through break times. They stay hours after closing. Doctors work on charts from home, often late into the night, after the kids go to bed, because there was not enough time during the day. We do this because we care about your pets. We have a passion for what we do. It is our mission to help. We try so hard, and it truly pains us when we can’t help them all.
But there are limits to what we can do. Burnout is real and COVID is real and we must protect the health of our staff. If we can’t stay safe, we can’t help anyone. We are doing our best to see as many patients as possible, but there is only so much time in a day, especially under the weight of the COVID protocols that help keep us all safe. Time has become our currency. Everything takes longer now.
Wellness services are trickling back, but it’s just a precious little trickle. Our schedule remains restricted and the needs of sick pets must come first. Our wellness waitlist is enormous. This is happening across vet med all over the country, as a result of COVID. We are working on it.
Even sick pet visits can be scarce on short notice. We will do our very best to schedule your pet as soon as we can. We will triage their needs. If we can work them in as an admission or an urgent care, we will do so. There might be times when we recommend emergency care at an outside hospital. If we do so, it is not because we don’t care. We are trying to serve the best interest of your pet. We want them to have the level of care they deserve, and our teams can only stretch so far.
These are stressful and anxious times for everyone. We know your lives have been difficult too, and if you are calling us, chances are you are worried about a precious member of your family. We are here for you. Please allow us to help you in the best way that we can. And as we do, please recognize that we always care. Please be patient. Please be kind. And please wear a mask when you arrive.