Visits to vets and veterinary hospitals have increased amid the COVID-19 pandemic, triggering a crisis in which healthcare providers are struggling to keep up with high demand.
Veterinary hospitals across the country have reported “overworked and overworked” employees facing a more intense workload.
Some of the same pressures that affect workers in other sectors of the economy are also plaguing the veterinary industry, making it more difficult to retain employees and maintain productivity.
José Arce, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), said the spread of COVID-19 has “played a huge role” in contributing to the increase in stress, adding that new protocols implemented during the pandemic have affected daily practices in establishments and the mental health of employees.
“A lot of practices, you know, had to change the way they work, and that created a lot of stress and affected (…) the mental health and well-being of our veterinary teams, and a lot of them feel overwhelmed, ”Arce said in an interview.
“We see a wide range of experiences in hospitals across the country. Some are doing well, others are really challenged, the veterinary teams feeling overworked and overworked, ”he added.
The median number of monthly appointments per practice increased 4.5% from 2019 to 2020 and 6.5% in the first six months of this year compared to the same period in 2020, according to data compiled by Vet Success.
AVMA’s chief economist and chief veterinarian, in a comment posted last month, said the stress on the industry can in part be attributed to new COVID-19 safety protocols.
The locks applied at the start of the pandemic meant that most Americans spent more time at home, which in turn meant that more attention was paid to pets, thus increasing the possibility of recognizing diseases that would otherwise have gone unnoticed.
“The value of the pet had already climbed; the pandemic occurs, the value of the animal is even higher, ”Lisa Parshley, co-founder of Olympia Veterinary Specialists in Washington state, told The Hill.
“You sit there at home, you don’t go to work and you see Fluffy – or Spot, or Molly, whatever the dog or cat’s name – is limping or not eating as well, because now you ‘ are there to notice it, ”she added.
The AVMA also noted that many pet owners had higher disposable income during the pandemic – stimulus payments or a decrease in spending in other areas – which allowed them to spend more on them. pet care.
A backlog of appointments that has built up throughout the pandemic may also be contributing to the increase in veterinary visits, according to Arce. Some facilities during the pandemic were only seeing urgent cases to limit the number of visits.
He said animal hospitals are now facing the consequences.
“The backlog has improved, but I will say that we are still recovering from this backlog created by the pandemic,” he said.
Megan Whelan, chief medical officer at Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston, said space was now a major issue at her facility.
“We’re out of cages, so we can’t, for example, accommodate a patient for whom we don’t have a home,” Whelan told The Hill.
Shawn Messonnier – the veterinarian director of Paws and Claws Animal Hospital and Holistic Pet Center in Plano, Texas – said wait times for appointments were also on the rise. Tours are now booked at least a week in advance, versus one or two hours in advance before the pandemic.
“I agree that there is tension right now,” Messonnier said in an interview, adding that his colleagues “don’t experience a lot of downtime.”
Parshley, of Olympia Veterinary Specialists, said employee burnout was largely due to two factors: difficulties with treating animals amid COVID-19 and owners venting their “anxiety and anger.” veterinary workers.
“Families are more intense and anxious because they can’t see what you are doing because you are taking them into a black hole, so there is now a tension that comes with the families of these pets. I think that’s the root of it all, ”Parshley said.
COVID-19 restrictions at veterinary clinics mean pet owners often have to wait outside the building while care is administered inside.
“I don’t think it’s unique to vets, but I think it played a huge role,” she added.
Burnout is pushing some veterinary workers to quit their jobs, further straining an industry that was already beginning to experience a shortage of skilled workers before the pandemic.
“It’s a perfect mix for a perfect storm to start losing members of a profession, and not just to move from practice to practice, looking for the perfect practice, but to leave because they can’t do it anymore, ”Parshley said. “Compassion exhaustion, compassion fatigue, and they just can’t do it. “
Parshley also cited the high suicide rate among veterinary industry employees. According to a 2020 study by AVMA and Merck Animal Health, vets are 2.7 times more likely to attempt suicide than non-vets.
Messonnier said he was having difficulty hiring more workers in his office.
“It is extremely difficult to find people to hire. I would love to hire a few more people and we could see more patients, but we can’t find anyone, ”Messonnier said.
Whelan predicted that the woes of the veterinary industry will persist for five to six years. Part of the reason, she said, is that the new graduates are “greener” because they didn’t have as much hands-on experience in the midst of the pandemic.