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Chapter 14: Tales from the COVID-19 front lines

“If you take care of your staff and yourself today, they and you will be around tomorrow.”

Chapter 14: Tales from the COVID-19 front linesThis week: Dr. Peter Weinstein on the need to pace yourself, Sandy Walsh on staff burnout, Kara Burns on the importance of self-care, and more. Read other installments in this series: Chapter 1  Chapter 2  Chapter 3  Chapter 4  Chapter 5  Chapter 6 Chapter 7  Chapter 8  Chapter 9  Chapter 10  Chapter 11  Chapter 12  Chapter 13  Chapter 15
Veterinary industry consultant and Southern California Veterinary Medical Association executive director Peter Weinstein, DVM, MBA “Fried.” “Cooked.” “Over it.” “Exhausted.” “Done.” These were among the terms used by some friends and colleagues on phone calls last week. The calls represented veterinarians, associate veterinarians, hospital administrators and even consultants reporting on their clients. What started out as a sprint morphed into a marathon and is becoming an ultratriathlon. As the heat rises, the curbside becomes more uncomfortable. As the clients’ demands rise, the heat rises (metaphorically). It is hard to want business to slow down, but way too many practices are running their engines into the red zone. They are approaching burning up the car. Whether it is too few staff, not enough doctors, too much demand, not enough supply, inefficiencies or a combination of all of the above plus others, veterinary practices are reaching a critical point. Being a controlled busy is good; being uncontrolled busy is dangerous. Oh, and don’t let me forget: We are doing this with the guillotine of a virus lingering over our heads. If you take care of your staff and yourself today, they and you will be around tomorrow. Somehow, someway, you need to make a decision to slow the engine for a few days here and there. I would like to be able to predict when business will slow down (and it will), but my crystal ball is a bit foggy these days. And my Magic 8-Ball reply was “Ask again later.” Thus, it is a leadership decision for the physical and, more importantly, the mental health of those around you. Close for a long weekend, say three or four days. Pick a weekday to close. Try to figure out how to say “no.” (Read “When I Say No, I Feel Guilty,” by Manuel J. Smith.) This discussion is scary. The economic uncertainty encourages us to want to keep business busy to pay the bills. The demand from clients is unusually good and, like fishing season, you want to catch as many as you are allowed. But is the impact on you and your team worth it? We are a fragile profession mentally as it is. Please be careful about the long-term damage that we can cause by trying to be everything to everybody right now. Take care of your team now and they will be there for you later. Take care of yourself now so you’ll be there for your team and your clients later. Trust me, your clients will understand. They want you around for the long haul. So stop sprinting and start pacing yourself.
Getting Technical columnist, practice management consultant and Patterson Veterinary University instructor Sandy Walsh, RVT, CVPM It is definitely summer. Practices are busy with the typical summertime cases and trying to catch up on all the wellness that was postponed in previous months. Great for revenue, but it’s increasingly difficult to keep up with the demand. Appointment schedules are booked out days in advance. We are getting worn out. Most practices are having a difficult time maintaining staffing levels, and employees are finding it difficult to take time off. The result is high levels of frustration and burnout among the staff. Clients are still cranky. Whether it is the longer wait times with curbside care or the requirement to wear a face covering or not being allowed to accompany their pet inside the hospital, de-escalation is now the word of the day. And we are getting good at it. On the bright side, even with the recent spikes in COVID, we are persevering. There is still a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s just flickering a bit more.
Today’s Veterinary Nurse editor-in-chief and NAVC director of veterinary nursing Kara Burns, MS, MEd, LVT, VTS (Nutrition) COVID-19 cases in July have increased across much of the country. Many veterinary hospitals are still following the “new normal” protocols or have reverted to such protocols, thus accepting that this will be the new way of practicing veterinary medicine for the unforeseeable future. Hospitals are continuing with curbside pickup, phone histories and discharges, and required face coverings for all, including clients. I continue to hear that the majority of practices across the country are busier than prior to the pandemic. This is supported by increased revenue in hospitals. Normally, this would be a great thing, right? Well, these times are not normal. Increased revenue is a good thing, but not at the expense of the veterinary team. I am seeing and hearing that team members are exhausted, burned out and anxious about their own situations. They continue to suffer mistreatment from insolent and disrespectful clients. The veterinary profession needs to allow all its members to focus on themselves like they focus on their patients. We know the veterinary team is essential. Our profession already was facing a stressful work environment prior to the pandemic, and although we faced this new challenge head on, it has taken a visible toll on veterinary teams. Take the time to care for yourself with the same passion and compassion that you use on pets and their owners. We are all stressed and anxious as this pandemic continues in uncertain times. We must allow our teammates to take a day off to recharge, and we should rotate the areas in the hospital the support teams work in so that they are not faced with the same stressors every day. Celebrate the entire hospital team, smile and let your colleagues know you care. I have seen this being done in the hospitals that are weathering the pandemic. Are they still faced with stressful times? Yes, but the support and appreciation from colleagues helps to buoy them in the sea of anxiety. At the end of the day we can either focus on what is tearing us apart, or we can focus on what is keeping us together. We are all in this together. Be kind to one another.
Beyond Indigo Pets president and Today’s Veterinary Business editorial adviser Kelly Baltzell, MA Let me start with the good. Veterinary hospitals are still busy and showing better results month over month and year over year. For example: The second quarter of 2020 was a fantastic quarter for my clients’ websites. For example, compared with the first quarter, one client recorded a 65% increase in users, a 49% increase in traffic from the metro area, an 84% increase in traffic from mobile phones and an 81% increase in traffic from organic search. A second example is one my clients is booked out two weeks in advance and has seen 60% year-over-year growth. Now the bad: Veterinary staffs are starting to burn out with managing COVID and the business growth. It is hard to keep up the high stress level without something “giving.” Dr. Peter Weinstein discussed with me what the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association is seeing from its membership. To view the episode, please go to bit.ly/2ASrnZg. And the ugly: I thought some of my clients might miss the experience of really angry clients, but alas, that is not the case. A few of my client hospitals have had to call the police because pet owners were too much out of control. I also had reports that a few hospitals are firing some clients because of their aggression.
The Vet Recruiter founder and CEO Stacy Pursell, CPC, CERS I am incredibly busy helping my clients find the veterinarians they need to hire. My clients tell me they are busier than pre-COVID. Because of curbside pickups, some say they are doing longer appointment times and that pet owners are becoming irritable and demanding. Veterinary practice owners are complaining about pet owners being rude and impatient, and some clinics have had to fire some. Clinics are complaining about being shorthanded and in serious need of hiring additional doctors and staff members. Practice owners continue to report there are not enough doctors to go around, and some clinics have a waiting list of pet owners trying to schedule appointments. One practice owner told me they have a two-month waiting list. My firm has seen a higher interest in people wanting to relocate to other parts of the country, especially from the Northeast to places like Florida or Texas. A recent CNN article — read it at cnn.it/3flJQwm — reported that about a fifth of U.S. adults have moved due to COVID-19 or know someone who did.
Creative Disruption columnist and WellHaven Pet Health chief medical officer Bob Lester, DVM Pandemic, recession, social unrest, global warming. We live in challenging times. Additionally, we find our society divided. Left versus right, red versus blue, rural versus urban, religious versus atheist, young versus old, North versus South. Historically, in times of crisis, people came together. It doesn’t feel like it this time. Ever the optimist, I note one remarkably powerful unifying factor dominating hearths and hearts across all beliefs and silos. Now more than ever, pets are uniting us. Regardless of political views, status, religion or geography. Pets bring us together. We all benefit from the healing power of pets. What we do as veterinary professionals in supporting the magic bond between pets and people has never been more important. Families’ need for companionship, unconditional love, stability, purpose and connection has never been greater. We are making a difference. As pet owners, we all enjoy longer and happier lives. Pet owners have better heart health, maintain a healthier weight, suffer less emotional stress, are more socially connected and are less lonely. Exactly what’s needed in these challenging times. Veterinary professionals are making a difference in the lives of pet families every day. Count yourself among the COVID-19 heroes. You are making a difference. I continue to be proud to be a veterinary professional.
We want to hear from you: How has the COVID-19 emergency affected you, your practice or your veterinary business? Email editor Ken Niedziela at [email protected].
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