VIRGINIA BEACH, Va .– At Animal Medical Center in Virginia Beach, it’s 8 a.m., the day is just beginning, and the phones are already ringing.
“If you want to curse me, I’m going to have to hang up on you,” a receptionist replied calmly to an angry caller.
It’s a typical day in a clinic that has been slammed with patients since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve gone from three phone lines and all we need is three phone lines all of a sudden a lot more [calls] on those lines, ”said Dr. Ashley Powell, veterinarian at Animal Medical Center.
She estimates that appointments have increased by 30% in the past year due to an increase in the number of pet owners during the pandemic. At the same time, finding enough help in a profession notoriously difficult to staff has been difficult.
Coupled with COVID-19 protocols, wait times have increased and as a result encounters with rude and unruly clients have also increased.
“We have a lot of people calling and they are really frustrated with us. Just know that on our side we are working as hard as we can to see as many pets as possible,” said Powell, who also serves as Chairman. of the Coastal Virginia Veterinary Medical Association, an organization made up of area veterinary clinics.
Powell says virtual meetings with other association members revealed common issues.
In response, the group hired a public relations firm and launched a new awareness campaign called Paws to be Kind, asking clients to be aware that their vet clinic is likely overwhelmed and to have understanding.
It also asks to arrive on time for appointments, and if a person is going to be extremely late or unable to attend, to call ahead so that the time of the appointment can be occupied by another. pet wishing to be seen.
The campaign covers general medicine clinics as well as local emergency clinics, which are also seeing a sharp increase in visits.
“We are seeing an influx of emerging and less critical cases and unfortunately the less critical are experiencing longer wait times, which is frustrating for many clients,” said Dr Sarah Meador, chief veterinarian at Acredale Animal Hospital in Virginia Beach, one of the few local clinics to handle general appointments and emergencies.
Traditionally a general practitioner veterinarian, Meador has had to change roles on an emergency basis to cover ongoing staff shortages in an area where burnout is a very real possibility.
“It’s usually a 12 hour shift. I usually don’t have time to make reminders until my shift is over, which ends up being 14, 15 hours most days,” he said. she told News 3.
But despite the challenges, Meador still enjoys the job she wanted to do since she was a little girl.
“If the clients have said ‘Thank you’ and I have helped a lot of patients, it is rewarding and I come home feeling appreciated.”