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Richmond emergency vet swamped with staff shortages, unprecedented caseloads

Richmond emergency vet swamped with staff shortages, unprecedented caseloads
Posted at 11:28 PM, Oct 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-06 23:48:02-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- A Richmond 24-hour emergency vet reported reaching capacity Tuesday night, saying that had become a weekly occurrence amid staffing shortages and an influx of sick and injured pets.

"We are experiencing a caseload unlike anything I’ve really ever seen in the 17 years that I’ve been here and the 20 plus years I’ve been in veterinary medicine," said Stephanie, the Nursing Director at Virginia Veterinary Centers.

The Licensed Veterinary Technician said the hospital had always been busy but never like this. She said that wasn't just the case at Virginia Veterinary Centers.

"Last night was an example where all the ERs in the Richmond area had closed to receiving. Which meant if you had a pet with an emergency, you were having to drive an hour and a half plus to find a veterinarian or an emergency center that was open," Stephanie said. "It was just sort of a perfect storm with incoming and staffing shortages, there’s staffing shortages across most industries and veterinary medicine is certainly no exception."

Jessica, a Licensed Veterinary Technician working predominantly in emergency and critical care, said Tuesday night was intense due to the sheer volume of patients.

"I think our assistant that was doing triages yesterday, I mean, it was just back-to-back-to-back," Jessica said.

She said a lot of primary care vets in the area were at their own capacity and weren't taking on new patients.

"Because of their increased caseload, they send them over to us," she said. "And they just keep coming."

For 30-plus years, Stephanie said the life-saving work inside Virginia Veterinary Centers in Carytown meant never turning a pet away.

"The level of medicine we’re able to practice here is phenomenal," Stephanie said.

But within the last six months, the hospital had to make the difficult decision to begin closing to receiving when reaching a certain threshold.

"We set up parameters of when we needed to do so, and we also put a lot of trust in our staff that when they said, 'Hey I can’t take anymore. I can’t adequately take care of the patients that are here,' that we needed to trust that they couldn’t do so," said Stephanie.

She said since that decision, capacity was being reached on a weekly basis.

"If we continue to receive when we reach that capacity, we simply can’t properly take care of the pets that are here hospitalized," she said.

Stephanie said the hospital could use at least another ten licensed technicians, another 20 assistants and another five doctors. She believed staffing shortages contributed to the issue but said it wasn't the only factor.

"The staffing is a component, I think. Another huge component is the number of people who own pets now. The adoption and purchase from breeders skyrocketed through COVID," said Stephanie.

She also believed more people working from home, able to observe their pets, played a role.

She said the long hours and high volumes were taking a toll on staff.

"Having the general community understand what’s happening, that we are all working are absolute hardest. We’re all working harder than we’ve ever worked in our entire careers," said Stephanie. "When we do close to receiving, we try to open our doors just as absolutely soon as possible."

She recommended owners not wait to make a call to their primary vet if they notice a problem with their pet. Especially, as she said patients may have to wait longer to be seen by a primary vet as well.

For those experiencing a true pet emergency, she recommended calling an emergency vet ahead of time.

"Just call ahead of time so you don't waste precious time traveling to one facility that may have already been closed," Stephanie said.

She said the hospital could also provide callers with alternate options if the ER was already at capacity.

She added that the Virginia Veterinary Centers Midlothian location had opened an urgent care, three days a week, for pets needing non-life-threatening care.