Burnt out and overwhelmed: Medicine Hat vet clinics turning away people and their pets

Weiss says those sorts of comments take a toll on the clinic’s veterinarians and other staff, who Weiss says are doing the best they can with the limited resources they have.

Crossroads is currently short doctors and support staff. Hours have been reduced and changes are being made to how services are provided. The biggest change is moving to a triage system for emergency calls

“How badly do you need to be seen? Is it, are you unable to walk? Is it bleeding? Has it been hit by a car? Is it you know vomiting and diarrhea? It depends on the symptoms how fast you get booked in,” says Weiss.

It’s a similar story at Cypress View Veterinary Clinic where it’s currently a skeleton staff right now due to summer vacations.

Director of administration Marena Goehring says it’s hard enough to keep up with regular wellness care for animals.

Emergencies just add to the burden.

“Every day we put aside a lot of slots for urgent care and those get booked up within the first hour which means then we can’t get you in unless it’s really an emergency,” she says. “So we have to prioritize those cases.”

Like Crossroads, Cypress View gives priority to its existing clients.

“It’s really tough and we don’t like it because we want to be able to provide care to every animal that needs it,” Goehring says.

Goehring says Cypress View vets, receptionists and other staff hear abusive comments daily, and they’re not tolerating it anymore, saying pets need care but so do the veterinarians and staff.

She adds vet clinics are starting to stand up for themselves in that enough is enough.

“We have people that and say ‘well you’re killing my, you’re killing my dog,'” she says. “We understand we get it, we want to be able to provide care but on the isolated incident, they don’t realize that we’ve already done two exploratory surgeries and you know lacerations and toxicities and like when our plate is full, our plate is full. And unfortunately, you know we have been directing people out of the city.”

And the abuse and hurt don’t end when they leave the clinic at the end of the day, says Goehring.

“Vets and employees have Facebook, too,” she says, adding people are quick to complain online and drag people and clinics through the mud. “It’s not OK. We know they’re upset that their family member is hurting and needs care but we go home and have to deal with it too.”

“We’re trying to do the best we can to take care of your pets the best that we can and empathy and understanding would go a long way.” – Barb Weiss

The veterinarian shortage is greater than just Crossroads or Medicine Hat, says Weiss. But it’s an extra struggle here because Medicine Hat doesn’t have an after-hours emergency clinic like in Lethbridge, Calgary and Edmonton. In those centres, once a shift is done it’s done, whether at a regular clinic during the work day or at an emergency clinic.

“When we close at five our doctors that have worked the entire day now are on-call 24 hours throughout the night to take care of anybody that’s our client throughout the night,” she says. A lot of vet school graduates “don’t want to have to work a full eight-hour shift and then also be on-call throughout the next night and be prepared to be at work the next morning.”

A new doctor is starting at Crossroads the third week of August and another in November. Until then Weiss is asking for patience from clients.

“I need the people to be understanding that you know we’re not doing it to be mean, we’re not doing it because we don’t care,” she says. “We’re trying to do the best we can to take care of your pets the best that we can and empathy and understanding would go a long way.”