Veterinarians are, if at all, adaptable. One day in the clinic rarely looks like the next, and it is often difficult to know what will happen in the doorway.
The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly tested the adaptability of veterinarians. Community transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, was first detected in the United States in February 2020. By mid-March, all 50 states were in the United States; Washington, DC; and four US territories had reported cases. Not long after that, there were disruptions in the supply chains and significant bottlenecks at companies, which resulted in more than 20 million people losing their jobs in the spring. By the end of the year only half had found a job. In total, there were more than 28 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. as of late February and more than 500,000 deaths from the disease
Do justice to the occasion
The novel coronavirus surprised many, but in some ways veterinarians were better prepared for the pandemic than most. Veterinarians fully understand how viruses can infect hosts and mutate over time. So Dr. Rob Conner, a practice owner in rural northern Arkansas, took matters into his own hands by securing personal protective equipment in a personal manner (see story). He remains convinced that given the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s efforts to track animal disease, veterinarians should be responsible for responding to the coronavirus.
“It’s a little confusing to me to see how our government doesn’t know what to do or what to correct (COVID-19),” said Dr. Conner. “It’s a very complex thing. Fortunately, like any problem, you study it, dissect it, learn details about it, and find out how to fight it. “
In fact, veterinarians were involved in cutting-edge research on SARS-CoV-2, which not only helped develop potential vaccines, but also looked at how the virus affects humans and animals (see story). Veterinarians at the clinic quickly figured out how to continue to meet their patients’ needs while keeping everyone safe.
Among other things, equine veterinarians have had to limit the number of people attending an appointment and more strictly disinfect their vehicles and equipment. Zoo veterinarians also had to take extra precautions, particularly for certain species in their care, after lions, tigers, snow leopards and gorillas caught the virus from asymptomatic workers.
Pig veterinarians encountered a uniquely difficult situation at the beginning of the pandemic when worker exposure to COVID-19 resulted in backlog in market pigs. According to Dr. Harry Snelson, executive director of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, decreased daily processing capacity to approximately 42% in April 2020, which meant that approximately 215,000 pigs per day could not be harvested at that point. in the September and October 2020 issue of the AASV Journal of Swine Health and Production.
Farmers and swine vets responded by trying to keep animals in place, slow growth, repurpose vacant facilities, use non-traditional marketing strategies, and change breeding programs so that producers avoid or avoid much of the expected depopulation can delay.
Ultimately, however, depopulation was inevitable for thousands of animals.
Busy busy busy
During this time, AVMA and others have worked tirelessly to keep veterinarians informed of the latest information and what it means, from whether SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted to animals or vice versa, to the question How Practice Owners Could Apply For The Paycheck Protection Program Loans. AVMA has created dozens of tools, guides, and webinars that telehealth practitioners can use to navigate telehealth, manage exposed employees, and more. These resources aid veterinarians with the care of pets, horses, and livestock, including securing the country’s food supplies. Laboratory animals; and aquatic, exotic and wild animals. In cumulative terms, AVMA websites dedicated to COVID-19 had received almost 2 million page views as of January 31st. And as of January 31, AVMA had 7,672 mentions of AVMA in relation to COVID-19 through the media, a total of 16.46 billion impressions.
So here we are a year later. Veterinarians remain as resilient as ever, even in these difficult times. On the one hand, many practices are better than ever (see story) and the number of pets continues to grow. On the other hand, clinics are so busy that they are doing what was previously unthinkable for many – turning customers away.
Dr. Michael Longoni is the Medical Director of Diamond Veterinary Hospital, a 24-hour emergency and general medicine facility in Everett, Washington that documented the first cases of COVID-19 in the United States. He said business had slowed for two weeks when the pandemic first hit. Since then, he said, “We have become even busier because many practices that could theoretically have remained open, quite a few have just been closed. Your customers came to us to deal with emergencies and chronic illnesses. Our emergency room (emergency room) got busier and busier and got busier through the whole thing (pandemic) until two more ERs are nearby and they are also flooded. It got to a point where we added a mid-shift ambulance and called capacity. “Except for certain critical cases, no further emergencies will be reported until the staff catches up. “We had never done that before, but we only had to do it for our employees. We need to have a pressure relief valve. It’s hard because we turn people away, which makes our receptionists’ job more difficult. “
He says that some clinics still can’t invite customers to an appointment for three to four weeks.
“When we see an emergency, we tell them to go back to your vet for a follow-up exam, but they can’t get on earlier than to check back here. We have created some margin in our schedule to anticipate this, ”he said. “It’s kind of a concentrated problem in the emergency department, not being able to help as many animals as they want.”
Self care and communication
Burnout, compassionate fatigue, and thoughts of suicide are also, if not more, an issue for practitioners during the pandemic.
Melissa Mace, executive director of the Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Examiners Board, said it was somewhat fortunate that the board established a Veterinary Professional Assistance Program in November 2020 as the program provided vital resources during this stressful time. The board began work on the program more than two years ago. Similar to programs in other states, the VPAP provides advice and support with family problems, finding child and adult care, problems at work, legal and financial problems, stress, health and wellbeing, and other problems that veterinarians have to offer affect. It also provides personal, confidential advice, coaching, and advice to all veterinarians and their household members. The VPAP has resources to help veterinarians navigate their way through the COVID-19 environment.
“They (vets) are a unique group of people who have a unique set of stressors that in some areas can be exacerbated. We wanted to support them all along the line, ”said Mace. “If you are in a crisis, you can pick up the phone and call and have no consequences for your eligibility.”
Since COVID-19 hit, the number of complaints related to veterinarian-client communication has increased, according to Mace.
“Good communication in a stressful situation is always a challenge. COVID is a good example of difficult communication in the clinic. Customers sit in the car. Your pet is at the clinic with staff calling them to discuss diagnostic and treatment options. The conversation isn’t the same as in person, and sometimes the agreement isn’t quite as clear, ”Mace said. “When a client is stressed and does not understand what they are being told, the clinic staff cannot see them to read body language, which can help them figure out that their message is not being received and if there is a bad result, this leads to a complaint and hard feelings. “
Despite the challenges, roadside pickup and drop-off and telehealth have allowed veterinarians to maintain their services and interact with customers quickly and efficiently while reducing the risk of exposure to the virus.
But not all have remained untouched as colleagues have fallen ill or died of the virus. While viewed as healthcare workers and owners of important businesses, not all veterinarians have been on the forefront of vaccine availability (see article).
In this issue, JAVMA News would like to tell stories about the hard work of clinicians and researchers, clinic staff and students who had to navigate uncharted waters in a time of stress and uncertainty. Her commitment to the veterinary profession has helped ensure the health and safety of animals and humans alike.