Pet owners face long waits, veterinarians deal with burnout as pandemic impact hits ER vet offices

By Amy Wadas

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PITTSBURGH, PA (KDKA) – Staff shortages have been the order of the day throughout the pandemic, especially in the food service industry. People may not know that veterinary medicine is experiencing something similar, leading to long waiting times for pet owners and veterinarians to burnout.

Jennifer Fraser’s new puppy, Simba, contracted a urinary tract infection when we met her at Rainbow Veterinary Hospital in Darlington, Beaver County. She said she called several emergency vets in the area only to get a response she wasn’t expecting.

“They all said they basically couldn’t see it unless your pet is dying,” said Fraser.

Fortunately, due to a last-minute cancellation, Rainbow had a free space, which, according to Dr. Amanda Fultz is a rarity these days.

“We are currently fully booked out of the regular dates until the end of November,” says Dr. Fultz.

In addition, Dr. Fultz that Rainbows 24-hour emergency room has to turn away some of the less severe patients or wait hours before admitting them. Dr. Fultz says pet owners can wait up to six hours before their dog or cat is seen in the emergency room.

“In these cases, we recommend a patient see a veterinarian elsewhere,” said Dr. Fultz.

She says people are sometimes sent as far as Akron, Ohio, or Morgantown, West Virginia, which Colette Eule says she would have if she found a large laceration on her dog Harper’s chest.

“Our first reaction was that we called their vet where they would receive routine care, explained the situation and they said that unfortunately they couldn’t accept her,” said Owl.

After calling several vets within an hour and a half of Pittsburgh, Owl found one. She finally got into Butler Veterinary Associates, and Harper is now cured and well.

While many people were given pets during the pandemic, Dr. Nicole Palumbo of Butler Veterinary said the main problem was due to the lack of staff, especially in the emergency room.

“When the pandemic broke out, we weren’t allowed to have normal appointments and that was a big problem for the future as all of those vaccination appointments and everything was put on hold,” said Dr. Palumbo.

While many general practitioners are now taking appointments, Palumbo says some are still having reduced hours and staffing, leading to exhaustion, especially among the veterinarians who work in the emergency room.

Therefore, Dr. Palumbo the emergency in order to concentrate exclusively on general medicine in a completely different clinic.

“I’m burned out. That’s the greatest, ”said Dr. Palumbo. “Every day we get calls that we are likely to turn down at least 20-50 people a day and it’s daunting because you want to help them and people give you terrible reviews.”

This is why vets say being kind is so important.

“We are seeing a high suicide rate due to the compassionate fatigue and burnout experienced,” said Dr. Fultz.

Meanwhile, at Rainbow Animal Hospital, Fraser breathes a sigh of relief that her new puppy Simba is in good hands and looks to the future.

“I have a new puppy date for him and it’s not before October 16,” said Fraser.

While veterinarians like Dr. Fultz and Dr. Not knowing what the future holds for the industry, Palumbo says the industry is doing everything it can to recruit and retain veterinarians with better pay, promote work-life balance, and provide support.

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