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Vet clinics crippled by short staffing during the pandemic

For Southern Oregon Veterinary Specialty Center, the number of patients it can take in has been affected by COVID-19 due to staffing shortages and an influx of pets.

Posted: Sep 22, 2021 4:24 PM
Updated: Sep 22, 2021 6:12 PM

CENTRAL POINT, Ore. -- Vet clinics are getting slammed with new pet patients as they're coping with staffing shortages. It means pets and their owners are having to wait weeks for an appointment when something is wrong, and some are even getting turned away.

“Just the challenges on our operation from a staffing perspective ... the restrictions that are happening in general practices, their ability to see cases that they normally would have wanted to take care of for their patients that they are having to send over to us — so that means our volume, our demand, went up almost 40% overnight," said Craig Lassen, director of operations for the Southern Oregon Veterinary Specialty Center. Lassen has been the director of SOVSC for the last year, but he has been in the field for 35 years.

The specialty center is currently operating with about 120 staff members, but Lassen says that they would need closer to 150 in order to meet the local demand.

“Veterinary medicine has been suffering a shortage of veterinarians and trained staff for many years,” Lassen said.

Though the staffing shortage predates COVID-19, the pandemic and a sharp uptick in demand has put an extra crunch on facilities like SOVSC that require staff with extensive training.

Lassen says that pet ownership during the pandemic went up sharply, with an estimated 11 million new pet owners in the US since it began.

“We have short staffing, as everybody does, and so many more people during the pandemic got more pets — so that has decreased our staffing but increased the pet ownership, and now the disparity is even worse,” said Neetza Drake, the technical supervisor in the SOVSC emergency and critical care department.

Drake has been at SOVSC for more than 12 years. She and the rest of the staff are dealing with the challenges of the pandemic on a daily basis, working non-stop to take care of patients and communicate with pet owners that they know are stressed in their own way.

"You have to be very empathetic in this environment to be able to work with a patient that can’t tell you what’s wrong, so you have all of that extra empathy, and then you have all these clients that you empathize with because you know that these are their friends — these are their best friends,” Drake said. "So to have to tell them that they have to make a really rough decision to potentially euthanize their pet, or spend more money than they can afford — that's really stressful and really impactful."

SOVSC just completed construction of a 6,000 square-foot urgent care facility next-door to the specialty center, but Lassen says that it probably won't be open and running until the middle of 2022 due to the current staffing shortage. Once it does open, however, Lassen thinks that it will help ease some of the burden that the veterinary hospital has been shouldering.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 356061

Reported Deaths: 4275
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah55695704
Washington38673322
Marion36719454
Clackamas29660309
Lane27624302
Jackson22982310
Deschutes20211125
Umatilla14451150
Linn12780130
Douglas12065243
Josephine9349196
Yamhill8674113
Klamath7965118
Polk733681
Malheur561776
Benton546531
Coos501294
Columbia379744
Jefferson372352
Union318449
Lincoln318039
Crook287546
Wasco287441
Clatsop243329
Baker202529
Tillamook196432
Hood River192137
Morrow184423
Curry180025
Harney113726
Grant100013
Lake92412
Wallowa68612
Gilliam1544
Sherman1503
Wheeler1121
Unassigned00

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Cases: 4842472

Reported Deaths: 71202
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles148181426506
Riverside3712935030
San Diego3660564183
San Bernardino3582135663
Orange3241845550
Sacramento1593332308
Kern1459621644
Fresno1458772084
Santa Clara1453911896
Alameda1205301400
San Joaquin1025821721
Ventura1009841166
Contra Costa998841008
Stanislaus860701331
Tulare80203967
San Francisco54375646
San Mateo54112622
Monterey50885587
Solano46021341
Santa Barbara45160523
Merced42299581
Sonoma40925402
Placer39342425
Imperial35999766
Kings32801322
San Luis Obispo29945332
Madera23876285
Shasta23851352
Butte23738270
Santa Cruz21018220
Yolo20353248
Marin17692244
El Dorado17169149
Sutter13913175
Napa12882100
Yuba1008582
Tehama9510110
Humboldt9243108
Nevada914290
Mendocino763687
Lassen754347
San Benito744472
Tuolumne688089
Lake6605104
Amador544064
Siskiyou450546
Glenn436733
Calaveras389381
Del Norte358342
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Inyo211140
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Plumas16417
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