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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.