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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

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 387485

Reported Deaths: 5116
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah59768836
Washington41571393
Marion39592504
Clackamas32426376
Lane29856354
Jackson24672350
Deschutes23182185
Umatilla15087180
Linn14488178
Douglas13236286
Josephine10057240
Yamhill9665142
Klamath8979145
Polk813698
Benton605137
Malheur591586
Coos5573106
Columbia423855
Jefferson416865
Lincoln357252
Union336854
Crook330156
Wasco314846
Clatsop258335
Baker217531
Tillamook214345
Hood River211337
Morrow197025
Curry190136
Harney119332
Grant108314
Lake104016
Wallowa74713
Sherman1903
Gilliam1844
Wheeler1141
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 5060666

Reported Deaths: 74152
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles152491227121
San Diego4047084319
Riverside3849455306
San Bernardino3718825944
Orange3329505675
Sacramento1674002423
Kern1565171781
Fresno1558992246
Santa Clara1511691922
Alameda1246581504
San Joaquin1070001833
Ventura1036461188
Contra Costa1032921045
Stanislaus912991413
Tulare856141082
San Francisco56614669
San Mateo56058629
Monterey52340625
Solano47422356
Santa Barbara47035548
Merced44807664
Sonoma42912412
Placer41881468
Imperial38128769
Kings35038358
San Luis Obispo31294358
Madera26005311
Shasta25917440
Butte25295309
Santa Cruz22028222
Yolo21451257
Marin18342248
El Dorado18166161
Sutter14494181
Napa13372104
Yuba1070088
Tehama10230129
Humboldt10043117
Nevada9914103
Mendocino848894
Lassen792355
San Benito775977
Tuolumne767790
Lake6990110
Amador573766
Siskiyou470954
Glenn455136
Calaveras435685
Del Norte371242
Colusa323519
Inyo254345
Plumas19127
Mono18294
Mariposa156718
Trinity98817
Modoc7475
Unassigned2430
Sierra2170
Alpine1060
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