When your animal feels unwell, it can be unsettling to be apart from your beloved companion. As animal lovers themselves, veterinarians know this all too well.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has required greater precautions and adapted protocols for veterinary medical clinicians, clients and patients. This includes at the UW School of Veterinary Medicine teaching hospital, UW Veterinary Care. Curbside check-ins, masked exchanges and limited client entry are among some of the modified procedures at UW Veterinary Care and clinics across the state and beyond.
These adaptations are driven by CDC guidelines for healthcare providers and the latest campus and public health guidance. With the pandemic still having tremendous impacts locally and globally, the modifications are likely to remain in place for some time.
“We appreciate our clients’ continued patience and understanding as we work to ensure the safety of both our staff and clients,” says Chris Snyder, associate dean for clinical affairs and teaching hospital director. “Our goal is to balance both public health and our clients’ and patients’ needs. By minimizing health risks, we can maintain operations and continue to deliver compassionate, lifesaving care.”
Snyder urges small and large animal hospital clients and referring veterinarians to visit UW Veterinary Care’s website for the most up-to-date information on hospital operations, directions for accessing the hospital and what to expect during a hospital visit.
He emphasizes that clients and veterinarians should also always call UW Veterinary Care (for small animals, 608-263-7600; for large animals, 608-263-6300) before arriving with or referring an animal for emergency care.
“If you’re thinking of coming into the ER, call,” he says.
- Review the UW Veterinary Care website for the most up-to-date information on hospital operations, directions and what to expect during a hospital visit.
- Before arriving with or referring an animal for emergency care, please always call ahead (for small animals, 608-263-7600; for large animals, 608-263-6300).
“With a sharp increase in pet adoption, the demand for veterinary services is very high. Unfortunately, the availability of veterinarians and technicians has not increased to meet this demand,” notes Julie Walker, UW Veterinary Care’s chief of Small Animal Services and a clinical associate professor of Emergency and Critical Care. “This has led to decreases in the availability of appointments for routine care and crowding of emergency practices. With crowding in the ER, stable patients are waiting longer (similar to human medicine) while we do our best to provide care to the sickest patients as fast as we can.”
A phone call ahead of bringing a patient for emergency care will help UW Veterinary Care staff prepare for the patient’s arrival and assure that space is available. Or, in the case that appropriate resources, such as cage space or staffing, are not available, team members can help make alternative plans.
“Our goal is to balance both public health and our clients’ and patients’ needs. By minimizing health risks, we can maintain operations and continue to deliver compassionate, lifesaving care.”
Now 18 months into adapting to the pandemic, UW Veterinary Care staff have shown incredible dedication to the dual mission of delivering outstanding clinical care for patients and training for veterinary medical students.
“Along with many other professions, challenges presented by the pandemic have significantly impacted the practice of veterinary medicine. Constantly working near or at capacity leads to stress and burnout,” Walker notes. “While doing our best to maintain positive morale in the hospital, the veterinary profession is losing amazing employees (often veterinary technicians) who choose to pursue other career paths.”
Elizabeth Alvarez, a clinical assistant professor and section head of Primary Care, notes that veterinary technicians “have been the backbone of our service” throughout the pandemic.
“Our core team of amazing certified veterinary technicians work tirelessly to help care for our patients, communicate with our clients and teach our students despite the stress of working through constantly changing protocols, long and hectic hours, and risk of illness,” Alvarez says. “As clinicians, we are truly appreciative and inspired daily by our technicians’ dedication to their work helping our patients (as well as their owners).”
Maria Verbrugge, a clinical instructor also with the Primary Care service, concurs.
“This year, we’ve all been busier than usual and spread a little bit thinner than we’re used to,” she says. “Our technicians, especially, are constantly juggling their responsibilities to doctors, clients, patients and students.”
“Despite limited staffing and space, we all are doing our best to provide the best care possible.”
Walker, too, shares her gratitude for hospital colleagues and clients.
“Our technicians are what keep veterinary medicine functioning,” she says. “They provide the extra TLC that our patients need, especially when animals are away from home. They are our nurses, traffic controllers and friends.”
“As a whole, our clients have been wonderful and understanding in coping with delays in the ER and with getting in for routine and specialty care,” Walker adds. “Despite limited staffing and space, we all are doing our best to provide the best care possible.”
As the hospital continuously looks for opportunities to serve clients and patients better, it was with much excitement that the school broke ground this summer on its long-anticipated building expansion and renovation.
Among other vital improvements, this project will double the size of the small animal hospital and significantly enhance the large animal hospital. These new and expanded hospital facilities, expected for completion in 2023-24, will reduce space shortages, improve client access to clinical expertise and reduce wait times for high-demand specialty services.