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Curbside Service: How NVA Hospitals Are Keeping Staff and Clients Safe During COVID-19

A technician checking in a patient. A dog can be seen in the window

“We are still essential, and that is why we’re staying open,” said Dr. Stephanie Thomas, managing veterinarian of Jefferson Animal Hospital in Baton Rouge. “We have medications, prescription foods, things that people need for their pets to remain healthy. However, we have to take into account public health.”

Like many hospitals in our community, Dr. Thomas wants to ensure patients receive the care they need, when they need it, but has taken extra precautions to protect her people. This week, Jefferson Animal Hospital closed its lobby and began offering curbside service instead. And they aren’t alone.

NVA clinics everywhere have adopted similar admittance policies, asking clients to call when they arrive and remain outside in their vehicles. When the doctor is ready, a member of the team retrieves the patient from the owner’s car, then returns them after the appointment is complete. Payments and consultations all happen over the phone.

In downtown Squamish, British Columbia, Eagleview Veterinary Hospital has also taken steps to minimize risk and exposure. “We have been following strict protocols to keep our team and community healthy and safe while still being available to keep pets healthy and happy,” said Hospital Manager, Robyn Luscombe. “We have asked clients not to enter the building and even set up a covered area outside for anyone who arrives on foot.”

On paper, the policy may sound simple enough, but new processes bring new, unexpected challenges, compelling hospitals to get creative to ensure they can see every pet.

“We spent the afternoon prepping the hospital for curbside-only service,” said Ashley Garner, hospital manager from Animal Medical Center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Their system includes clearly marked signage, with numbered parking spaces, so staff can quickly identify which car contains which patient.

Some clinics, like Ruskin Animal Hospital in Florida, have also asked clients to use emails for non-urgent requests to free up phone lines for check-ins and consultations. Others have reminded clients to take advantage of online pharmacies for diet, refills, and home delivery. Animal Crackers Veterinary Hospital in West Jordan, Utah decided to expand their hours to be more available during the crisis. Since few clinics are open on Sundays, they spread out their team’s time to bring an extra day of care to their community.

While each clinic has developed a process that works best for them, all are careful to remind clients who are sick, to cancel their appointment and remain home. “If they are feeling ill or experiencing flu-like symptoms and have an upcoming appointment, we’ve asked them to reschedule,” noted Liz Bird, hospital manager of Roanoke Animal Hospital in Texas. “They can also make accommodations with a healthy friend or family member to bring in their pet to our clinic.” With so many new policies in place, communication and client education has become more critical than ever. Hospitals are taking advantage of every channel at their disposal, including email, text, websites, social media, voicemail, and exterior signage to get the word out fast.

Local media has taken a strong interest, too. This week, a few practices have found themselves in the TV spotlight. Dr. Thomas was featured on Baton Rouge’s local WAFB9. Sioux Falls’ local CBS affiliate interviewed Hospital Manager Collin Donley about the measures taken by All City Pet Care. Their client, Rose Bosworth, drove 100 miles to retrieve her dog after an urgent surgery. “We are so happy to have her home,” she smiled. Of course, changing how business is done is never easy, especially on such short notice. To help hospitals adapt, NVA Division Leaders have been working closely with local leaders to support new challenges and provide additional resources. Armed with tailored scripts, the Client Service Center is helping reduce inbound call volume. NVA’s Marketing team created a “Curbside Toolkit” complete with templated language, graphics, best practices, a curbside patient history form, and more.

Still, hospital teams are stretched thin, and longer waits on-site and on the phone have become common. But most clients recognize these aren’t normal times and are happy to be patient. They know pet injuries and illnesses, chronic health issues, or medication needs don’t pause for a pandemic, and they are grateful their veterinarian is open and available when they need them.

“This process worked great for us yesterday,” commented Tiffany Li, a client who received curbside care at Pender Veterinary Centre in Fairfax, Virginia. “Everything from the initial, very helpful phone call with the vet tech the day prior, to the check-in/out process and the consult with the vet was seamless.”

“Thank you guys for being there for both the pets and the owners,” noted Tracy Melinda, a client at Conejo Valley. “Times are stressful, and knowing that you guys are there, should our pets have an issue, is comforting.”

NVA is proud to help our NVA community. Our focus is on the continued health, safety and well-being of not only our hospital partners, staff and clients, but also the veterinary community at large. We continue to closely monitor the COVID-19 situation, as every day brings new developments, and we are doing everything we can to keep our practices informed with accurate information to allow them to focus on the well-being of their patients. If you are part of our NVA community and would like to receive the toolkit and other resources mentioned above please reach out to your division leader. For our extended community contact to get more information.