Veterinary clinic in Verona dealing with staffing shortage, closures
VERONA — Sharon Shrader had just one pet in her home. She was a 5-year-old guinea pig named Corn and it was the queen of the Shrader household.
Last week Corn had a seizure. For past medical issues, Shrader had taken her pet to a veterinary clinic in Charlottesville that was usually open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This time, however, when the Bath County woman called, the vet was closed.
The guinea pig seemed to recover, but Shrader continued calling over the next day or so. When she finally reached someone, she was told they no longer had a veterinarian available to treat Corn and, in fact, they would be short-staffed the entire next week.
When Corn had another seizure, Shrader wasn’t sure what to do. She called vet clinics around the state, from Harrisonburg to Christiansburg.
“Everywhere I called that night, for about an hour, two hours, I was told no vet was available,” Shrader said. “Or they didn’t take guinea pigs.”
Eventually, her pet’s health deteriorated so much that she realized that Corn would have to be euthanized. It took her three calls to the Veterinary Emergency Clinic in Verona to convince someone there to help her. At first she was told they didn’t treat guinea pigs, but by 1 a.m. she was told to come on in.
“I said, ‘Look, I’m just an old woman with an old guinea pig, and I need help,'” Shrader said. “I guess they felt sorry for me.”
As she talked that night to the veterinarian, Dr. Renee Addison, Shrader said she was told being short staffed was an issue for vets across the country. And, in fact, Verona would probably have to occasionally close some nights because of staffing issues.
Typically, the vet is open Monday through Thursday 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. and all weekend, Fridays from 6 p.m. until Monday at 8 a.m. They try to stay open when other vets are closed.
Then, this past Tuesday night, the Verona pet hospital posted on its Facebook page at 5:28 p.m. that it would be closed that night. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like it will be a one-time occurrence.
“The caseload has just been increasing since the pandemic hit and a lot of day practices were seeing more clients,” said Addison, who has been a veterinarian at the Verona practice for four years. “It seems like it’s been kind of a buildup. The day practices aren’t able to see as many patients and it’s just been spillover.”
She said that’s led to a lot of burnout with staff, resulting in employee turnover. The clinic is short doctors as well. Addison said it’s a nationwide problem.
“We just can’t keep up,” she said. “There’s just not enough veterinarians and there’s too many pets.”
In Verona, Addison said they could use two to three more doctors as well as more licensed technicians and assistants. And there’s no short-term solution for the issue. Addison said to expect more closures of the Verona facility in the weeks and months to come.
It’s a day-to-day decision and Addison advises people to check the website or Facebook page, or call, before coming.
And even if they are open in Verona, there’s a chance they’ll be at capacity. Even if they can see you the wait could be as long as six to eight hours, something that’s becoming more typical on the weekends, Addison said.
“We’ve had several Saturdays where we’ve had to say, ‘No more,'” Addison said. “We physically can’t take any more.”
Addison also is asking pet owners to be understanding. They often have to do triage, taking in the more urgent cases first. That makes for a longer wait for some. On a recent night when Addison’s shift ended there were still seven pets left to be seen, and she said all were critical. The vet had to shut off the telephone so they could get caught up.
“Owners need to realize that, when we shut the doors, that is not a decision that we take lightly,” Addison said. “It hurts us. I’ve seen staff cry, we’ve cried. Turning people away is not what we’re in the field for.”
Addison advised pet owners to prepare for potential emergency issues. She suggested having numbers for all emergency clinics in the area. In addition to the two emergency vets in Charlottesville, Addison said there are ones in Roanoke, Richmond, Winchester and Lynchburg, but those are experiencing similar issues as Verona.
The doctor also suggested working with your veterinarian to make sure all preventative care is being taken. Keeping up with checkups and exams is important, making sure that you have enough medicine for your pets before the weekend.
“This isn’t something that’s going to go away in the next couple of months,” Addison said. “It’s a true nationwide crisis in the vet field right now.”
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Patrick Hite is The News Leader’s education and sports reporter. Story ideas and tips always welcome. Contact Patrick (he/him/his) at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Patrick_Hite. Subscribe to us at newsleader.com.