RICHMOND, Virginia – A 24-hour emergency vet in Richmond reported reaching capacity on Tuesday evening, saying it had become a weekly event due to a staff shortage and an influx of sick animals and wounded.
“We have a workload unlike anything I’ve seen in the 17 years I’ve been here and the 20+ years I’ve been in veterinary medicine,” said Stephanie, Director of Nursing at the Virginia Veterinary Centers.
The licensed veterinarian said the hospital has always been busy, but never like this. She said it wasn’t just the case at veterinary centers in Virginia.
“Last night was an example where all emergencies in the Richmond area had closed to receive. Which meant if you had an emergency pet you had to drive an hour and a half more to find a vet. or an emergency center that was open, “Stephanie said.” It was just kind of a perfect storm with shortages of arrivals and staff, there are staff shortages in most industries and medicine veterinarian is certainly no exception. ”
Jessica, a licensed veterinary technician working primarily in emergency and intensive care, said Tuesday evening was intense due to the sheer volume of patients.
“I think our assistant doing yardages yesterday, I mean, it was just back to back,” Jessica said.
She said many primary care vets in the area are at their own capacity and are not accepting new patients.
“Due to their increased workload, they send them to us,” she said. “And they keep coming.”
For more than 30 years, Stephanie has said that life saving work at the Virginia veterinary centers in Carytown meant never turning down a pet.
“The level of medicine that we can practice here is phenomenal,” said Stephanie.
But over the past six months, the hospital has had to make the difficult decision to start shutting down when it hits a certain threshold.
“We set parameters to determine when we had to do it, and we also trusted our staff a lot to say, ‘Hey, I can’t take it anymore. I can’t adequately take care of the patients who are here, “that we had to believe they couldn’t do,” said Stephanie.
She said that since this decision, capacity has been reached on a weekly basis.
“If we continue to receive when we reach this capacity, we just cannot properly care for the pets that are hospitalized here,” she said.
Stephanie said the hospital could use at least ten more licensed technicians, 20 more assistants and five more doctors. She believed staff shortages had contributed to the problem, but said it was not the only factor.
“Staff is one component, I think. Another huge component is the number of people who own pets now. Adoption and purchase from breeders has skyrocketed thanks to COVID,” said Stephanie. .
She also believed that more people working from home, able to observe their pets, were playing a role.
She said the long hours and high volumes are taking their toll on staff.
“The fact that the community in general understands what’s going on, that we are all working is absolutely the hardest part. We are all working harder than we have ever worked in our entire career,” said Stephanie. “When we approach the reception, we try to open our doors as quickly as possible.”
She advised owners not to wait to call their senior veterinarian if they notice a problem with their pet. Importantly, as she said, patients may also have to wait longer to be seen by a senior veterinarian.
For those experiencing a real pet emergency, she recommended calling an emergency vet ahead of time.
“Just call ahead so you don’t waste precious time going to an establishment that may have already been closed,” said Stephanie.
She said the hospital may also offer callers other options if emergencies are already at full capacity.
She added that the Midlothian location of the Virginia Veterinary Centers had opened an emergency care service, three days a week, for pets in need of non-life-threatening care.