vet helping care for cat
14 July 2020

Caring for people and pets during a pandemic – a veterinary clinic story

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Posted by Kimberly Chappell | 14/07/2020

Veterinarian and practice owner Dr. Deb Piepgras was optimistic 2020 would be a good year, but COVID-19 changed everything. As many veterinary clinics experienced, business rapidly ground to a halt for this clinic in the small town of Baxter, Minnesota, U.S. Local regulatory authorities allowed only medically-urgent cases and emergency procedures by veterinarians to conserve Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

In just a few weeks, revenue at Lakeland dropped 40 percent. The clinic rapidly furloughed three quarters of its staff, with one doctor and assigned technical staff working each day. These changes were heartbreakingly difficult, as Piepgras wondered if she would be able to keep the doors open or if she would have to lay-off all of the employees, sharing, "This is my family".

During this trying time, Piepgras drew on the support from the clinic’s corporate associates, Veterinary Practice Partners (VPP). The group co-owns US clinics, including Lakeland Veterinary Hospital. VPP assisted Piepgras with the deluge of clinical information and rapidly-evolving public health requirements. They provided daily updates, cleaning and PPE recommendations, human resource assistance, and a staff illness hotline.

Further support came from Elanco Sales Territory Manager, Jana Stambaugh. She heard about Lakeland’s need for a virtual client system and developed a basic telemedicine offering with Elanco Regional Business Consultant, Juliette Hauk. This new approach dramatically improved the client and staff experience.

Lakeland initially allowed clients into clinic, but the additional cleaning protocols slowed everything down. Now they offer ‘curbside’ service with doctors and technicians consulting in the parking lot, taking pets into the clinic without their owners, if needed. Clients are only allowed into the clinic for specific and sensitive circumstances.

Piepgras quickly learned that curbside services take longer, and phone lines are constantly busy. It can be difficult to explain complex procedures to pet owners over the phone, so medical recommendations aren’t always followed.

There is also an emotional toll for staff, as many of the clients are one’s they have known for years. Without the client in the exam room, "it’s just not the same" says Piepgras.

She expects practice restrictions and curbside service to continue in the coming months. The extra work, and uncertainty have been tough, but she’s proud of her team. Staff members banded together, and made personal sacrifices to help the practice succeed. "They kept me going, and they were the reason I said, ‘I can do this’" says Piepgras.

One positive from COVID-19 is people spending more quality time with their pets. Piepgras’ clients tell her they’re enjoying this time together, and she hopes it will continue.

At Elanco, we celebrate the importance of companionship, and the commitment of veterinarians like Dr. Deb Piepgras and her team, nurturing the human-animal bond.

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