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CURBSIDE SERVICE · April 6th, 2020

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

Closed lobbies. Patients in parking lots. Pet parents greeted from six feet away. As COVID-19 forces us all to adapt to a new way of life, NVA hospitals have taken creative, new approaches to providing crucial care while keeping staff and clients safe.

“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. In March, 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.”

In Squamish, British Columbia, Veterinary Technician Holly Schulte helps prepare Eagleview Veterinary Hospital for curbside service.

On paper, the policy may sound simple enough, but new processes bring new, unexpected challenges. And hospitals have had 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.

Conspicuous neon signs mark parking space numbers outside Animal Medical Center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

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.

The team at Animal Crackers Veterinary Hospital gets geared up for a day of curbside service.

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.”

Roanoke Animal Hospital in Texas closed its lobby doors but remains open with curbside service.

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, 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. And NVA’s Marketing team created a “Curbside Toolkit” complete with templated language, graphics, best practices, a curbside patient history form, and more. (NVA hospitals can download the assets here.)

Alaska Veterinary Clinic in Anchorage makes curbside service work in the snow.

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.”

At Pender Veterinary Centre in Fairfax, Virginia, Dr. Flanary checks on his clients from a safe distance — six feet away.

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