OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) – Starting Tuesday, the only 24-hour emergency animal hospital in the Omaha-Council Bluffs area will cut down its operations.
It’s due to a shortage of veterinarians.
The VCA MidWest Veterinary Referral and Emergency Center lost five of nine doctors since the pandemic started, according to hospital manager Laura Bates. It’s a nationwide veterinarian problem.
“How we balance that…not burn out our staff but be available for our community?” said Bates. “We’re seeing that it’s hitting home now, and we have to figure out how we’re going to bridge that gap.”
Emergency walk-in hours for the VCA will go from all day to mainly overnight: 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. weekdays and weekends from Noon to 7 a.m.
Administrators chose those hours to make sure there’s a place pet owners can go no matter the time of day.
“When their primary care is closed or other urgent cares are closed, we’re available during those hours,” said Bates.
Outside of those hours, they’re directing people to their primary care vet or the Urgent Pet Care in Papillion or West Omaha.
“Even though we’re not the same company. We’re competitors. We’re here to serve the pets,” said Debbie Newhouse, the practice administrator for Urgent Pet Care.
Urgent Pet Care facilities are already seeing the effects of the veterinarian shortage as more people turn to them, according to Dr. Scott Yonker, co-owner and veterinarian of Urgent Pet Care.
“You have to triage things really well,” he said.
The VCA’s triage chart guides owners through it.
“Of course, the sickest pets get treated first,” said Yonker.
Situations in which an animal needs life-saving measures are considered “Priority 1.” Some of those include poisoning, heat stroke, bloating, and urinary problems.
Some “Priority 2″ ailments include frequent vomiting, closed fractures, and blood in the urine. Those may warrant a wait time.
“Priority 3″ issues are not life-threatening and could include minor lacerations, limping, and skin conditions. Those wait times may be prolonged.
Both facilities told 6 News their patients are experiencing wait times between four and six hours for non-life threatening conditions.
6 News asked the professionals for tips to give pet owners to navigate care during this shortage.
They suggest calling ahead of time so they can assess your pet’s situation and give you an idea of availability; establishing a primary care vet as soon as possible; and scheduling well visits regularly for preventive care.
The VCA’s manager said she hopes they can resolve the staffing shortage in six to ten months and their 24-hour schedule will return to normal by then.
Dr. Yonker believes the nationwide issue will take longer.
“I think we’ll eventually we’ll be caught up but it may take many, many years to get there,” he said.
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