SOUTH DEERFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – Gina Marsan from Ludlow said her 7-year-old dog Hershel is doing much better. However, when he was having intestinal blockage after business hours, finding emergency care wasn’t that simple.
“The week between his initial illness and his recovery, we drove 12 hours roundtrip,” Gina told the 22News I-Team. “I felt very helpless. I just wanted somebody to see him. I knew there was something very wrong with him.”
VCA Boston Road Animal Hospital in Springfield closed during the pandemic, narrowing 24-hour emergency care to just one hospital: Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Hospital in South Deerfield.
Keri Gardent is the Hospital Director of the facility that’s been open for 16 years. She said it takes 100 people to maintain their 24-hour operation, “It’s not easy to find people who want to work our crazy hours and you have to find a unique group of individuals who thrive off of emergencies.”
Finding veterinary staff has become harder since the pandemic began. The American Veterinary Medical Association found veterinarians are leaving at double the rate of doctors.
Professor Janice Telfer at UMass Amherst said costs prevents many from entering the field when the student debt to salary ratio is 2 to 1.
However, mental health is why many leave. A 2019 study from the AVMA reveals female veterinarians are 3.5 times more likely to die by suicide.
Professor Telfer said veterinarians have to guide people through difficult decisions, made harder when many don’t have pet insurance, “How much would you spend to save your animal’s life for instance? If they have cancer, would you pay $20,000? Most people won’t.”
Doctor Martha MaloneyHuss, the medical director and owner of Integrity Veterinary Center in Northampton has experienced burnout. However, she loves what she does and letter from a pet owner recently reminded her of that.
“You don’t know the true value of like every minute that you get with your pet when they’re feeling healthy and happy until you are counting them and that makes a huge difference, to be able to be a part of that,” Doctor MaloneyHuss said. She’s hopeful about the future of the industry.
Opening last fall, she said they are actually expanding in staff and eventually planning to offer emergency care. What she said is working: making sure salary matches the cost of living.
“Be really upfront about the type of culture that we have, the salary that we’re offering, the specific benefits that we’re offering,” she told the 22News I-Team. “We put all that information, numbers included, directly in the ad.”
Professor Telfer said utilizing more vet techs can also make the industry more accessible. The equivalent of a nurse, vet techs need fewer years of school, but can perform a number of important tasks.
“We still have a lot of students who want to become vet techs, want to become veterinarians and so I’m very hopeful that things will improve,” Professor Telfer said.
A new 24-hour emergency veterinary facility will be built in West Springfield. Keri Gardent hopes to open it some time in July.