Veterinarians overwhelmed by the need for emergency care

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Jodi Summit

REGIONAL- There is a scream, then a scream, then a panicked dog comes back to you with a nose full of porcupine quills. In most cases, that means a visit to the vet, and if it’s the weekend, that means an emergency visit to the vet.
And if you are lucky enough to live in the Ely region, a call to the Ely veterinary clinic will often allow you to make an appointment fairly quickly, with a veterinarian always on call.
But for many pet owners in northeast Minnesota, that’s not the case.
Most of the vets in the Iron Range area have stopped taking after-hours and weekend calls. Instead, they refer clients to the emergency veterinary service, BluePearl Pet Hospital, in Duluth.
“After hours veterinary care is in crisis,” said Chip Hanson, who operates the Ely veterinary clinic. “Due to a general shortage of vets on the Iron Chain, many nights, only the Ely and Blue Pearl Vet Clinic in Duluth are available for after-hours emergencies, and on several occasions the Duluth was also overwhelmed and had to refer cases to the Twin Cities.
John Fisher of the Vermilion Veterinary Clinic in Cook agrees.
“I make after-hours calls almost every weekend,” he said, “I made an emergency call last weekend.”
But Fisher said his clinic didn’t always have a vet on call and in this case, they had to refer clients to Duluth.
Fisher said, in his experience, people who call after hours often only need advice and the visit can wait until Monday.
“But then we’re just overwhelmed on Mondays,” Fisher said.
While vets are usually highly motivated to help animals, balancing that desire with the physical and mental limitations of such a high demand for care can be overwhelming.
“We have been crushed by emergencies for the past two years and the majority of these emergencies are not our customers,” said Hanson. “Managing emergencies for people and their pets can be very rewarding, and we all appreciate the real work, but the number of hours and dedication it requires makes it difficult to maintain a good work / life balance. personal. “
Fisher said they also get a lot of out-of-town calls from as far away as International Falls and Hibbing.
Hibbing recently lost a practicing vet, Fisher said, and Hanson said one of the veterinary clinics in Virginia recently had a veterinarian who retired, leaving a single vet to run the business.
Veterinarians across the state have seen an increase in the number of cases and many have stopped taking new clients. This is a problem facing the veterinary clinic in Ely.
“We haven’t been able to accept new clients for a year,” Hanson said.
Fisher said he has accepted many new clients, but it is now increasingly difficult for them to take time off from work.
One of Virginia’s veterinary services advertises its “new client waiting list” on its website and refers people to BluePearl in Duluth for urgent or emergency care.
And due to a staff shortage, BluePearl, which provided care five weeknights and two weekends, is now closed on Tuesdays.
“Tuesday night,” Hanson said, “It’s us or Minneapolis.”
“I have a dedicated team of crazy people,” said Hanson. “Over the past two years, we have struggled to find the time to sit down for a while or have lunch. Sometimes it’s overwhelming. “
Ely’s five full-time vets often work two hours after closing to keep patient records up to date. This is in addition to their share of after-hours and weekend call hours.
Each vet takes a week as a “vet on call,” Hanson said, and because that now means they often work late at night, that vet is only part-time during the day during that week. , which added pressure on other active vets.
And keeping up with the emergency call volume, which averaged 25 to 30 visits per week last summer, is difficult for staff, according to Hanson.
Fisher said all veterinarians in the region are currently understaffed and their workloads have increased. His practice has two full-time vets, as well as his wife Robin, who works part-time as a vet and the rest of the time runs their practice.
“The training volume is the busiest we have ever been,” he said.
Calling a local veterinary clinic during regular business hours is often a challenge, especially on Mondays. This reporter had to call several times to call Cook, receiving four busy signals before passing a few minutes past their usual closing time.

Expansion is not the answer
Expansion is also not an easy option. “Our building doesn’t lend itself to easy expansion, and building a whole new facility is just very difficult to make financially feasible,” said Hanson. “Even with loans at very low interest rates, it’s hard to see how you maintain living wages and pay off the mortgage.”
“And if the money could be found, then we would have to solve the problem of being able to attract new talent to staff the facility. All of the Range veterinary clinics have struggled over the past decade to attract qualified veterinarians and veterinary technicians. As a business owner, I was very lucky in this regard and was able to find amazing people to work at Ely Veterinary Clinic, ”added Hanson.
The shortage of emergency veterinary care is also being felt in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.
Martin Moen, of the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Minnesota, said they also saw several days of closings and long waits for appointments.
“It’s very stressful for owners watching their animals suffer and there is nowhere to take them,” he said. “In our case, the problems are mainly due to a shortage of veterinary technicians. I think we currently have 18-20 technician positions open in our hospitals, which really limits the number of patients we can see in a day. “
“The veterinary technical training program at Ely is greatly appreciated,” he said, “but the need is enormous.”

Shortage of rural veterinarians
The shortage of small animal vets, especially in the state of Minnesota, is an issue the University of Minnesota School of Veterinary Medicine is working to address. The problem is particularly acute in regions with a strong agricultural economy.
The USDA has identified 35 counties in Minnesota where there is a shortage of veterinarians able to care for farm animals. But there are fewer programs available that target the shortage of small animal vets that are needed in northeast Minnesota.
There are 32 schools in North America that train veterinarians, including the University of Minnesota. Admission to the program is very competitive, with the U of M having an average of nine applicants for each of the 100 places available in the school. The university also has a new program with South Dakota State University, serving approximately 20 students, where students begin their studies at the Brookings, SD campus, and complete their third year of teaching and clinical placements (fourth year). in St. Paul.
Of all the students who applied to veterinary schools in the previous year, more than 80 percent were between 19 and 24 years old, and nearly 85 percent of the applicants were women.
The U of M curriculum consists of six semesters of classroom and laboratory instruction, with a focus on hands-on learning, followed by three semesters of clinical training where students choose from up to 60 two-week rotations at the U of M veterinary medical center and offsite clinical partners.
“The goal is to attract more students who want to practice in rural areas,” said Moen of the U of M.
The tuition fee for a four-year veterinary degree is $ 131,400 for students in the state, Moen said. “Last year we provided over $ 600,000 in scholarships, and many students received additional scholarships competitively awarded by industry and the MN Veterinary Medical Foundation.”
There are also loan repayment programs for students who practice at least part time on farm animals.

Vet Tech Program in Vermilion
A shortage of veterinary technicians is being addressed locally through a two-year diploma program at Vermilion Community College. The five-semester program includes a mix of basic science and practical lessons.
“Enrollment in the program has been good,” said veterinarian Peter Hughes, who oversees the program at VCC. “But we haven’t hit our cap of 24 students this year; we had 20 on opening day.
“The placement has been good,” he said. “I think everyone who graduates and wants to work in the field is working in the field.”


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