BluePearl in Phoenix is first brick-and-mortar hospital to earn AAHA End-Of-Life Care Accreditation

BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, is the first-ever brick-and-mortar animal hospital to receive End-of-Life Care (EOLC) accreditation by the American Animal Hospital Association.

AAHA introduced an End-of-Life Care (EOLC) accreditation option for veterinary practices as part of the AAHA Standards of Accreditation in September of 2020 in an effort to help veterinary practitioners elevate end-of-life care for companion animals.

And while BluePearl of Phoenix is the first brick-and-mortar hospital to earn the new EOLC accreditation, it’s the second overall: Last summer, Caring Pathways, a mobile euthanasia and in-home hospice and palliative-care practice in Denver, Colorado became the first practice to earn the EOLC accreditation. 

BluePearl Pet Hospice currently offers in-home hospice, palliative care, and euthanasia for pets in California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Texas, Maryland, Florida, and is expanding those services to other BluePearl locations around the US. In addition to in-home end-of-life services for pets, BluePearl Pet Hospice offers nationwide telehealth services, professional grief counseling, free online education, and community support.

Shea Cox, DVM, CVPP, CHPV, medical director of BluePearl Pet Hospice, says that pet hospice doesn’t begin when other interventions fail: “It’s a part of the continuum of a great care experience, bringing quality of life and comfort as the pet’s end of life nears,” she told NEWStat. Cox is an expert on the subject, having founded the country’s first fully-integrated hospice practice within a specialty hospital setting as well as the first telehealth platform dedicated solely to quality of life and end of life needs.

“[EOLC accreditation] is just the beginning of our journey to bring appropriate supportive and emotional care—to both families and hospital teams—during one of the most difficult times of a pet’s life,” Cox said.

As medical director of BluePearl Pet Hospice, Arizona, Tali Toncray, DVM, is particularly excited about  BluePearl’s EOLC accreditation—she joined BluePearl a year ago to spearhead their efforts to get the hospice and palliative care program up and running the ground in the Grand Canyon State.

“I jumped at the opportunity,” she told NEWStat. “I’ve always enjoyed hospice and palliative care, but you just don’t really get to dive into it as much as I liked it as a general practitioner.” 

She said it’s very different from normal day-to-day of veterinary practice:  “It’s a lot more hand holding and talking and going through options and truly being there for your client,” she said. “And it’s something you don’t really get to do in general practice.” 

The hardest job 

“As veterinarians, we get to be there for the puppies or the vaccines and everything that comes with owning a puppy or kitten, all the normal, routine things we do on a day-to-day basis,” Toncray says. “But when we’re working in hospice care, we’re dealing with pets and owners who’ve spent eight years, 24 years, together and we need to honor the very last moments of their time together and make sure they have the best possible outcome on a difficult day.” 

“We try to make that difficult day just a little bit less difficult by making sure that we’re there, not at the clinical procedure, but at a moment of actually being together, holding hands, crying together, and truly honoring everything the pets have done for us over the years.” 

When people find out that that she does end-of-life pet care, or bring pets to her who are at the end of their lives, “They always telling me I have the hardest job,” Toncray says.

But she disagrees.

“I tell them I don’t have the hardest job. Today you have the hardest job. I am just here to help honor the life of your pet.” 

Although BluePearl offers EOL care at their brick-and-mortar location Toncray says they do most of their work in the privacy and comfort of the client’s home. She says that’s just easier on everyone, especially the pets. “A lot of cats really don’t like going into carriers, then going into cars to come to the vet.” The car part is a big deal, since many pets are afraid of going to the vets at the best of times. “Dogs—especially older, bigger dogs--are having difficulty moving, and getting them into cars can be a challenge,” she adds.

Toncray says it’s just a much better experience all around when the last moments happen at home instead of in the hospital. In the hospitlal, “It just feels like something clinical is happening instead of something where we’re really embracing them in their last moments.” 

She thinks EOLC accreditation will send an important message.

“Having EOLC accreditation lets our colleagues know that we have excellent standards of care and it lets our clients know that we will go above and beyond to help them and their pets,” Toncray says. “I think that it’s something that really reflects that we’ve prioritized our patients above all else.” 

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