Culture runs deep at New Orleans AAHA-award finalist

MedVet New Orleans team
Meet the MedVet New Orleans team

 

2022 AAHA-Accredited Practice of the Year (APOY) Finalist Spotlights: This is the last of four finalist spotlights that have run each Saturday from August 20 to September 10. The finalists are presented in no particular order. The winner will be announced at a live ceremony on Thursday, September 15, at the Connexity conference in Nashville. Learn more at aaha.org/connexity. The AAHA-Accredited Practice of Year awards are generously supported by Zoetis. 

It was August 29, 2021, exactly 16 years to the day since Hurricane Katrina made landfall, and a new storm, Hurricane Ida, was on its way. MedVet New Orleans had evacuated, and Hospital Director Colleen Mangum was the last one out. 

“I was the singular human being in the building,” Mangum said.  

As a 24-hour emergency hospital, this might have been the first time since its founding that the MedVet New Orleans building was empty. But even in a region that expects hurricanes, the past two storm seasons had been the worst in history. 

“In the midst of the pandemic, it felt like we were dodging tropical storms and hurricane-level weather left and right, emerging largely unscathed, unlike some of our neighboring states and communities,” said Medical Director Cody Mannino, DVM.  

But this time, they wouldn’t get so lucky. Hurricane Ida, an incredibly quick-moving and intensifying storm, was headed straight for them, giving the hospital team flashbacks of Katrina. 

Together with their regional leadership, Mannino and Mangum made the difficult decision to evacuate, which meant safely securing the team and relocating the patients in their care. Then they set out to save the equipment.  

“We were so worried about flooding, so we moved everything upstairs as part of our emergency plan to reopen as soon as possible,” Mangum said: “Because, in storms like that, animals are hurt, they're lost, they're injured, and there needs to be somewhere for them to go.”  

They weren’t just preparing for the immediate aftermath—they had to be sure they could provide critical services in the long run. “If we lost vital equipment like our MRI, we would eliminate the possibility of advanced veterinary imaging in our area for years to come,” Mangum said. 

In the Gulf Coast region stretching from Texas to Florida, MedVet hospitals are some of the few multispecialty, emergency referral centers available, which raises the stakes: “Where will sick patients in our communities go? Who can our referral partners depend on to take care of their patients if we are not here?” Mangum said. “It’s a heavy responsibility, but it’s who we are.” 

Medical Director Cody Mannino, DVM, and Hospital Director Colleen Mangum, said they "work together as a dyad partnership, leading the team, running the hospital, and making tough decisions" during circumstances like they encountered during Hurricane Ida.

 

Veterinarian-owned, veterinarian-led 

On a regular day, MedVet New Orleans offers a full array of specialties in addition to emergency services. The staff of approximately 150 team members includes 18 board-certified veterinary specialists—from veterinary criticalists to internal medicine specialists and medical oncologists, as well as experts in surgery, cardiology, dermatology, radiology, and neurology. 

 

MedVet New Orleans' triage area

 

MedVet New Orleans' surgery suite

 

Founded in 1988 and headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, MedVet operates more than 30 emergency and specialty hospitals throughout the United States. The company is led and owned by veterinarians, which Mangum and Mannino said gives them firsthand insight into the challenges that team members face on a daily basis.  

In fact, when Mangum joined MedVet New Orleans five years ago, she said MedVet CEO Linda Lehmkuhl, DVM, MS, DACVIM (Cardiology), made frequent visits to see the hospital and meet the team. “She is super hands-on; the entire leadership team is,” Mangum said. “Our organization is firmly led and run by the veterinarians who work in it every day.”

Mentorship and peer teaching 

The training and CE philosophy at MedVet New Orleans is simple: Be curious. 

“We’re committed to doing our part by giving back and growing the next generation of our profession,” Mannino said.  

Strong mentorship is central to the hospital’s post-graduate veterinary medical education program, which includes residencies, specialty internships, and rotating internships. They do monthly hospital-wide rounds, weekly specialty and topic rounds, and supplemental “mini- rounds” presented by MedVet New Orleans specialists. 

At the end of each year, the students become the teachers, as trainees implement a CE and wetlab for the internal team members “not only to support their growth and development, but as a gesture of gratitude for all the skill they have gained working alongside them,” Mannino said.  

They also provide yearly CE opportunities for veterinarians and technicians beyond their internal team by partnering with state and local veterinary medical associations, providing lunch-and-learns at referral partner practices, and offering the free MedVet Conference, which attracts more than 400 veterinary professionals annually.  

Mangum said the resulting peer-to-peer learning environment increases longevity and wellbeing among the team and in their region. And Clinical Education Specialist Kris Guffa, LVT, said: "Training allows us to share our knowledge and help create a path to success for others." 

A session at a recent MedVet Conference

 

MedVet_Insta story.jpg

A recent Instagram story featured team members including Veterinary Neurologist Arturo Otamendi, DVM, DACVIM (Neurology), (far left), who explains that his job is to specialize in neurologic diseases especially involving the brain, spinal cord, nerves, and muscles; and Veterinary Neurology Assistant Kayla Cheatham (far right), who says: “I chose veterinary medicine because animals can’t advocate for themselves and I want to be that person who can care for them, advocate for them, and make sure they get the best care possible.” 

 

Keeping technicians engaged 

Like practices everywhere, MedVet New Orleans understands the threat of burnout—especially among technicians. One way the hospital keeps techs engaged is by providing full scholarships for qualified team members to the Penn Foster VTNE-prep course, and an annual CE benefit for credentialed technicians. Credentialed technicians also give “Tech Talks” to showcase their knowledge. 

Mangum, Mannino, and the clinical manager team help technicians identify topics they’re passionate about, then coach them through designing PowerPoints and strengthening presentation skills as a way of opening new avenues. 

One recent presenter is technician Rebecca Godshall, FFCP, CFVP, who presented on Fear Free®. 

“Learning to compose and deliver CE for my peers allows me to share my passions with others,” said Godshall. “I'm grateful to have an opportunity to develop skills which allow me to better serve my clients and patients, as well as create a unifying language and skill set for increased continuity of care. I was excited to present training to the hospital on Fear Free handling after becoming certified." 

Living the AAHA culture 

“AAHA accreditation is more than passing a test: It’s a culture. It is a mindset of who we are every day, with every patient,” Mangum said. 

She said the AAHA Standards of Accreditation are a “reinforcement of our best practices” and that, although the standards might be associated with the clinical side, the culture initiatives are “just as pivotal to providing a premier veterinary medical experience.”  

“We want to live all aspects of what an AAHA hospital aspires to be—and a hospital our size must have a purposeful focus on culture,” said Mangum. “This prioritized focus has carried us through challenges and given rise to a grit and resiliency that is MedVet New Orleans. The team is our success.”  

To help achieve this, the hospital team is trained in heart-based, empathetic communication through programs like the R Factor, which emphasizes taking control of personal reactions in order to de-escalate challenges, and Heart Head Heart, which focuses on compassion, especially in client communications.  

Communication is also key to the success of a diverse team: “This is a passion for me. I really strive to create a diverse team, especially amongst my leadership, because I feel like there needs to be representation and they need to bring ideas to the table from different viewpoints,” Mangum said. “That's the beauty of diversity—celebrating those differences and not worrying about how the differences separate us.”  

Persevering after Hurricane Ida  

Being in the Gulf Coast region means the MedVet New Orleans team must review emergency preparedness plans at the start of each hurricane season.   

“We are checking our emergency boxes, we're making sure we have all the extension cords, flashlights, headlamps, cell phones, and chargers in case we lose our phone system, so we can connect with clients.” she said. “Every hurricane that comes our way is basically a drill.” 

But Ida was no typical storm.  

“It didn't flood,” Mangum said, “Instead, air conditioning units got ripped off the hospital roof, the transformer that fed our hospital directly was destroyed, and generators were damaged, resulting in no power and no running water.”  

But the team rose to the challenge.  

Without power, they couldn’t take animals inside to their kennels or ICU because it was just too hot. So, within four days, they had partnered with the Louisiana State Animal Response Team (LSART) to open an emergency triage and trauma clinic out of two 36-foot trailers in their front parking lot.  

Doctors and team members were stationed outside the damaged area as a resource to clients, referral partners, and patients who might need medical records, prescription refills, or just plain advice.  

“This allowed us to stabilize patients, administer fluids, evaluate and treat injuries, and perform ultrasounds,” Mangum said. 

During the aftermath of the storm, even less emergent, “routine” services became essential, including administering chemotherapy, refilling maintenance medications, administering SQ fluids, and selling food products. The team provided care to 165 pets in need, all from their parking lot. 

Within a week of Hurricane Ida making landfall, the hospital was back to functioning as a 24/7 emergency facility with the ability to perform emergency surgery. Soon, they were opening their appointment books despite a lack of continued extended power outages to their area. “As you can imagine, this experience heightened our sense of community responsibility and commitment. It has woven an even deeper drive to give and serve those who need us most,” Mangum said. 

That philosophy continued after the storm, as MedVet New Orleans partnered with LSART to create a fund where they matched contributions dollar-for-dollar to provide funding for veterinary care to pets impacted by Hurricane Ida.  

Outdoor triage area in MedVet New Orleans' parking lot after Hurricane Ida

 

Team members during Hurricane Ida relief efforts

 

MedVet team members and first responders during the annual Jefferson Parish K9 First Responder Training

 

The community heart of New Orleans 

“The roots of our Black, Native American, Spanish, and French history have given us things like jazz, Creole cuisine, folk art, festivals, fellowship, second lines, and architecture filled with deep spirits of the past,” said Mannino. “These foundational themes give our team great pride in their city and create a community where we care for each other as well as the families we serve. This belief and behavior, along with AAHA standards and our organizational mission, has developed the MedVet New Orleans culture.” 

"New Orleans is unique. We have so much history, and it’s so rich with personality—it’s like, the city just sings,” Mangum said. “We constantly are up against everything from floods to hurricanes to tornados, but it’s a resilient city that takes such pride in the community and really comes together, works together, and perseveres.” 

And MedVet New Orleans is right there along with them, making sure their pets are cared for. 

“Our community role is to be here,” Mannino said, “regardless of circumstance, challenge, or time.”  

 

About the APOY Awards 

This is the 13th year for the AAHA-Accredited Practice of the Year (APOY) award, which recognizes outstanding achievements in workplace culture, patient care, client engagement, and community involvement among AAHA-accredited practices. AAHA hospitals are known for their excellence, so this award is highly competitive. The awards committee evaluates each finalist on its most recent AAHA accreditation score, the practice’s mission and vision, team composition, CE and training programs, community service activities, and more. Learn more at aaha.org/awards. 

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