“Family-oriented” AAHA finalist adopts nontraditional approaches to both patient and team care
As we approach the big reveal at AAHA Con in San Diego, we’re profiling the four finalists for the 2023 AAHA-Accredited Practice of the Year (in no particular order). Meet our first finalist in Manhattan, Kansas: TimberCreek Veterinary Hospital.
Register and learn more at aaha.org/aahacon.
When Paige Andersen, DVM, was growing up, she and her dad used to talk about opening an animal hospital together. Her father, Kelly Lechtenberg, DVM, shared her love of animals—particularly cats—and encouraged her career. Andersen attended his alma mater—Kansas State University—for undergraduate studies and veterinary school—and competed on the university’s equestrian team.
They realized their dream sooner than later.
Soon after Andersen earned her DVM in 2016, the father-daughter team bought a property near the campus that would become AAHA-accredited TimberCreek Veterinary Hospital in Manhattan, Kansas.
A new veterinarian—and new business owner
While her dad offered business mentorship from his base in Nebraska, Andersen moved into a little apartment just off the horse barn on the property, rolled up her sleeves, and started pouring sweat equity into the hospital along with the barn manager at the time. They painted walls, epoxied the floor, and tried to turn it into a veterinary clinic.
“I graduated and suddenly I was a veterinarian as well as a business owner. Those were two things I’d never been before, and AAHA really provided a structure and framework to build a practice in a very exceptional way,” she recalled.
“When I felt like I was floundering a little bit and lacking direction starting out, there was a lot of self-doubt and those imposter feelings, so the accreditation process became very personal for me.”
Now TimberCreek Veterinary Hospital is a finalist for 2023 AAHA-Accredited Practice of the Year.
“Excellent patient care is the standard for AAHA-accredited hospitals. That doesn’t make us unique, but I think that the level of care that we give to our clients and our veterinary team especially is really what makes us stand out,” Andersen, managing partner, said. “We have taken really nontraditional approaches to loving our people well and supporting them emotionally.”
TimberCreek Veterinary Hospital in Manhattan, Kansas.
Lexi Allen, RVT, joined the practice prior to its expansion over five years ago.
What used to be the footprint of the entire TimberCreek clinic is now the front lobby of the 7,000-square-foot hospital.
On-site childcare and a family-friendly culture
Since the owners are a father-daughter team, perhaps it’s not surprising that TimberCreek nurtures a family-friendly culture.
All four veterinarians are moms—or expecting—and the support staff is almost entirely female. When COVID lockdowns began, childcare options in the area grew scarce—and expensive.
So TimberCreek opened a licensed childcare facility for the kids of anyone on the team. Andersen’s own daughters, Maddie, 4, and Emily, 2, are always excited to go with their mother to work, where they create craft projects and read stories.
Offering childcare makes sense from a retention and recruitment standpoint, but Andersen feels the biggest benefit is the joy of having the children on the premises, and modeling that mothers can be good professionals, and professionals can be good mothers.
“When my dad went to vet school, his class was about 80% male. By the time I got there, it had flip-flopped, and my class was about 80% female,” she said. “That is one of the ways that our profession has changed and evolved, so I think finding ways to empower women and validate them—that they can do both, and there’s a way to do it—is really important for our industry and the future of veterinary medicine.”
Kellie Lewis, DVM, loves seeing her three children—a 7-year-old, 5-year-old, and infant—during shifts by visiting them in daycare. At her previous practice, she had a 45-minute commute and worked the typical long hours of a veterinarian, so when her oldest child was a baby, she only saw him for less than an hour each morning, and then he’d be asleep by the time she got home.
“It was devastating for me because I felt like I was really missing out on his infanthood,” she said. “I had talked to my boss about, ‘Is there a way I can work through lunch and get off early so I can go home?’ She said, ‘No.’ Then she said, ‘It’s not going to be this way forever.’ I was like, ‘I know it’s not going to be—he’s only going to be a baby once.’”
So she’s incredibly grateful that TimberCreek has such a family-oriented culture. The team is so close-knit that they often choose to spend time together after hours at the small animal and equine practice. One Friday a month, they have a potluck for “Food Fridays” and play yard games, or tack up and ride horses.
Recently, many members of the team went to see the Barbie movie together.
Being in a university town, some staff are veterinary students who study in the conference room or stop by for a cup of coffee. In the staff section of the practice’s website, 10 current students are listed as “shining stars,” as well as four former employees who worked at TimberCreek prior to and/or throughout veterinary school who “we have watched grow into wonderful, caring veterinarians. These ladies will always hold a special place in our hearts.”
Clients receive high-quality binders to become familiarized with the practice’s recommendations and services. These also serve as a place to store their pets’ medical records.
Megan Olson, AAS, who is currently awaiting her licensing exam to become an RVT, began as an intern at TimberCreek Veterinary Hospital and returned to join the team after graduation. Mentoring young professionals is a core concept of the practice.
Work-life balance and wellness
Andersen loves building a culture that supports everyone on the team and models work-life balance.
“Having students come through here and see that and want to be part of that has been amazing,” she said. “Then they can go out and bring the same to their practices, wherever they end up. That is how we intend to change the industry.”
The practice offers full health and life insurance coverage to employees, and last year, hired a therapist from the K-State Family Center. She leads monthly group workshops and is available for one-on-one sessions as well.
The team can speak to a therapist whenever they like, as well as one another, according to Alecia McAtee, DVM.
“I’ve been at a couple of other practices and this one has the most support,” she said. “You can tell people if you’re having a rough day, or something’s going on at home and you need to talk about it—versus a lot of other times, it’s ‘You’re at work. Don’t bring your home or personal life to work.’ It just makes us closer and our job easier as far as that goes.”
The practice has always fostered a special culture, according to Whitney Sloan-Plummer, DVM, who was the clinic’s first hire back when she was an undergraduate student. She helped out as a veterinary assistant who also answered phones and, in the first weeks of the practice opening, went door to door with Andersen inviting neighbors to check out the new animal hospital.
Sometimes there were just one or two appointments in the little apartment on the property. (The practice has since expanded to a top-notch facility with three spacious exam rooms; treatment room and laboratory room; dental, surgical and radiology suites; and an equine treatment room and surgical suite.)
Sloan-Plummer continued working there on weekends and breaks while she pursued her DVM. After graduation, she looked at other practices but didn’t find anything up to the standards at TimberCreek—where she’s now an associate veterinarian.
“We all think of TimberCreek as a family. We want to let clients know that we’re more than just a veterinary clinic,” she said. “We’re like a family and when they bring their pet to us, they’re treated like that. . . . their pet is receiving the best care that they can.”
Hospital Founder and Managing Partner Paige Andersen, DVM, operates in the TimberCreek surgical suite while Addie Houchin, RVT, closely monitors the patient undergoing anesthesia.
Singing their way to better patient care
One striking example of above-and-beyond patient care involved a fearful Malamute named Onya with declining mobility and suspected oral cancer. She needed an injectable medication but, due to stress, would try to fight. So the team figured out that Onya would relax when they sang to her; her favorite song was Corinne Bailey Rae’s “(Girl) Put Your Records On.”
The team sang that song to Onya every week in her final months to administer the medication that brought her comfort. After she passed away, her owners nominated TimberCreek Veterinary Hospital for the Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business of the Year Award.
“We found a nontraditional way to figure out what works for a patient, and the clients were really appreciative of that,” Andersen said. “She was great. She really left an imprint on us.”
Andersen feels it’s a “tremendous honor” for the practice to be named a finalist for AAHA’s top award.
“I do believe that we embody what it means to be an AAHA-accredited practice. Having the logo on our door and our scrubs gives us a sense of responsibility to lead the industry, and lead it well,” she said. “I think our hope, if we did happen to win Practice of the Year, would be to inspire other practices with our story—they can take some things that we’ve done and do the same. It would mean a lot to our team, and we could also hopefully impact the profession.”
When and where will the 2023 APOY Award be announced?
The 2023 AAHA-Accredited Practice of the Year will be announced on Thursday, September 21, between 10:20–11:00 am Pacific Time, during the Awards and Gavel Pass ceremony at AAHA Con in San Diego. It will also be livestreamed on Instagram. Give us a follow at Instagram/aahahealthypet.
Going to AAHA Con?
If you love TimberCreek’s story of singing to Onya the Malamute, then you might be interested in these AAHA Con sessions about the role of music in pain management with Charles Short, DVM, MS, PhD, DACVAA, DECVAA, a co-founder of the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management and 89-year-old emeritus professor who gets great pleasure from seeing the sincere efforts of younger veterinarians dedicated to the relief of pain and suffering in animals.
See the full AAHA Con schedule here!
Photos courtesy of TimberCreek Veterinary Hospital and David Mayes Photography
Freelance journalist Jen Reeder is former president of the Dog Writers Association of America. Bylines include Trends, CNN, BBC News, Inside Your Cat’s Mind, The Daily Beast, Family Dog Magazine, the TODAY show’s website, Woman’s World, HuffPost, and many other publications. She writes alongside her dogs Rio and Tux (pictured here) in her home office in Denver, Colorado.
Disclaimer: The views expressed, and topics discussed, in any NEWStat column or article are intended to inform, educate, or entertain, and do not represent an official position by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) or its Board of Directors.