In the Community: Pandemic Pivot

AAHA-accredited Veterinary and Rehabilitation Center of Cape Elizabeth in Maine deals with the coronavirus outbreak in creative ways.

A VRCCE client watches her puppy’s exam via a “porch visit.” (Photo courtesy of VRCCE)

Editor’s note: Since the advent of the coronavirus, veterinary practices’ community service has shifted. We reached out to several practices we’ve interviewed in the past to see how they’re doing.

For AAHA-accredited Veterinary and Rehabilitation Center of Cape Elizabeth (VRCCE), in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, the coronavirus was not only in the news—it was at their doorstep.

“On March 15, we found out that a student in the middle school where both my child and Dr. Morris’s children go had tested positive with COVID-19,” said practice owner Ginger Browne Johnson, DVM, CCRP. (Nina Morris, DVM, also practices at VRCCE.) “Out of an abundance of caution in case our families had been exposed and we were a danger to our clients, we immediately closed our practice except for essential services.”

For two weeks, VRCCE decreased its workweek from 45 to 22 hours and reduced staff from 13 to 3 employees. (All staff were kept on the payroll.) VRCCE provided only door-to-door service (no clients were allowed in the building), 30-minute appointments, and no simultaneous appointments.

Having interpreted “essential services” as those laid out in the veterinarian’s oath, VRCCE limited appointments to those that were emergency or urgent cases, rabies and leptospirosis vaccinations, if due, and initial puppy or kitten vaccination series. All other services, including rehabilitation, were stopped.

After two weeks with no signs of illness, VRCCE continued with reduced hours but increased staffing to seven, split into two separate teams. VRCCE also began offering online Home Improvement Programs to all current patients through Canine Exercise Solutions.

By May 1, with new state guidelines, VRCCE increased its office hours and began to offer all services, but with reduced surgery hours. (In June, the hours expanded.) VRCCE’s calendar filled up immediately, including a new twist on a traditional appointment.

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“One of our clients didn’t want to be separated from her new puppy, so we set up the porch as a ‘viewing area’ (the window looks into an examination room) and asked the client to wear a mask,” said Johnson. “This worked so well that we moved all pediatric and new client appointments to the exam room that could be viewed from the porch, and put up a tent to protect clients from sun and rain.”

And what happened to its community service? Given that VRCCE was involved in library, school, and scout troop activities, all of that ceased. But that doesn’t mean its community service has stopped.

“The best community service we can provide right now is to be a model for best practices related to protection against the coronavirus,” said Johnson. “We’re scientists, after all. We know how to be safe.

“Right now, we can share what we know about pet-to-person (and vice versa) transmissions, best practices related to social distancing, and more, with our community.” That’s exactly what VRCCE does now, via its client communications and education, including phone, email, website, and social media channels.

How’s that for a pandemic pivot?

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