Your Office Is Closed….Now What?

As many of you know, we recently had the Suffolk Veterinary Group Animal Wellness & Laser Surgery Center operating under reduced hours due to Dr. Winkler’s own healthcare needs. We are very grateful for everyone’s patience during this time, and did our best to meet every patient’s veterinary care in as timely a fashion as possible. Still, there were some families who were caught unaware of Dr. Winkler’s absence, that required immediate medical care for their beloved companions, and were confused as to what to do next.

The New York State Office of the Professions recommends in their veterinary practice guidelines that veterinary clinics “provide clients with direct contact information on how to obtain veterinary services in case of emergency, as well as who to contact for services in her/his absence. A sign should be displayed at the entrance of the veterinary facility with a telephone number and location where veterinary care is available when the veterinary facility is closed. An answering machine or service should notify the public of the business hours of the veterinary facility and when veterinary care is available.”

Even the American Veterinary Medical Association requires in its “Principles of Veterinary Medicine Ethics,” “When veterinarians cannot be available to provide services, they should provide readily accessible information to assist clients in obtaining emergency services, consistent with the needs of the locality.”

We follow these guidelines, and more. Not only are there signs in our business windows, and contact information on our answering system for the nearest emergency clinic to our hospital, on the bottom of all invoices is also a footnote regarding the nearest emergency contact phone number, and the location of that emergency clinic. Our website, provides an entire page dedicated to emergency care, and a listing of the many emergency hospitals that are on Long Island so you can find the nearest facility to your home, not just to Suffolk Veterinary Group. When we have patients in need of chronic care or with rapidly changing medical conditions, we always make sure their families leave with a pamphlet and business card of our nearest emergency hospital.

It is our obligation to refer patients to emergency care when Dr. Winkler is not available, especially in cases where a pet is painful, vomiting, having diarrhea, or is otherwise experiencing an immediate medical crisis. Waiting for Dr. Winkler’s return can be detrimental to your pet’s health, and we cannot in good faith recommend that the patient do so.

Unfortunately, we were met with a lot of “that place is too expensive for care,” as well as a lot of disappointment that Dr. Winkler himself was too incapacitated to help his patients. This breaks our hearts, because without the support of our local emergency hospitals, we cannot provide care that is in the best interest of our patients, nor can we achieve an important work-life balance for our own team.

What we believe is that our families may not understand the value of the care and services provided by our emergency veterinary hospitals. A lot of people have asked why we ourselves do not have 24 hour care. What you many not realize is that should we also provide 24 hour care at Suffolk Veterinary Group, our fees would be just as much, if not more, than those of the emergency hospitals, and we still would not be able to provide even half of the great care the full fledged emergency hospitals can.

Emergency hospitals have extensive professional teams of specially trained and licensed individuals who are available at all hours. The type of people who choose careers in emergency veterinary medicine are extremely dedicated to ensuring that their hospitals remain opened and fully staffed during horrible weather when most of us stay home. They work 10 to 16 hour shifts, sometimes past their own times to clock out, to ensure they see a patient through treatment protocols. There are no snow days, there are a lot of sleepless overnights and weekend shifts, and there is a lot of heart involved in maintaining a calm, healing environment when every monitor is beeping an urgent medical alert. These individuals deserve compensation for their hard work, and emergency hospitals ensure that their medical teams benefit appropriately for a job well done.

Emergency hospitals also have available to them specialized team members in disciplines such as neurology, oncology, cardiology, orthopedics, and others that take many years of training. These specialist are considered the bests in their fields, and know more information on their areas of interest than a general practice doctor who must know a little about a whole lot. They are especially suited to providing emergency care in cases where quick diagnosis and treatment can mean the difference between life and death.

For Suffolk Veterinary Group to provide such a team for 24 hour care seven days a week, we would indeed have to charge higher fees to compensate for the extra payroll expense in hiring people who are dedicated enough to want the long hours and often thankless tasks of overnights, or working weekends away from their families. We’d have to provide for them specific certifications and training in emergency and critical care, as well as make sure these talented individuals have the necessary equipment to do their jobs.

Dr. Winkler and Ms. Winkler both started their veterinary careers in emergency hospitals, and understand exactly what it is like to be such an individual. They have the utmost respect for those who continue in such a career.

Twenty-four hour emergency hospitals never shut off their lights. They don’t turn the heat down at night. They don’t shut down energy hungry equipment such as x-ray machines, computer servers, and monitoring devices. All the things that we as a small animal general practice do to conserve energy and reduce the overhead expenses of our utilities so that we can provide reduced cost care, 24 hour emergency hospitals simply cannot do, or they risk placing their patients in a compromised environment. They must remain operational at full capacity at all times, and even maintain and operate generators in events of power failures, so that when your pet has a severe medical condition, everything is 100% at the ready immediately as your pet needs it.

As anyone who’s recently taken a look at their National Grid bill during this past polar vortex knows, those utilities do not come cheap.

Emergency hospitals must have available at all times all relevant medical equipment and medications necessary for sustaining life and providing care, including but not limited to IV pumps, heart monitors, pulse oximeters, incubators, forced oxygen, and other machines we associate with human emergency hospitals as basic standard parts of care. They must keep that equipment, often multiple pieces for many patients, in fully operational condition at all times. Their pharmacy must be fully stocked with the best possible medications to treat every medical condition a pet may arrive having, from to congestive heart failure medications to dialysis for kidney disease. That’s not including the often specialized equipment such as MRIs, CAT scanners, and multiple surgical suites.

The Suffolk Veterinary Group animal hospital has equipment for, and carries a pharmacy that supports preventative health care, which is vastly different from an emergency facility. If we were to convert to a 24 hour emergency hospital, we would have to equip and stock nearly a whole second hospital, which would most likely double if not triple the cost of care to our families all so we could afford all that multiple equipment and pharmacy. We’d also certainly need a bigger place for the MRI machine, thus incurring rent and construction costs, all of which would be paid for through higher examination fees.

Our Long Island emergency hospitals also provide a significant amount of charity to their communities in the form of free or reduced medical care for strays, shelter animals and wildlife. Without such charity, many animals on Long Island would not get the veterinary care they deserve. This generosity is not often provided with donated materials or fundraising grants, but is often done out of the team’s devotion and love for their patients. While certainly we want to say that we love animals, there is an expense associated with charity, as those vendors and merchants that provide veterinary supplies expect to be paid for their products with cash, and not puppy kisses or the soaring freedom of a red-tailed hawk.

I always draw the analogy to a pediatrician’s office because I have children. If my child was hit by a car, certainly my pediatrician’s office can stabilize them, perhaps provide IV support and CPR, but the first thing they’re going to do is call an ambulance for transport to the nearest emergency hospital because a general practice pediatrician is simply not equipped to provide the specialized surgical and hospitalization care required to put my child back together again. And, as has happened on more than one occasion in the Winkler household, should the general practice pediatrician’s office be closed, say at 10:00 at night because someone tripped and banged his head on the coffee table, a trip to the nearest emergency hospital for care could not be begrudged or avoided for the ensuring health and safety of our children.

The same applies to us at Suffolk Veterinary Group. As a general wellness and preventative care animal hospital, we can provide your pet with a lifetime of veterinary services geared towards keeping them healthy, and hopefully out of the emergency hospital. In order to keep the cost of preventative care as affordable as possible, we rely on the support and dedication of those facilities who do provide 24 hour immediate emergency care to be there for our patients when we ourselves cannot. We greatly enjoy working with these dedicated and highly knowledgeable individuals, and strongly value our relationships with all of them. We’ve made concerted efforts to get to know them on a professional, as well as personal, level so that regardless of what emergency animal hospital you take your pet too, you know you have Dr. Winkler’s fullest confidence that you’ll receive only the highest and best veterinary emergency and critical care for your beloved companion.

For those instances where you pet simply cannot wait for our office to be opened and fully staffed before they see a doctor, the animal emergency hospitals of Long Island are there for you and your pet, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every holiday, and in all types of weather conditions. We at the Suffolk Veterinary Group Animal Wellness & Laser Surgery Center want to send a great big “Thank You” to all our colleagues and friends who provide outstanding and compassionate emergency and critical care to Long Island’s pets.

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