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The low-cost clinic's view: Maxed out but maintaining


If we can get through what we've gone through so far, we can get through anything. COVID-19 has forced us to think faster, become more responsive and accept change quickly.Michelle RiveraDecember 2020
The low-cost clinic's view: <span style="display: inline-block;">Maxed out but maintaining</span>

Michelle Rivera
CEO, Pet Resource Center of Kansas City

Michelle Rivera has been in the animal welfare field for more than 20 years, founding Pet Resource Center of Kansas City (formerly Spay and Neuter KC) in 2002. Today, Pet Resource Center is Kansas City's largest targeted spay and neuter program, with the mission of addressing all variables of pet homelessness.


Staffing

Spring 2020: Rehiring

On March 14, we decided to cancel appointments and suspend all services. We laid off 18 people that day, because we didn't know what support we would receive. My FEMA disaster certification kicked in, and I went into disaster mode. We saw ourselves as a disaster center for pet owners, providing food, acting as a referral center and just being there for our community.

At the same time, we started applying for grants and trying to obtain as much money as possible. I really thought we would be forced to close our doors forever. But the lights kept coming back on, so to speak. Now with the Paycheck Protection Program loan, we've brought back staff, all of who were eager to return, and have planned ways to do business without jeopardizing safety.

Fall 2020: Seeking veterinarians, stat

We need more veterinarians to meet demand. We're desperately trying to hire doctors, but we're unable to fill the positions. Low staffing is crippling our ability to provide the needed care and cope with the necessary logistical changes of curbside appointments. We're facing a financial situation that does not meet the budget, per se, we've operated on in the past, because we can't generate enough business with the number of veterinarians currently on staff.

Appointment Volume

Spring 2020: At capacity

Our wellness clinic reopened in May. Now we're seeing 65 wellness patients a day and we're booked out two weeks. We're building up surgery numbers to pre-COVID levels, but we have over 3,000 pets on a waiting list. Our staff is revamping everything to try to institute a self-serve process for clients to book their own wellness and spay/neuter surgery appointments to take pressure off our call center.

STATS

Pre-COVID: Pet Resource Center averaged 250 appointment request calls per day

During COVID: averaging between 350 to 400 appointment requests per day

Fall 2020: Over capacity

More than 4,000 pets are on a waitlist for spay/neuter surgeries and we estimate about 14,000 pets are overdue for vaccinations because of the backlog of appointments after we suspended services. Our call center cannot contact 4,000 people while also handling new calls, so we've implemented a texting service.

We've texted everyone on the wait list to let them know they'll be put on the schedule in the order of when they initially called our organization. We're texting about 400 of these pet owners every Monday to let them know the week ahead is their opportunity to schedule their pet's appointment. We explain that if they don't call this week for an appointment, we'll move them to the end of the waiting list. If we're lucky, we'll get back to everyone by the end of October. New calls coming in continue to increase. Rather than putting them on a waitlist, we're folding them into the appointment process.

Pet Owner Need

Spring 2020: Hungry for support

We already had a pet food pantry, and we brought all our food from storage to our clinic so we can do mass distribution of pet food to people in need. We set up our waiting area as a fulfillment plant, basically. Every day we get 20 to 30 requests for dog or cat food. We schedule an appointment for the next day and each morning a volunteer comes in to fulfill the requests.

For people visiting the clinic for services, no one has flinched on paying the same prices. Our vaccination prices are already low. We're requiring payment upfront, because we don't have time to deal with the no-show rate, which is about 10 percent every day. A few pet owners have said they don't have the money right now, and we ask them to call back when they do. That's difficult, but we're trying it for a couple of weeks so we can better handle the masses of people who need services. With unemployment on the rise, some pet parents may start to be more financially affected, and that may impact our surgery appointments.

Fall 2020: Slow and steady

Pet owners continue to seek wellness care and spay/neuter surgeries at record numbers. We're maintaining our pre-pay requirements, which the vast majority of pet owners understand and respect. The majority of our clients wouldn't be able to afford care at a traditional veterinary practice. They love their pets, but for many, a sick pet would mean they'd need to surrender that pet to a shelter because they can't afford the needed care. That's why our goal is to continue growing our partnership with for-profit veterinary clinics.

Estimates are that we refer about 50 sick or injured pets a month to local private practices. Our organization pays the private practice for those referred services through a special program. We also encourage our wellness clients to establish a relationship with a full-service clinic, letting them know that vaccinations are a great start, but they're only a part of pet care. The hope is that a percentage of our wellness clients do go to a private practice but, again, we're serving the clientele who can barely afford base care

The Future

Care that comes to you

Before COVID-19, we held off-site clinics in the lowest income neighborhoods. Now we've switched to offering mobile services curbside outside people's homes. We equipped one of our vehicles with a surgical table and light and all the equipment the veterinary team needs to complete vaccinations and spay/neuters. We target those pet owners who lack transportation, who aren't physical able or who aren't able to pay. Our mobile services are subsidized by company sponsorships, so we offer those services at an even lower price than in our clinic.

One positive aspect about the mobile clinics versus our previous off-site clinics is that we're able to see the pet's situation and immediately provide the pet owner with additional resources if needed. We might find that there are other pets in the home that need service or that the pet owner needs additional education about caring for their pets.

We're already running mobile clinics two or three days a week, and we're preparing to increase them to six days a week Monday through Saturday. We're also reinstating our off-site vaccination clinics so we can safely vaccinate between 100 and 150 pets in just a couple hours. We're hoping to start offering pop-up clinics where we announce same day that we'll be in a neighborhood for a few hours.