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VetPartners Holds Virtual Town Hall Meetings to Address Veterinary Industry Concerns Amidst COVID-19 Pandemic

Apr 9, 2020 at 4:50 pm
Sarah Rumple

COVID-19 has become all-consuming for people around the world, as we are asked to stay at home, close “non-essential” businesses, and homeschool our children in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. While most veterinary practices have remained open to provide necessary and emergency care, they have been forced to postpone elective procedures and appointments indefinitely.

Understanding the strain our industry is feeling right now, VetPartners developed a COVID-19 Resources page on our website, held two COVID-19 Virtual Town Hall Meetings (the first on March 25, and the second on April 7), and has an active member forum topic dedicated to the topic.

Although the situation is changing daily, the VetPartners resources provide a glimpse into how COVID-19 is affecting the veterinary industry, and how you can protect yourself, your clients, your patients, and your business.

If you missed the VetPartners COVID-19 Virtual Town Hall Meetings, continue reading for the main points discussed during each.

Practice finance

Town Hall panelist: Karen Felsted, CPA, MS, DVM, CVPM, CVA

  • “I do think that everyone’s going to take a hit, here. The big question is how much of a hit is it? Personally, if a practice came through this, broke even and paid all their expenses, kept their employees, and made their debt payments, I think that’s a win.”
  • If a practice is busy and is bringing in more money than they spend, they should start an emergency fund if they don’t have one, or add to it if they do. “I would put money in a cash fund, rather than reduce debt at this point.”
  • Have access to a line of credit, and take advantage of applicable CARES Act programs, including the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
  • Postpone any major expenses, like equipment purchases, major renovations, etc., unless you have a large emergency fund and you are getting a really good deal because of this pandemic.
  • Review all expenses, including inventory control.
  • Staffing: Before laying off, look at other ways to save. Can we postpone any planned raises? Do we need a hiring freeze? Could we do a voluntary reduction in hours — are there people who would like to take time off? Are people wanting to stay home to take care of kids or to self-isolate? Can we apply for the PPP to cover payroll costs?
  • Talk to the landlord or the bank about postponing rent or mortgage payments.
  • Act as if we think we’re in a recession, even though we won’t know for sure until this fall.

Veterinary Industry Impact Tracker tool

Town Hall panelist: Martin Traub-Werner

The VetSuccess team put together a Veterinary Industry Impact Tracker tool to show how COVID-19 is affecting the industry. They take visits from 2,700 practices and map them daily. It is filterable by date, state, municipal area, and practice size (small vs. large), and it looks at daily revenue and daily invoices per practice.

Staffing and human resources

Town Hall panelist: Betsy Choder, JD

  • The Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA) applies to employers with <500 employees.
  • Up to 80 hours of paid sick leave at the regular rate of pay if an employee is unable to work because of being quarantined, seeking a diagnosis, etc. That is capped at $511 per day or the maximum of $5,110 per employee (FT and PT).
  • Look at credible sites for information, like the IRS, Department of Labor, etc.
  • Rules surrounding I9 forms for new hires have been relaxed.

Workflow innovation

Town Hall panelist: Nancy Dewitz

  • Focus on different ways to provide services safely:
    • Telemedicine appointments
    • Curbside appointments
    • Medication and food deliveries
  • If you’re still seeing patients and the client is dropping them off, there are so many ways to continue to stay in touch with those clients, whether they’re in the parking lot, at home, or somewhere else.
    • Video (Facetime, Zoom, Google Hangouts, etc.)
      • With Zoom, you shouldn’t use your personal ID when you set up meetings. Use a unique meeting ID for each meeting.
    • Telephone
      • Especially in areas with poor internet service, or for clients without smartphones
  • “Take a breath” and slow down.  There isn’t an “easy button” for implementing telemedicine.
  • Split your staff into two teams so that the same people are always working together. That way, if someone is exposed to the virus, only one team is affected, and the other team can take over while the “sick” team is quarantined.
  • Check out the AAHA Infection Control, Prevention, and Biosecurity Guidelines for best practices in cleaning and sanitizing your practice.

Client communication

Town Hall panelist: Debbie Boone, CVPM

  • It is important to communicate with clients during this time! Communicate that you’re open and there for them and their pets. Let them know about changes in operating procedures, and about the ways you’re working to keep them, their pets, and your team safe. Create a bullet-point list of what you’re doing and put that out via email, social, texts, client app, etc.
  • “Veterinarians who have insisted on staying in the past and have been resistant on moving forward are probably going to struggle more than those who are digital natives” and have embraced technology already.
  • Set expectations with your clients. Delivery times may take longer. Appointments may look different than they used to. Communicate with your clients often so they are prepared for changes.

Corporate perspective

Town Hall panelist: Douglas Brooks

  • Compassion-First Pet Hospitals has seen an increase in emergency caseloads, but general practice and non-essential specialty services are down.
  • Offer telemedicine services if possible.
  • More hospitals are showing an interest in selling to corporate entities, or speeding up the process rather than waiting, because of the economic effects of the pandemic.
  • “Veterinary medicine has always adapted to keep up with current economic conditions…” We’ll get through this.

For the second VetPartners COVID-19 Virtual Town Hall Meeting, some VetPartners sponsors spoke about what their companies are doing to support the industry during this time.

CareCredit

Town Hall panelist: Patrick Keefe

  • For clients and cardholders: If you need help, call the CareCredit customer service line. Payment relief and other resources are available.
  • CareCredit if offering no enrollment fee for practices through August 31, at the earliest.
  • CareCredit has created a QR code reader for applications for “contactless payments.”

Nationwide

Town Hall panelist: Dr. Jules Benson

  • Nationwide has donated $5M through the Nationwide Foundation to multiple organizations for COVID relief.
  • Telemedicine is covered. As long as the condition is covered, it doesn’t matter if the appointment is conducted in person or through telemedicine, as long as the VCPR is recognized based on local/state regulations.
  • Nationwide is working with those facing financial hardship and offering assistance in multiple ways.

Boehringer Ingelheim

Town Hall panelist: Anthony Tortorici

  • Boehringer Ingelheim (BI) is maintaining supply and delivery of products, and their onsite production facilities are adhering to strict regulations to keep staff and customers safe.
  • BI is allowing practices to delay payments for 60 days.
  • BI is helping practices ensure that products can be delivered to pet owners.
  • To support others during the COVID crisis, BI has donated money to various organizations in the U.S. and abroad.

Brief Media

Town Hall panelist: Dr. Naomi Murray

  • Brief Media has developed guidelines for how clinicians should interact with clients during COVID-19.
  • They’ve also developed clinical and business tools for veterinary professionals, including podcasts and more:
    • “Quiz: PPE Options for Urgent Surgical Cases”
    • “Personal Protective Equipment Shortages in Veterinary Medicine”
    • “Top 9 Disinfectants for COVID-19”
    • “COVID-19: What We Know Today with Dr. Weese and Dr. Mani”
    • Business tools cover human resources, operations, finance, well-being, and regulatory
  • “We firmly believe that we’re better together.” Brief Media is disseminating tools and resources developed by other organizations as well.
  • Brief Media is also helping veterinary marketers. They launched a weekly veterinary marketing newsletter, covering topics like:
    • “Practical Ways to Shift Your Marketing Tone During COVID-19”
    • “Canceled Conferences: Generating Veterinary Leads During COVID-19”

VetSource

Town Hall panelist: Kim London

  • VetSource is working closely with suppliers to minimize the impact of supply issues.
  • In anticipation of increased demand from pet owners, VetSource has increased inventory.
  • VetSource is identifying outside resources to expand capacity if needed.

Patterson Veterinary

Town Hall panelist: Shelley Johnson

  • Patterson Veterinary is supporting customers from a technology standpoint, and offering relevant online CE opportunities, including a free curbside care education course (awaiting RACE approval).
  • The equipment and service teams for Patterson put together a plan to keep employees and veterinary practice teams safe during install or repair of equipment.

Lendeavor

Town Hall panelist: Sean Coyle

  • Lendeavor is providing webinars and other resources and education surrounding the CARES Act, PPP, etc.
  • Lendeavor is providing additional working capital for transactions when clinics are transferring ownership or refinancing.
  • They are offering deferred interest or interest-only payments, and are recasting debt.

Want to watch recordings of the meetings?

Click here to view the first VetPartners COVID-19 Virtual Town Hall Meeting (March 25).

Click here to view the second VetPartners COVID-19 Virtual Town Hall Meeting (April 7).

And, don’t forget to check out our COVID-19 Resources page!

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Sarah Rumple
Sarah Rumple is an award-winning veterinary writer and editor. Serving the veterinary industry since 2011, her writing covers everything from practice management topics for veterinary professionals to pet health and behavior topics for pet owners. Sarah’s clients include veterinary publications, organizations, nonprofit associations, media companies, individual veterinarians/practices, corporate groups, and others. Sarah is owner and chief creative officer of Rumpus Writing and Editing LLC, which she began in 2016. She and her team write hundreds of blog posts and other content for their various clients each month. Learn more about Sarah or contact her at rumpuswriting.com.

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