Early on, we were not sure what was going to happen. Would we be shut down? (We sorta were with ‘only essential care.’) Would we be able to get any supplies? Would a fair percentage of our clientele die or be too sick to get their pet’s care? My knowledge of epidemiology meant that I predicted some issues even before it was in the mainstream news. I wisely stocked up on some items, but not the PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) that would be needed in the hospitals. Human life should be more important than animal life and there are ways around PPE for animal care. It didn’t seem right to take PPE from human health care workers. Andy would say we were “doing the right thing.”
After the weeks where we were restricted to only do essential or emergency care, we were allowed to have people in the building, but only one person per animal. We were supposed to practice “social distancing,” but owners didn’t really understand. An immune-compromised older woman was in our space while we were examining her pet’s ears. She was petting her dog and telling us how her husband was going through rough chemotherapy right now. I repeatedly advised her to step back and she would but then she would drift back to our space. I really worried about her and her husband’s health. “Be a good neighbor.”
Soon things changed again as we and the rest of the world tried to cope with a pandemic and we were not allowed to have people in the building. People will still walk up to the building and sometimes be upset the doors are locked. “We can’t be doing that.” We set up a station for meds that called in and a separate place for meds that are called in and paid for so that a runner can quickly run them out. Some things are now much more efficient.
Communications with owners was tough. Zoom meetings were my first idea, but owners didn’t have the software downloaded on their phones. Or they wouldn’t know to answer the emailed request. We figured out that we could us the iPhone’s facetime feature on the iPad. When that didn’t work, we tried video taping the exam and sending someone out with the iPad to the car to get the results of questions that I would ask on the video. We used dropbox to add cartoon videos to the iPads that previously required a computer. This was so handy that we purchased another iPad. We have had to teach staff to ask better questions and get more complete answers. We are still working on custom history forms and I am making more custom videos for education items. When this is over, our team will have amazing communications skills. I hope Andy would say, “I am proud of you.”
We have more online forms now. Our new client forms, COVID-19 check in forms are online. We will still run a paper form out on a clipboard, but filling it out the night before saves time that would be spent waiting. Less time for you and more efficient for us, which is good because we are seeing more animals. More people are noticing more about their pets and they are not spending money on eating out, travel or school clubs and fund raisers. Many people are finding that they cannot get in at their regular vet. We have been trying to see all of the animals that need care, but with the difficulty of hiring in an uncertain environment, we have realized we cannot see everyone either. We will work people in when we can through our new ‘day admission’ plan, but our clients will have priority. I feel our clients are my “Personal duty”
We are attempting to do interviews online now. The online application is returned and then after review, a secondary application is sent. If the answers on that are good, a phone interview is set up. It is amazing how many people do not answer their phones that they leave for an interview or check their voice mail, but we realize many people are applying so they can keep their unemployment benefits.
With a lot of the COVID-19 changes, we have been extraordinarily farsighted. I took most of the staff to a continuing education conference at the end of February. Our telemedicine app went live the week before the Kentucky Board of Veterinary Examiners outlined restrictions. We could still care for our clients through the telemed app. It has also been very handy to provide surgery and medical case updates. Before we would have to take a photo, text it to the texting app on the computer, download the photo and then text it to the client. Now we pull them up, push an add button and select the photo and hit send. People who sign up for the app get more updates more often. Our new remote monitoring system means that I and my team can check in on animals from home. We don’t just have video, but have heart rate, pulse and temp via remote sensor. #WeGotThis
There are more things available virtually now also. I attend virtual meetings. I almost took a part time job virtually teaching. Our entire staff attended a live Greg Bell event this past Wednesday. Greg Bell is an author and speaker who wrote the book _Water the Bamboo_ which says that you have to work on things for a bit to see them take off. Guardian Animal could never afford the fifteen thousand to have Greg Bell here for a staff meeting, but we could afford and therefore benefit from a zoom meeting. We even were able to ask a question that was answered live. Guardian Animal team came away with new tools for managing stress, being positive and forward thinking. #TeamKentucky
We have new digital laser thermometers that check team temperatures at the beginning of every shift. Early on we set up the Amazon Echo to tell us to wash our hands every hour on the hour. We wear masks inside all the time, unless we are in our own designated space. There is no “six feet”away when you are handling animals, but we do have plenty of space to socially distance the rest of the time. We even have our tiny LED green lights and our rappelling bear in the window for youngsters that are out for a bear hunt.
COVID 19 has certainly changed our world. In March, I never thought I would think this, but we have forced good things to happen because of COVID-19. Things we used to take for granted are different, but will be greatly improved by the time we can talk face to face again and combine what we do now with some of the old way. Meanwhile, we look forward to the time of footprints on the floor, sneeze guards and you bringing your own animals in. Although I think that is some distance in the future, I long for that time enough that I bought several new exam room client chairs yesterday!
Throughout all of this I have had the knowledge that “We’ll get through this. We will get through this together.” Thank you for your patience.