March of 2020 brought a lot of changes to our lives. One of the most significant changes for veterinary hospitals was that we were encouraged to close our doors to clients and start doing “curbside care” to accommodate social distancing requirements. This was very complicated and difficult, but we adapted. We created ways of communicating to our co-workers and clients while they were not inside the building. It took us time, but we did it. And a lot of hospitals have continued to do “curbside care” to this day.
Now, it looks like we might have to change again. With many states and counties changing their COVID-19 restrictions in the coming weeks, veterinary hospitals are being compelled to let clients inside the building. There are some hospitals who never completely closed their doors and have had clients in their building throughout the pandemic, but others have been tightly restricted for the past 15 months. The idea of having clients in the building again brings stress and fear to some, while others embrace the idea.
Here in California, our state has proposed June 15th as the state’s “reopening” date and they may align the mask guidance with the CDC, potentially lifting the mask restrictions. This change might cause challenges for veterinary hospitals who have gotten used to clients being outside and wearing a facial covering.
6 things that veterinary managers and practice owners should think about before opening their doors to clients.
1. When are you going to re-open? Many CA hospitals are opening their doors in June coordinating with our state’s “reopening” plan. I would pick a date that works for you and your team and let your clients know. Communicating to clients about your plan is going to be very important. Just like us, they got used to parking lot service, so they might need time to adjust to coming back inside. I recommend that you notify your clients by email, social media, and update your website. Corinth Veterinary Clinic, in Hickory Creek Tx has updated their website to include their new COVID protocols. They are informing their clients by email as well as social media to let them know about the changes that the hospital will be doing over the next few weeks. Some hospitals originally put signage in front of their front doors to tell people that they went curbside. Those hospitals might want to put up new signage to announce their new COVID protocols and what the clients can expect. Just like many restaurants who put up banners to let customers know that they were now open for indoor dinning.
2. Are you going to do it all at once or in stages? You might want to think about what is easier for you and what will be the most beneficial for your hospital. The Animal Hospital of Huntington Beach, in Huntington Beach, CA decided they are going to do it in stages and allow the clients who are picking up food and prescriptions to come in first. Their hospital manager Leslie Boudreau, BASVT, RVTg, CVPM, PHR, PHRca, SPHR, said that “their phone lines are out of control”, and they are hoping that this will take pressure of the team members to answer the phones without adding a lot cleaning work onto the team. Some hospitals are going to allow clients with patient exams to come in first and have clients who are picking up food and prescriptions continue doing parking lot service. Some hospitals will be limiting the amount of people in the lobby at one time. For those hospitals who have smaller exam rooms, they might be limiting the amount of people per patient
3. Many hospitals will be offering a “hybrid” concierge curbside service for those clients who still want it. Many clients may be fearful of coming inside and being in close quarters with other people or they might be undergoing some type of medical treatment that puts them at a higher risk for contracting COVID . Offering a “hybrid” service allows your patients to still receive the care they need while keeping your clients safe.
4. Have a plan for the mask. Are you going to require your clients to wear a mask while inside your hospital? Several states are discussing lifting their mask mandates or like in Texas, they have already lifted it. This might make it more complicated to hold clients accountable to wearing a mask if it is not required by your state or local government. You need to come with a plan for how you are going to advise your clients of this rule. You also need to think about who is going to hold them accountable to the rule. Is it going to be your receptionist or front desk person? Will you have masks available for those people who do not have one? Will you still require your team members to wear a mask? Even if your state has lifted the mandate and the team member has been vaccinated? You should think about how your hospital is going to handle this, especially if your state adopts the CDC rule that says fully vaccinated people do not have to wear a mask in public.
5. We have been conditioned to social distance from people, but will this still be required? The CPDH proposal in CA when we re-open states that there are “no restrictions” on capacity limitations and no restrictions for physical distancing for “guests” so it will be important to know if your county has stricter restrictions. This might be hard for your clients and team members to accept since we have been social distancing for over a year. Whatever decision you make about social distancing you need to make sure your team and clients know about your decision.
6. It will also be very important for you to talk about your plans with your team. You need to speak with them openly about what you are going to do and the timeframe that changes will be made in. Remember, some team members might be fearful, and others might have gotten used to the freedom that not having clients in the building has brought them (like playing music and not being as quiet has they used to be). Having an open discussion will help you identify the overall feeling within your hospital. This is going to be a very important part of your reopening plan to keep everyone on the same page. And remember, your team needs to be supportive and positive about what you are doing.
As part of an essential workforce, I can attest that it has been a long 15 months for veterinary professionals, but I do see the light at the end of the tunnel. I am optimistic that we will adjust to the next stage in “pandemic” life, and we will come out stronger. I believe that many of our clients want to see us in person again. Especially the extroverts. They have missed us and how we love their pets, and for those team members like me, we miss them too.
5/22/2021, Melissa Tompkins, BS, CVPM, PHRca, CCFP
About the author,
Melissa is a small business owner in Southern California, owning South Coast Veterinary Management Solutions. She works as a veterinary management consultant focusing on helping veterinary hospitals, practice owners, and their team members be successful with their business.