How are Practices Coping with the New COVID-19 Reality?  (Part IV)

By VHMA Admin posted 27 days ago


The pandemic has dragged on longer than anyone thought possible when practices first saw an impact in March 2020.  The changes put in place that were "new" at the time are now "just how we do things." The Insiders' Insights Monthly Management Survey last addressed this topic in July 2020—this month's survey looks at how practices are coping now (five months later) and what kinds of changes have they seen?

Practice operations remain changed in most practices as 70%+ of responding practices indicated they changed operations in one or more ways when the pandemic hit and have not started to return normal operations. Below are the most common changes to practice operations.

  • We operate "curbside"—clients are not regularly allowed in the building, with the only exceptions being for euthanasia or some other unusual/limited reason.
  • We are using more technology to collect client information and payment and to communication with clients.
  • We practice social distancing with clients, employees and vendors.
  • We require the wearing of masks by anyone inside the clinic.
  • We require our employees and clients to wear masks when interacting curbside.
  • We are using increased cleaning and sanitation protocols.

Seventy-two percent of practices report their caseload is currently higher than normal for this time of year. Most practices, 59%, are hiring or have hired more staff to address the increased caseload. Thirty-one percent of practices are pushing back annual wellness exams in order to see sick patients.

Sixty-four percent of practices report their revenue is currently higher than normal for this time of year.

The increased caseload has put a lot of strain on all team members.  Twenty-eight percent of practice report doctor hours are higher compared to December 2019. . Forty-six percent of practices are advertising to hire another doctor. Fifteen are thinking about it.

Forty-nine percent of practices report their non-doctor staff hours are higher compared to December 2019. When asked if they are advertising to hire non-doctor team members, practices responded about these positions:

51% Credentialed Technician
40% Non-Credentialed Technician or veterinary assistant
32% Receptionist
10% Kennel staff
2% Manager

When asked if their doctor/support staff ratio has changed since December 2019, 44% indicate is has increased, and 40% reported it is the same.

Most practices indicate they have lost some staff since December 2019. Fourteen percent have lost 6-10%.

Doctor and non-doctor mental health has been an ongoing concern in practices and is even more important now in the pandemic environment. 

Many hospitals shared how they are supporting their team members:

  • Hired more staff to spread out the work
  • Improved workflow and technology to increase efficiency
  • Modified hospital hours to give team members more time off, giving random days off, shorter shifts
  • Raises and bonuses
  • Improved benefits, vacation, and PTO particularly mentioned
  • Relaxation room with stress-relieving tools—team encouraged to use
  • Meals and snacks provided (one practice does snack time every morning at 10 am!)
  • Mental health support—hired a social worker, increased emotional support from management (emails, one-on-one meetings, etc.), increased effort to foster positive and appreciative culture, more "check-ins" with team members to see how they are doing, resilience training, EAP
  • More communication, recognition
  • Gifts, goodie bags, "gift cards for being awesome"
  • Closed for lunch M-F so everyone really gets a break
  • Extra vacation days
  • A twelve days of Christmas event in lieu of a party
  • Providing outerwear for parking lot trips
  • Not tolerating less-than-respectful behavior from clients

Until the coronavirus is under control and we're out of the recession, uncertainly abounds.  Staff issues topped the "most worried about for 2021" list. "Other" answers included:

  • Team members becoming infected with the virus
  • Global economic downturn, less discretionary income
  • New tax laws and regulations
  • Another lockdown with no governmental financial support

Concerns about clients' ability or willingness to pay for veterinary care have been a concern since the pandemic and recession started. Still, most practices aren't experiencing this too severely right now.

Thank you to all who have participated in the Insiders' Insights data collection and surveys throughout 2020. We hope you have a happy holiday season and a much-improved 2021!

Read the full report, VHMA December 2020 Insiders' Insight