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KENTUCKY NOW ALLOWING VETERINARIANS TO REPORT ANIMAL ABUSE

A new Kentucky law allows veterinarians in the state to release information in order to report animal abuse. Kentucky had been the only state that did not allow veterinarians to report suspected cases of animal abuse.

The law, signed April 24 by Gov. Andy Beshear, requires veterinarians to report animal abuse and provides for immunity from liability for good-faith reports. Previously, veterinarians could not release information concerning clients or the care of clients' animals except with client authorization or a court order.

Per the legislation, veterinarians who find that animals have been abused may make a report to law enforcement for any animal aside from on-farm livestock or poultry. In those instances, practitioners may make a report to the state veterinarian for any animal covered under a state standard.

According to the AVMA policy on “Animal Abuse and Animal Neglect,” the AVMA encourages state legislation providing immunity from liability for any veterinarian who reports, in good faith, a suspected case of animal abuse. According to the policy, “Prompt disclosure of abuse is necessary to protect the health and welfare of animals and people.”

The AVMA provides resources for veterinarians about how to respond to animal abuse at jav.ma/abuse.

WINN AWARDS $300,000 FOR FELINE HEALTH STUDIES

In April, the Winn Feline Foundation announced $304,477 in funding for the following 15 feline health studies.

  • • “Mechanism of action of doxycycline in inhibiting feline infectious peritonitis virus.”

  • • “Developing a safe and effective anticoronaviral therapy for client-owned cats with FIP.”

  • • “Determining the clinical efficacy of methfloquine for treatment of naturally occurring feline infectious peritonitis, stage 1.”

  • • “Transcriptomic analysis of CRISPR-Cas9 edited iPSC-CMs to identify and therapeutically target key biological pathways in hypertrophic cardiomyopathy caused by the Ragdoll R820W mutation.”

  • • “Investigating cell molecular biological influence of PTC-209, a novel anti-cancer stem cell drug, in cats with oral squamous cell carcinomas.”

  • • “Evaluation of oxidative stress in nonazotemic cats with increased symmetric dimethylarginine concentrations.”

  • • “Phase 1 clinical trial investigating burst wave lithotripsy for treatment of obstructing ureteroliths in cats.”

  • • “In vitro characterization of small molecule inhibitors of pancreatic amyloidosis for diabetic cats.”

  • • “The effect of feeding frequency on feline energy metabolism and body composition—a long term study.”

  • • “Probing modulation of FeLV integration sites into the cat genome using epigenetic modulators.”

  • • “Identification of Microsporum canis virulence factors.”

  • • “Development of a rapid diagnostic test for Microsporum canis.”

  • • “Effects of general anaesthesia and surgery on renal biomarkers in cats.”

  • • “The effect of an intravenous injection of branched chain amino acids on body temperature of cats undergoing general anesthesia.”

  • • “Development and initial validation of a frailty scale for domestic cats.”

DUES PROPOSAL WITHDRAWN

In light of the need to hold the 2020 House of Delegates regular annual session electronically this summer, the Arizona VMA and nine co-sponsors elected to withdraw a resolution proposing an expansion of the reduction of AVMA member dues for newer graduates (see JAVMA, June 1, 2020, page 1181).

The Arizona VMA noted that the resolution would likely generate debate on the floor, and withdrawal of the proposal “will make this inaugural attempt at this virtual type of meeting much easier for staff and leadership to manage—and hopefully more successful.”

Please send comments and story ideas to JAVMANews@avma.org.

Slaughter delays lead to depopulation

Farms short of room as processors halt or slow meat production because of COVID-19

By Greg Cima

Reduced demand for meat resulting from the closure of restaurants, hotels, and schools combined with shuttering of slaughter and meat processing plants following outbreaks of COVID-19 in employees have caused disruptions throughout the national food supply chain. Companies destroyed thousands of swine and poultry in April as one meat producer warned that millions more animals could be depopulated.

As animal agriculture producers struggled to find buyers for their animals, they had to choose between figuring out how to cover the costs of feeding and finding alternate housing for excess animals or killing those animals, regardless of whether they could sell the carcasses to renderers or would simply have to dispose of them.

LABOR SHORTAGES

By late April, meat-producing companies with infections and absences among workers responded by halting production at plants that usually process thousands of animals daily. On April 28, President Donald Trump signed an executive order, under the Defense Production Act, establishing those businesses as essential and directing the Department of Agriculture to ensure they stay open, under conditions consistent with federal human health protection guidelines.

By May 8, at least 30 slaughter and processing plants had closed at some point because of COVID-19 outbreaks, affecting 45,000 workers and reducing pork slaughter capacity 40% and beef slaughter capacity 25%, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. The union, which represents meatpackers and retail workers, reported at least 30 plant workers had died and more than 5,000 meatpacking workers and 1,500 food processing workers had been sickened by the COVID-19 virus.

“Simply put, we cannot have a secure food supply without the safety of these workers,” said Marc Perrone, union president, in an announcement.

An article published May 1 through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report backs those figures, finding 20 human deaths and 4,900 human infections occurred at 115 meat processing facilities in 19 states. About 3% of workers at those plants had confirmed infections.

The federal inspectors working in those plants also were at risk.

As of May 5, 197 field employees for the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service were absent due to a COVID-19 diagnosis. Another 120 were under self-quarantine for exposure to COVID-19, according to a USDA spokesperson.

At least three inspectors infected with COVID-19 have died: one each in Illinois, Mississippi, and New York, according to Tim Kauffman, spokesman for the American Federation of Government Employees.

The FSIS is letting field employees take excused absences from inspection duties on the basis of their work assignments, medical histories, and federal safety guidelines, the agency spokesperson said. The agency had enough masks and face coverings to supply inspection personnel for a few months. Politico reported April 22 the agency then lacked sufficient personal protective equipment, and FSIS guidance confirmed that the agency had offered reimbursement to employees who bought their own face coverings.

The slaughter plant closures—as well as slowdowns among plants that remained open—caused backups on farms with nowhere to send animals.

Dr. Beth S. Thompson, Minnesota's state veterinarian, said April 30 workers at a JBS plant in Worthington were approaching euthanasia of 3,000 hogs daily and working to increase to 13,000 daily. The plant usually slaughters 20,000 hogs daily but closed April 20, operating with a limited staff to euthanize hogs for farmers, who would be responsible for carcass disposal. The kill portion of the plant reopened on May 6, in response to President Trump's executive order, to continue to offer pork producers a euthanasia option for hogs they've been unable to process as plants have ceased operations.

The plant implemented new safety precautions, including limiting contact between employees, providing face masks, and performing more disinfecting throughout the building, a UFCW local representative said in a letter to members.

As of May 3, 490 JBS workers at the Worthington plant had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

The Smithfield pork plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, reopened partially on May 4 after closing on April 12. The plant saw an outbreak of COVID-19 that infected 853 of its 3,100 workers, according to local news reports.

A team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention visited April 16 and 17 and made recommendations to reduce crowding, especially in the break rooms, locker rooms, and cafeterias; increase the use of PPE, particularly face masks; provide more flexible sick leave policies; increase access to hand-washing and hand-sanitizing stations; and begin screening everyone entering the plant for COVID-19.

In a letter to governors, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the USDA directed meat producers to submit plans for reopening closed plants. In another letter, 36 Senate Democrats expressed concerns about the risks of COVID-19 to the people who produce food and questioned how the administration planned to protect those people, including USDA inspectors.

On May 8, USDA officials announced 14 slaughter facilities committed to resume operations within a week, seven of them owned by Tyson.

PRODUCERS RUN OUT OF OPTIONS

Data published May 9 by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service indicated cattle slaughter that week was down 32% from a year earlier, and swine slaughter declined 24%.

A USDA Economic Research Service report updated May 18 stated that outbreaks among workers disrupted production in each meat category. Pork production fell 11%, beef production fell 21%, broiler production fell 2%, and turkey production fell 8.3%, when looking at federally inspected production in April compared with a year earlier.

John H. Tyson, chair of the board of directors for Tyson Foods, warned that the food supply chain was breaking, and millions of chickens, pigs, and cattle could be depopulated rather than slaughtered. He delivered that message in full-page advertisements published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

“As pork, beef and chicken plants are being forced to close, even for short periods of time, millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain,” he wrote. “As a result, there will be limited supply of our products available in grocery stores until we are able to reopen our facilities that are currently closed.”

In early May, The Washington Post reported that Tyson said in an investor call that the company thought U.S. hog-processing capacity had declined by half.

The company announced in April indefinite closures of a pork plant in Waterloo, Iowa, because too many workers had been absent as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and a beef and pork plant in Logansport, Indiana. At the same time, the company announced that production had resumed at its Columbus Junction, Iowa, plant, which had been idle for two weeks. Other plants ran at reduced production because of low staffing or pending plans to add more worker protections.

The Associated Press reported 180 infections were linked to the Waterloo plant and hundreds of workers stayed home out of fear. The plant processed up to 19,500 hogs per day, about 4% of the U.S. pork-processing capacity.

USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service officials announced in April the establishment of a National Incident Coordination Center to coordinate help for food animal producers unable to move their animals to market, including finding alternative slaughter sites or providing for depopulation.

“APHIS will be mobilizing and deploying assets of the National Veterinary Stockpile as needed and will also be securing the services of contractors that can supply additional equipment, personnel, and services,” the announcement stated.

APHIS spokesman Michael Stepien said ranches, farms, and other sites cannot hold animals indefinitely.

The American Association of Swine Veterinarians published a depopulation guide, based on the AVMA Guidelines for the Depopulation of Animals, in case producers run out of other options.

Dr. Abbey Canon, director of public health and communications for the AASV, said swine barns are designed to house certain numbers of animals in each production phase.

“The inability to move pigs through the market channel can create a backlog in the pig flow,” she said. “Additionally, pigs may outgrow their housing environment if required to stay on farm longer than usual, resulting in overcrowding for space, water, and food resources.”

MARKET SHOCKS CREATE WELFARE CONCERNS

Dr. Thompson, Minnesota's state veterinarian, said her office was working with federal agencies to secure financial aid for farmers who were depopulating or euthanizing animals as the state lacked money to cover the costs of depopulation and disposal. Representatives from her office also were talking with farmers, producers, and veterinarians about plans they should make—including plans for depopulation and euthanasia.

“I realize that it does seem like everything is falling apart at this point in time,” she said. “But this is really a key time for farmers and producers to have that good conversation with their veterinarian.”

Representatives of the American Association of Avian Pathologists said a few poultry producers had depopulated birds for lack of an available processing facility—and only as a last resort. Companies were adjusting to shifts in demand, increasing time between growing flocks on farms, and preparing to reduce how many birds they raised.

Dr. Eric Jensen, AAAP president, said the number of COVID-19 cases in poultry slaughter plants had been low overall, but some plants were exceptions. He saw little danger of major shortages of poultry or eggs, although he noted that the changing effects of the pandemic made predictions difficult.

Dr. Lisa Becton, director of swine health for the National Pork Board, said the board's veterinary staff worked with producers to help them maintain animal welfare, find alternate ways to house swine, and find alternate markets for their swine, as well as access information on the best methods of depopulation.

“We know that these plant closures and the plant slowdowns have led to a backlog of hogs in our system,” Dr. Becton said. “And so what our goal is at the pork board is to work with our producers, providing them with resources, links, and information that they can use to make the best decisions for their individual operations and try to get through this most-challenging time.”

She lacked data on the backlog at slaughter plants, but she knew swine farmers had changed feeding schedules to slow the animals' weight gain and breeding schedules to reduce future backlogs.

Dr. Calvin W. Booker, president of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners and managing partner of Feedlot Health Management Services, works with feedlots across North America. He said some slaughter plants that remained open had reduced line speeds—he estimated about 20%—to add distance and partitions between employees who previously worked in close proximity.

Because so many plants are slowed or stopped, those reductions cause cascading delays on farms, pushing back cattle deliveries days or weeks, he said. Even in the absence of a pandemic, slaughter plants have limited excess capacity, he said.

“Those animals still eat feed every day, and so they continue to accumulate costs,” Dr. Booker said.

Some cattle producers started working to slow down how quickly cattle put on weight or to maintain them at slaughter weight, Dr. Booker said.

“We're at a time of year where these cows are out on pasture, and there's probably lots of grass or about to be lots of grass,” Dr. Booker said. “So, we can back them up in the pasture system, and it's not the end of the world.”

A USDA Economic Research Service report from April 15 indicates producers may maintain their cattle on grass and later send them to feedlots at heavier weights. But that report also describes disorder in the dairy markets just as the dairy industry entered peak production.

“The dramatic decline in demand for dairy products has shocked milk processing channels,” the report states. Market research reports suggest overall food service sales declined 45–65%.

Dr. Booker said dairies were dealing with the added costs of being unable to cull unproductive cows and mismatches between how dairy goods are produced for restaurants versus retailers. A company that sells drums of sour cream for industrial or food service use, for example, had no way to package smaller portions for grocery stores, he said.

Instead, the ERS reported, companies discarded loads of unprocessed milk, sometimes spreading it on fields as fertilizer, adding it to manure lagoons, or feeding it to animals.

The USDA announced May 4 that it would spend $470 million to buy more surplus food amid the widespread disruption to the food supply as a result of the coronavirus. The purchases will target fruits and vegetables, meat, dairy, and seafood.

Veterinarians were working at dairies to maintain the welfare of cattle designated for culling, Dr. Booker said. As clients' finances become stressed, he said, veterinarians need to ensure animals remain healthy and free of suffering.

He also cautioned that veterinarians and farmers are in professions with high risks of mental health disorders. He said veterinarians should be aware of those risks and the potential need to help themselves and others.

Donation station

Veterinarians volunteer during COVID-19 pandemic

By Kaitlyn Mattson

Dr. Sherilynn Burkman, a veterinarian at Alta Animal Hospital in Idaho, isn't much of a seamstress.

“Personally, I am much more comfortable suturing flesh than I am sewing fabric,” she said.

But when Dr. Burkman, who is chair of the Idaho VMA One Health Committee, spoke with people in public health about the shortage of personal protective equipment because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she decided to do something.

“I reached out to colleagues across the state and asked if they were in a position to donate PPE, and many said they could donate some. … But what I found over and over again is that they didn't have enough to cover their needs, so my next thought was, ‘What can we do to address that?‘” she said. “So, I started thinking about who I know that sews and are fast about it.”

Dr. Burkman cold-called friends, family members, and acquaintances she thought might sew. By the end of April, she was working with about 20 volunteers who had produced over 400 masks for veterinarians across the state.

The IVMA One Health Committee is also coordinating PPE donations from the veterinary community to public health districts across Idaho.

Dr. Burkman and her volunteers aren't alone in their efforts. JAVMA News spoke with several veterinarians who are donating their time and energy in similar ways.

SEWING SQUADS

Another team of volunteers has formed at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine. The 76 volunteers have even given themselves a name.

“We're the Face Mask Brigade,” said Dr. Lysa Posner, a professor of anesthesiology and assistant department head of molecular and biomedical sciences at the veterinary college.

The group originally planned to provide at least three cloth masks to each staff member working at the NC State Veterinary Hospital. Having accomplished that goal, they started to divert extra masks to veterinarians in the area.

“We've distributed about 50 to 75 masks to local veterinarians in the state,” Dr. Posner said. “Most veterinarians in North Carolina have donated their PPE to human hospitals, so this is a way for us to help them get protection for themselves and their patients.”

Dr. Posner said from a community standpoint, the effort has been incredible.

“People want to contribute,” she said. “Everyone is locked at home, and they feel like they're not doing anything, and this is something they can do.”

Dr. Posner said that, while cloth masks are not going to stop the virus entirely, they do keep people safer.

Dr. Mary Marcotte, a veterinarian at Cherished Life Animal Rescue in Carmel, Indiana, and the Animal Care Alliance in Richmond, Indiana, said she couldn't believe how comfortable the cloth masks were when she first tried one. Dr. Marcotte started sewing masks after discussing the PPE shortage with her husband, who is a family physician and a chief medical officer at a hospital.

“I realized we as veterinarians could use the cloth masks,” she said. “So I started sewing for my colleagues.”

Dr. Marcotte and seven other volunteers have made over 500 masks.

“Before veterinarians run out of their supply (of PPE), I would love to do this trade where we give the cloth masks to them, and then they give their surgical masks to local hospitals,” she said.

Dr. Burkman said she knows she and the other volunteers haven't solved the PPE crisis, but she hopes they've helped.

“A pandemic is an unfortunate real-time illustration of how important one health is and one-health collaborative efforts,” she said. “We have come together as the veterinary community to help the human health care workers with what they need, and the need for one-health collaboration is so important. So, having chaired the IVMA One Health Committee for years, now I am always looking to emphasize that.”

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Britt Edquist sews cloth face masks in Idaho Falls, Idaho, as a volunteer for the Idaho VMA Face Mask Project. (Courtesy of Dr. Sherilynn Burkman)

Citation: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 256, 12; 10.2460/javma.256.12.1293

FOOD DONATIONS

Dr. Amy Tyler started the St. Francis Animal Resource Center in Norman, Oklahoma, because she wanted to provide services for pet owners in need and keep animals out of shelters.

The organization has been offering services to those who qualify since February 2019, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Tyler decided to do a much larger event for pet owners with no information exchange required. At an event in April, the organization gave away over 400 pounds of pet food.

Dr. Tyler said that, although the resource center was around before the pandemic, this situation has reaffirmed to her how important it is.

“The pandemic has made me realize how much communities need an organization like this in times of crisis,” she said.

Faculty members at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine are also donating food—human food, that is. Drs. Chris Sanchez, interim associate dean for clinical affairs, and Sally DeNotta, a clinical assistant professor, sent 40 meals to essential faculty and staff members working at the UF Veterinary Hospitals.

“We have clinicians and technical staff working the clinic around the clock,” Dr. Sanchez said. “Providing lunch is one small token to show our appreciation for their efforts.”

OTHER EFFORTS

Some other efforts within the veterinary community include the following:

  • • Virginia Tech students in the master's of public health program and the dual doctorate of veterinary medicine and master's of public health are volunteering at a COVID-19 call center and testing site in the state.

  • • The Shedd Aquarium in Chicago donated a laboratory instrument that extracts DNA and RNA from biological samples to COVID-19 testing efforts in April.

Donations or inquiries for the North Carolina State University Face Mask Brigade can be sent to facemaskbrigade@gmail.com.

Dr. Mary Marcotte is willing to ship masks, and inquiries can be sent to drmary@live.com.

SPECIALTY ORGANIZATIONS RESHAPE TRAINING AND EXAMINATIONS

By Katie Burns

Veterinary specialty organizations are temporarily reshaping their certification programs for new diplomates to fit the changing dimensions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an April 17 letter to representatives of specialty organizations, the AVMA American Board of Veterinary Specialties stated that “training program requirements for credentialing must still be adhered to. Deadlines to fulfill the requirements can be extended but the training requirements cannot be waived. Note that, in some cases, requirements may be fulfilled by alternative methods.”

For example, the American College of Veterinary Radiology described how residents in diagnostic imaging have the ability to use old case material for training. According to the ACVR, “We can ask residents to go back into the hospital digital imaging files and dictate most of the cases made on that date (e.g., March 27, 2011). One advantage is that we may have known diagnoses on many of these cases because they occurred in the past.”

The ABVS letter also stated, “As always, certification requires examination of individuals; however, the date and time of such examination can be altered, and the method of delivery may be modified.”

The ACVR purchased video proctoring software to offer the preliminary examination for diagnostic imaging remotely if the college cannot hold the examination in person during the last week of August in Las Vegas.

Dr. John Sanders is chair of the ABVS and a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine who works for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in West Virginia. He said he could see veterinary specialty organizations extending deadlines by six months to a year—and potentially 18 months if the COVID-19 pandemic follows the worst-case scenario.

In terms of continuing clinical training, Dr. Sanders said, people have been talking about telemedicine for years, and telemedicine could potentially be used to fulfill some residency training requirements. Clinical pathology, for example, involves interpretation of data or an image that can be shared virtually. He said, “We are asking colleges to consider what can be done under the current conditions.”

Dr. Amy S. Kapatkin, an ABVS member and professor of small animal orthopedic surgery at the University of California-Davis, said the American College of Veterinary Surgeons switched to a remotely proctored version of its first-phase examination, which is a multiple-choice test usually given at testing centers. The ACVS postponed the examination from April 6 to May 29.

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Dr. Maureen Griffin, a surgical resident at the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, stands in an empty waiting room at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. To earn board certification, she must do a specific number of certain types of surgery, but some of those are elective procedures. (Photo by Dr. Amy S. Kapatkin)

Citation: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 256, 12; 10.2460/javma.256.12.1293

“Seminars, rounds, radiology rotations—even things like clinical pathology rotations that the surgery residents do—can be done virtually and have been,” Dr. Kapatkin said. “Since we are considered essential personnel and we have plenty of surgical emergencies, I think most programs are able to hit the minimum requirements for their residents as far as number of surgeries per week. The challenge in surgery is that we have specific numbers needed for specific types of surgery, and some of these are elective procedures.”

At the UC-Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, surgeons and surgical residents also are doing telemedicine appointments for all recheck examinations not considered critical, she said.

On May 15, the ABVS met virtually to review plans by all 22 veterinary specialty organizations to ensure continuance of training programs and examinations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The ABVS was really motivated to solicit and review modifications that the specialty colleges were proposing to proactively identify and hopefully correct issues that might negatively affect ABVS recognition before they happened, rather than potentially having to react with an adverse decision at a later date,” said Dr. Ed Murphey, AVMA staff consultant to the ABVS.

Veterinary practices find relief in Paycheck Protection Program

Millions of loans have been made through federal program

By R. Scott Nolen

In early May, the Trump administration announced that more than 2 million loans totaling $175 billion had been made to small businesses during the second round of the Paycheck Protection Program. Some veterinary practices are weathering the COVID-19 pandemic with the help of these loans.

Created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act to help struggling businesses during the pandemic, the PPP is a loan program designed to incentivize small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll.

When the initial $349 billion that Congress appropriated to the program ran out in April, lawmakers allocated an additional $310 billion to the PPP. Nearly 4 million loans, totaling over $500 billion, have been made since the program's launch.

Dr. Ray Cahill, owner of SeaPort Veterinary Hospital in Gloucester, Massachusetts, applied and was approved for a PPP loan during the first round of funding in April. As a result, Dr. Cahill said, he was able to retain his 14 employees, including three veterinarians.

The most immediate impact of the pandemic and Massachusetts' safety protocols was apparent in staffing at the hospital. A third of the staff members started working from home because they had underlying conditions that put them at higher risk of severe illness or needed to look after a sick family member.

“Going from 15 people running the hospital to 10 people was huge,” Dr. Cahill said. “We had to limit our capacity for what we could handle in the course of a day. The phone was still ringing, but we had to dial back according to what was reasonable for us to handle.”

The stress on the staff was also evident, so Dr. Cahill asked his employees not to talk about the coronavirus at work. He said: “That actually went a long way. Staff felt like work was a place where they could get away from the virus to some degree.”

As of early May, revenue at Dr. Cahill's practice was down roughly 50%, not because the phone wasn't ringing, but because of what the staff could reasonably handle, he said.

Dr. Dan Atlas also was approved for a PPP loan during the first round in April. He employs eight full-time staff members at his practice, Beaver Brook Pet Center and Pet Lodge in Evergreen, Colorado.

“Initially we were limiting clients to one in the building at a time, but by the end of the third week of March, we went to strict curbside pickup and drop-off,” Dr. Atlas said. The boarding facility constitutes roughly 20% of Dr. Cahill's revenue, and the 30 runs were almost empty between late March and early May.

“I'd say we stayed pretty busy through March, but by the first half of April, our client visits dropped at least 50%,” he said. “Everybody was just concerned about going out.”

As a result, Dr. Atlas reduced hours of operation from six to five days a week and extended patient visit times from 30 minutes to an hour to allow time to manage the pets and for staff members to don protective gear.

As of early May, Dr. Atlas thought business might be picking up slightly, but he expected the coming months to be challenging for veterinary practices. “With the economy slowing and recession looming, I think we're going to see people putting off pet care for the time being,” he said.

The Small Business Administration will forgive PPP loans if many of the employees of a business are kept on the payroll for eight weeks and the money is used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest, or utilities.

On May 15, the SBA released the PPP Loan Forgiveness Application, available at jav.ma/PPPforgiveness (PDF), which includes detailed instructions for borrowers and the calculation of PPP loan forgiveness. Release of the form comes as a welcome development for small businesses, many of which have already begun spending their PPP funds and have been following informal guidance while they awaited official SBA directives.

The form offers several components to reduce compliance burdens and simplify the process for borrowers, including the following:

  • • Borrowers have the option to pick and choose which nonpayroll costs to submit for forgiveness.

  • • Worksheets are provided to calculate total loan forgiveness amount. The loan forgiveness amount will not be reduced if an employer is unable to rehire workers who have rejected a good-faith written offer to return, were fired for cause, or parted voluntarily.

  • • Details for calculating average full-time-equivalent employees are available in the application, including options for determining the appropriate covered period.

  • • There is a safe harbor for borrowers that would not decrease forgiveness for FTE employees and salaries or wages that were reduced between February 15 and April 26 but restored by June 30.

The SBA says it will issue further regulations and guidance to assist borrowers as they complete their applications and to provide lenders with guidance on their responsibilities. Under the current law, PPP loan repayment is deferred for six months following the date of disbursement.

IRS: SOME PPP-FUNDED EXPENSES NOT TAX DEDUCTIBLE

No tax deduction is allowed for an expense that is otherwise deductible if the payment of the expense results in forgiveness of a Paycheck Protection Program-covered loan, according to the Internal Revenue Service's Notice 2020–32, issued on April 30.

The clarification confirms that businesses cannot claim tax deductions that are normally fully deductible, such as covered rent obligations, covered utility payments, and payroll costs consisting of wages and benefits paid to employees. The IRS notice points out that when Congress outlined the PPP, created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, it said loan forgiveness is not taxable income but said nothing about deducting the expenses paid with such loan proceeds.

“This is an unwelcome development and would appear to cut against the congressional intent in passing the CARES Act,” said Dr. Kent McClure, AVMA chief government relations officer. “We are looking to see what can be done, along with many in the small-business community.”

A bipartisan group of senators have responded to the IRS notice with the Small Business Expense Protection Act of 2020 (S 2612), which would clarify that the receipt and forgiveness of coronavirus assistance through the PPP does not affect the deductibility of ordinary business expenses.

Telemedicine: Once a novelty, now a necessity

Virtual veterinary visits more common during pandemic

By R. Scott Nolen

Conventional wisdom prior to the COVID-19 pandemic was that the number of veterinarians incorporating telemedicine into their practices would gradually increase over the next decade.

No one could have anticipated how the outbreak of a novel coronavirus would fast-track that increase by several years. “Veterinarians looked at telemedicine as a novelty before this. Now it's become a necessity,” said Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, veterinary journalist and Pawcurious blogger.

In April 2018, she created the Veterinary Telemedicine Association as a private group on Facebook, figuring veterinarians would one day need an online support group. For two years, that community consisted almost entirely of Dr. Vogelsang and a friend for a lack of interest. Things changed with the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent safety regulations limiting human interactions, however.

“I saw veterinarians in Facebook groups asking how to use telemedicine.” Dr. Vogelsang said. “They knew they needed telemedicine, but they had no clue what that meant.

“People were sort of running around in panic mode, signing up for platforms but not understanding what they wanted to do with it, and then getting really frustrated because they weren't getting the outcome that they wanted. So there was this huge gap between knowing that they needed the technology and actually understanding what they needed that technology to do.”

Dr. Vogelsang renamed the Facebook group as the Veterinary Telemedicine Community in March, and the number of members has swelled to more than 3,000. “If it wasn't for COVID, we'd probably still be at least five years out of where we are now,” she said. Dr. Lori Teller is seeing the same sudden enthusiasm for telemedicine among her veterinary colleagues.

“Before COVID, telemedicine was one of those things that veterinarians were somewhat interested in. The thinking was akin to, ‘I'll get around to it.’ Now it's, ‘I need to do this yesterday,’” observed Dr. Teller, a clinical associate professor of telehealth at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

After much of the country went into lockdown in April, Dr. Teller started doing webinars on telemedicine for state VMAs and other veterinary associations, averaging as many as three in a week. She's also consulting with veterinary academic institutions now realizing they need to get their own telehealth programs up and running.

The reason for the sudden interest among veterinarians in telemedicine is readily apparent. Telemedicine limits contact between hospital staff members and clients, thus lowering the chances of spreading the COVID-19 virus, while allowing veterinarians to triage patients to determine whether animals need to be seen at the clinic.

Veterinarians want telemedicine now, but there's a learning curve that comes with offering veterinary services in a new way, Dr. Teller explained.

“You need to figure out how telemedicine fits into your practice's workflow,” she said, “and that means making sure your customer service representatives use the appropriate verbiage when speaking to clients about taking advantage of a virtual visit.

“For technicians, they may be on-screen teaching a client about nutrition for a new puppy or getting a new kitten to use a scratching post. For veterinarians, they can livestream a patient exam for an owner who can watch remotely as the veterinarian draws blood or gives the pet a vaccination.

“And then, of course, all the documentation and billing that go along with practicing veterinary medicine, whether you're doing it in person or virtually.”

The main argument against telemedicine is that it is a subpar delivery system, that a veterinarian cannot adequately take care of patients through virtual visits. Dr. Vogelsang believes the current situation will prove this premise wrong.

“You just need to have a very clear understanding of what telemedicine can and cannot do. Telemedicine is not replacing everything you do in the clinic with a virtual visit. No veterinarian would ever want to use telemedicine for a case where you have to see the pet, such as bloat or a broken leg,” Dr. Vogelsang said.

Dermatology is one area of medicine in which veterinarians are using telemedicine, she explained, because progress can often be monitored by looking at photos and videos of the affected area.

Dr. Vogelsang advises veterinarians new to telemedicine to start small. “Simple rechecks, managing your diabetics and your derm cases—those are great starting points that help you get more comfortable with how telemedicine works,” she said.

Dr. Teller believes veterinary practices won't drop telemedicine in a post-COVID world. “It's never going to replace traditional veterinary medicine,” she said, “but I think people are recognizing the role that it does play in adding to the services that we offer.”

Learn more about how veterinarians can use telemedicine by visiting the AVMA resources page at avma.org/telemedicine.

Funds raise money for veterinary technicians, assistants

Organizations give grants to veterinary staff impacted financially by pandemic

By Kaitlyn Mattson

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A veterinary staff member at the West Chester Animal Medical Center in Pennsylvania (Courtesy of Independent Vets)

Citation: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 256, 12; 10.2460/javma.256.12.1293

The American Veterinary Medical Foundation launched a relief fund May 14 for veterinary technicians and veterinary assistants financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but because of overwhelming demand, additional funding through outside donations is needed.

The COVID-19 Disaster Relief Grant was originally funded by Zoetis, Hill's Pet Nutrition, and the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America. The three organizations donated a combined $200,000 to the fund. The fund offers a one-time, $500 grant to eligible veterinary support staff members who have been financially impacted by the pandemic to meet their immediate needs.

However, within a day of launching the fund, the AVMF website received more applications than the initial funding could support.

“Fundraising to support additional grants is ongoing. If sufficient funds are raised to fulfill applications to date, the site will reopen,” according to the Foundation's website, avmf.org.

Dr. John de Jong, chair of the AVMF board of directors, said veterinary technicians and veterinary assistants play a critically important role as a part of the veterinary health care team and the AVMF was grateful to Hill's, Zoetis, and NAVTA for stepping up to help. Now, further donations are needed to fulfill the numerous applications received.

“Many members of our profession have been financially affected through furloughs, layoffs and reduction of hours,” said Ken Yagi, president of NAVTA, in a press release. “We also often depend on secondary jobs and grade schools as a form of child care to make ends meet, which are also affected by the pandemic.

“We are honored to be joining Hill's and Zoetis in launching the grant which will help blunt these challenges and support the invaluable members of the veterinary team during a tough time. We feel the commitment and focus on our profession by the veterinary community and are grateful for the joint effort.“

The AVMF also is accepting donations to its existing disaster relief grant programs to help meet the personal and professional needs of veterinarians and veterinary students impacted by disasters, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, a veterinary staffing company is raising money for veterinary technicians and other support staff members struggling financially.

Dr. Andrew Heller, chief growth officer at Independent Vets, said he didn't see many efforts geared toward support staff members, so the company decided to start one. He said: “They are putting themselves at risk. They are the ones going out to cars.”

Almost all states classified veterinary services as essential during shelter-in-place orders adopted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. To allow for social distancing, some veterinary clinics adopted curbside check-in and checkout, which requires pet owners to stay in their cars while their animals are cared for.

Many businesses across the U.S. have laid off, furloughed, or reduced the hours of some employees because of the pandemic. As of mid-May, 36 million people had filed unemployment claims in the U.S. since the novel coronavirus hit.

Taryn Strohm, a veterinary technician in Pennsylvania, said she was furloughed in March. When she heard about Independent Vets raising money for veterinary technicians and other staff members, she thought it was great. Although she was receiving unemployment benefits, she said, they haven't been much.

“My expenses are more now because we are home all the time,” said Strohm, who has two daughters. “We're using more utilities. All the bills have increased, so any bit of money is helpful.”

Strohm said her employer assured her they would hire her back when things go back to normal.

“I was kind of expecting it; we have a small staff as it is,” she said. “Business had dropped by 50%. … They didn't want to lay me off, but we aren't doing surgeries as we normally would, and I am a surgery technician.”

Strohm said she is thankful for the time she gets to spend with her family.

Independent Vets is accepting nominations from employers or co-workers for veterinary staff members who need funds. The money is being distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis. Each staff member nominated will receive $150 in Amazon gift cards or via Venmo.

Fundraising was set to continue until the end of May. The company, as of press time in mid-May, had raised $14,663 out of a $40,000 goal or enough to award 90 veterinary support staff members with $150.

“Support staff help veterinarians actually do our jobs,” Dr. Heller said. “We want to be there to support them when they've been supporting us for years.”

RESEARCHERS LOOK AT ROLE OF PETS IN COVID-19 TRANSMISSION

Following reports of a small number of pets testing positive for the COVID-19 virus, researchers want to better understand what part our companion animals might, or might not, play in the epidemiology of the novel coronavirus.

There is little to no evidence that domestic animals are easily infected with SARS-CoV-2 under natural conditions and no evidence to date that they transmit the virus to people.

A pet Pug in North Carolina that may have been infected with the COVID-19 virus was part of a study underway at Duke University's Center for Applied Genomics and Precision Medicine. Center researchers have been collecting samples from people infected with SARS-CoV-2 or living with someone with the virus. Results of confirmatory testing had not been released by the Department of Agriculture's National Veterinary Services Laboratories as of press time in mid-May.

Researchers at the University of Washington and the University of Guelph are calling on pet owners to participate in their respective studies.

UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON

“There is no evidence to date of household pets infecting humans with COVID-19,” said Peter Rabinowitz, MD, professor in the University of Washington Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences and Department of Global Health, in a press release.

“But we need to understand the risk better and help people with good preventive practices to avoid transmission between people and animals.”

As of press time, Dr. Rabinowitz and his colleagues at the UW Center for One Health Research and the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at Washington State University were recruiting participants for a pilot study of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and their pets.

Researchers are assessing the types of contact owners have with their pets and whether such contact could lead to transmission of the virus.

They want more evidence about what factors lead to any kind of transmission between humans and animals, as well as how much transmission may be occurring. “We expect that such transmission will be rare but we need evidence about that,” Dr. Rabinowitz said.

The researchers hope to test 200 households in King County, Washington, with COVID-19 patients and the animals that live in those households.

Participants complete a survey about contact with their cats, dogs, ferrets, hamsters, or other pets—including whether the pet owners are isolating themselves from pets or whether pet owners are washing their hands before and after touching pets.

The survey also asks about more intimate ways some of us interact with our pets—such as sleeping with them and kissing them.

Veterinarians on the team will test pets for the novel coronavirus and antibodies to the virus by taking nasal and oral swabs and blood samples. The samples will be analyzed at WADDL.

Study participants will receive the test results, and any positive test results will be shared with state officials.

UNIVERSITY OF GUELPH

Dr. Dorothee Bienzle, a professor in the pathobiology department at the University of Guelph Ontario Veterinary College, and her colleague Dr. Scott Weese are studying pets that have been living with a person who tested positive for the COVID-19 virus or who has had symptoms of infection, including a fever and cough.

The researchers are asking owners of cats, dogs, and ferrets to have their pets swabbed and tested to determine whether there is a chance the novel coronavirus could transmit from humans to pets.

“We are conducting a surveillance study swabbing cats, ferrets, and dogs that live in households of persons with a recent diagnosis or symptoms consistent with COVID-19,” Dr. Bienzle said. “The purpose is to determine how frequently pets have SARS-CoV-2 infection, what sites most frequently yield positive PCR (polymerase chain reaction) results, and how often seroconversion occurs.

“Through a companion surveillance questionnaire, we will capture how long pets and persons continue to experience symptoms and whether they have reoccurrence of symptoms.”

Researchers are collecting samples through nasal swabs similar to those used on humans. Fur samples and rectal swabs are also being collected because, Dr. Bienzle says, there has been evidence to show the virus is spread through feces.

Dr. Bienzle noted that there are only a few cases where animals have become sick with the virus.

OVC will collect samples from pets in the Guelph and Waterloo region as well as the Mississauga and Burlington region, both in Ontario.

Young veterinarians bring unique perspective to ownership

Business tips, advice for recent graduates

By Kaitlyn Mattson

Dr. Alli Reid knew she wanted to start a veterinary practice, but she didn't plan to open one during a pandemic.

In April, Dr. Reid started Muckalee Equine & Agri-Health Services, a mobile veterinary clinic in De Sota, Georgia.

“In my area, there are not many veterinarians who are doing mobile, large animal practice,” she said. “I wanted to fill that void.”

But Dr. Reid, who graduated in 2018 from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, is not your typical practice owner.

According to 2019 AVMA survey data, the mean age of a practice owner varies across specialties, but owners of companion animal-exclusive practices average 62 years old and owners of food animal-exclusive practices average 61 years old.

Dr. Reid isn't really worried about her age, though. In fact, she said, being two years out of veterinary college makes her more excited and optimistic about the future of veterinary medicine.

She isn't alone in that train of thought. Dr. Rob Trimble, director of the Veterinary Entrepreneurship Academy, said recent graduates bring a unique perspective and innovative ideas to a changing industry.

Some young veterinarians see ownership as a risky move considering high educational debt and the potential time commitment of owning a business, but JAVMA News spoke with veterinarians who said ownership is still the best path to financial security and fulfillment.

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Dr. Alli Reid, who earned her veterinary degree in 2018, started Muckalee Equine & Agri-Health Services, a mobile veterinary clinic, in April in De Sota, Georgia. (Courtesy of Dr. Reid)

Citation: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 256, 12; 10.2460/javma.256.12.1293

AGE IS JUST A NUMBER

“Your perspective is valuable as a young veterinarian or a recent graduate, and the value goes beyond your ability to diagnose and treat animals,” Dr. Trimble said.

The VEA focuses on innovation in animal health care by partnering with veterinary colleges and offering students leadership and business opportunities such as internships.

Dr. Trimble suggests the first step in entrepreneurship is to question areas of tension in an industry.

“If you experience tension somewhere, that is knowledge that there isn't alignment. That tension is great information and feedback.

If you experience that, there is an opportunity,“ he said. ”There is no shortage of tension in the veterinary profession.“

BUSINESS TIPS FOR A PANDEMIC

Dr. Rob Trimble, director of the Veterinary Entrepreneurship Academy, suggested the following business tips for veterinarians during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • • Build organizational adaptability by creating a purpose and values that emphasize team collaboration and partnership.

  • • Be transparent with staff about information such as revenue concerns.

  • • Hone communication skills. Learn better ways to interact, if necessary.

  • • Seek out opportunities to learn new skills.

“These are just a few of the defensive measures that organizations can utilize to become more adaptable and resilient in the face of disasters,” Dr. Trimble said. “Whether it's disruption fueled by technology or by coronavirus, the need for agility and adaptability has moved from a ‘nice to have’ to an organizational imperative.”

TIPS, RESOURCES

Some advice that Dr. Reid has found helpful as a recent graduate and new owner is to follow your dreams but never get in over your head.

“Start out small,” she said. “Startup costs for a mobile veterinary practice are way less than building or buying a brick-and-mortar. If you have the resources for a mobile clinic, it is a low-risk and high-reward option.”

There are several potential resources for prospective owners, but Dr. Mark Helfat, the owner of Larchmont Animal Hospital in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey, started Veterinary Practice Transitions specifically to help young veterinarians buy practices and older veterinarians sell.

“I think owning a practice is what will keep you in this profession for your full lifetime,” said Dr. Helfat, a former AVMA president. “I say that, having lived it. There is nothing that compares to being your own boss.”

VPT is a nonprofit online marketplace that connects buyers and sellers.

Ownership is financially beneficial, said Dr. Peter Weinstein, chair of the AVMA Veterinary Economic Strategy Committee and a veterinary practice consultant.

“Even in the face of corporatization, independent ownership is usually the way to go, especially for people who want to be in leadership roles,” he said.

BUYING IN PANDEMIC TIMES

Despite the potential benefits related to practice ownership, the current economic situation because of the COVID-19 pandemic is concerning.

While Dr. Weinstein does believe ownership is the best path for veterinarians, he suggests waiting until the foundation resettles.

“It's like living on a fault line, and everything is shaking,” he said. “Once everything settles down, there will be great opportunities for young doctors to set new business models and help pet owners with a new approach that comes out of the current disruptive world in which we live.”

Dr. Weinstein foresees several business changes such as no boarding or grooming services, no reception areas, more curbside check-ins, more telemedicine opportunities, and an increase in house call services.

He suggests potential practice owners go looking for a practice to buy but hold off purchasing until the economy recovers.

“Buyers should be conservative right now, but they shouldn't be turned off,” Dr. Weinstein said. “Sellers need to do everything to keep their practice vital, vibrant, and thriving more than just surviving in the face of huge infection and financial challenges.”

Dr. Reid agrees that changes are coming to the profession. She foresees a lot more curbside services and mobile veterinary clinics.

“There will be an increased demand for mobile veterinarians—mixed, large, and companion animal,” she said. She thinks people appreciate mobile services.

Matthew J. Salois, PhD, director of the AVMA Veterinary Economics Division, said pets are still a key part of people's lives even during a pandemic.

“That is not changing,” he said. “In fact, there is a surge of people adopting and fostering pets.”

Dr. Reid agreed that veterinary care is still necessary, especially for food animal producers.

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Some students at a Veterinary Entrepreneurship Academy closing event in Omaha, Nebraska (Courtesy of the VEA)

Citation: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 256, 12; 10.2460/javma.256.12.1293

“There is a demand for veterinary care. They can't stop what they are doing, and they have to continue to provide quality products for the food chain,” Dr. Reid said. “I wanted to be someone they could reach out to and depend on in this crisis that they are struggling through.”

Social work expands in veterinary hospitals

Emergency, specialty practices hiring to counsel staff members, clients

By Greg Cima

Before Lori C. Harbert built a social work program in a Pittsburgh veterinary hospital, she studied every department. She even spent weeks sitting in the lobby to see what clients experienced.

When BluePearl bought Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center in late 2017, the new parent company asked her to turn her local program into a national one. The licensed clinical social worker sees it as an opportunity to fight stigma about mental health care, change workplace cultures, expand people's desire to stay in veterinary medicine, and even help save lives. “That's a huge advancement in the field of veterinary medicine,” Harbert said.

Veterinary clinics have been slow to hire social workers, she said, and only a few hundred people in the U.S. are trained in veterinary social work. The University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine and College of Social Work established the country's first veterinary social work program in 2002.

Elizabeth B. Strand, PhD, founding director of veterinary social work and associate professor at Tennessee, said about 170 social workers who enrolled in her program had earned or were earning certificates in either veterinary social work or the related field of veterinary human support. Another 200 earned continuing education through her program.

As the COVID-19 pandemic added uncertainty and instability, veterinary social workers say their expertise is needed now more than ever.

WORKING TOGETHER

In human health care, social workers tend to care for patients and help them plan, Dr. Strand said. Veterinary social workers care for everyone but the patients, she said.

“We attend to the human needs that arise at the intersection of veterinary and social work practice,” she said.

That can include counseling or referral to outside therapists. Some veterinarians are struggling but afraid to let colleagues find out.

Social workers also can assist veterinarians with clients who are having trouble letting go of loved ones.

“We step in so the doctors and technicians can continue on with their work,” she said. “We absorb that emotion for them, so it frees them up somewhat to continue to function in their day.”

BluePearl announced last August that it was partnering with Tennessee to train social workers for careers in specialty and emergency veterinary medicine. As part of the agreement, the veterinary hospital chain will help place students enrolled in UT's postgraduate veterinary social work certificate program. By this spring, BluePearl had hired a social work team including six regional social workers—two from the UT collaboration—and tested training programs for veterinary hospital staff members, who work in fast-paced, high-emotion environments.

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Lori C. Harbert

Citation: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 256, 12; 10.2460/javma.256.12.1293

Harbert said that, when she started work in Pittsburgh, a veterinarian at her hospital could administer euthanasia five times in one day. The social workers try to get veterinary staff members to stop, talk, and process the grief and loss they experienced.

“Compassion fatigue and burnout is driven by the events that they're not processing in their day,” she said. “You do that 365 days out of the year, and it becomes so emotionally overwhelming that a lot of our folks cannot manage and they leave the profession.”

Other emergency and specialty hospitals are hiring veterinary social workers to run pet loss support groups, help owners make difficult treatment decisions, and counsel clinical staff members during professional and personal conflicts.

Larger veterinary chains, too, have been hiring. Banfield Pet Hospital created the position of program manager of mental health services in 2018 and hired Lisa Stewart-Brown to fill the position.

Stewart-Brown develops and implements mental health strategies and initiatives meant to support the emotional and mental health of employees. Stewart-Brown, a licensed clinical social worker, received her master's degree in social work from California State University Sacramento.

Greg Wright, a spokesman for the National Association of Social Workers, confirmed that veterinary social work is growing even though few schools of social work offer training specific to veterinary medicine.

MENTAL HEALTH CARE LACKING

Dr. Strand created the veterinary social work program while she was a doctoral student working in a veterinary hospital for her dissertation.

“I had no idea when I started that I would hear as many people talk about suicide as I did,” Dr. Strand said. “And I mean clients who would say, ‘If you euthanize my dog, you might as well kill me.‘”

She also noticed veterinarians would keep working even when it hurt them. Eventually, they told her about upset clients, ethical challenges of offering treatments a client can't afford, stress, heartache, depression, and anxiety. She knew it was only a matter of time before veterinarians recognized the benefits of working with well-trained social workers.

“I just always knew that it would catch on, and it has caught on,” she said. “I think it's going to continue to grow.”

But veterinary medicine still has a mental health treatment gap. Dr. Strand, the late Dr. Linda Lord, and John Volk, a consultant with Brakke Consulting, co-authored the second Merck Animal Health Veterinarian Wellbeing Study, which indicates about half of distressed veterinarians who needed mental health treatment or therapy in the past 12 months said they didn't get it (J Am Vet Med Assoc 2020;256:1237–1244).

If a clinic can't hire a social worker, there are other options. Employers of all sizes should have employee assistance programs, Volk said at the 2019 Veterinary Wellbeing Summit. Lower educational debt and higher pay likely would also help, he said.

An EAP provides counseling or resources to assist employees with personal or work-related problems and allows staff members to seek help confidentially. Informally, employers could encourage people to take time off to deal with stress and burnout.

CLIENTS, STAFF MEMBERS NEED HELP

Lisa Hacker became a social work program manager two years ago for Lakeshore Veterinary Specialists, a three-hospital group near Milwaukee. The veterinary hospital group has since hired a second social worker and started a program to train master's of social work interns, seven of which worked at the hospital as of early this year.

She built a program that offers pet loss support groups open to the public, hosts a pet remembrance event each June, offers education from the company's social workers to staff members of referring veterinarians' clinics, and consults with veterinarians for those clinics on difficult cases and clients. The social workers offer clients counseling during crises and after euthanasia, work with veterinary interns and residents to combat compassion fatigue, and train clinic staff members on burnout prevention, conflict de-escalation, empathy, mindfulness, yoga, meditation, and compassion.

Among clients, the social work program often is unexpected but greatly appreciated on what some have described as the worst days of their lives, she said.

Christina Klose, an intensive care unit veterinary technician for Lakeshore, said the company's social workers often take over the end-of-life or quality-of-life conversations clients need, letting the clinical staff care for other patients waiting to be treated.

“It takes a huge burden off us to know there's someone who can fill that human part of veterinary medicine, that client connection,” she said.

Dr. Jacob Odders, executive director of Lakeshore, said many of his team members approached him to say hiring social workers was the most influential benefit added to the practices. He estimated half the company employees have consulted with the social workers on personal issues. The social work program improved morale and tenure, helped the staff see more patients, and aided recruitment, he said.

Klose said the social workers at Lakeshore provide reassurance. They changed the hospital culture, she said, giving people confidence to talk more openly.

“I think that every large veterinary hospital and university hospital should have a social worker,” Klose said.

Much of the groundwork for veterinary social work came from veterinary colleges. The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine hosted the first Veterinary Wellbeing Summit in 2012. Jen Brandt, PhD, was the social worker at OSU tasked with creating and implementing the concept of a well-being summit—the first of its kind in the nation.

In 2017, the AVMA hired her to lead the Association's mental health efforts as director of member wellness and diversity initiatives. She helped the Association co-host its Veterinary Wellbeing Summit and launch an online Workplace Wellbeing Certificate Program to connect veterinary teams with problem-solving resources and create a culture of well-being.

At Michigan State University, the College of Veterinary Medicine and the School of Social Work collaborate on the Veterinary Social Work Service, which offers veterinary teaching hospital clients emotional support, including counseling on difficult treatments and euthanasia. In early April, officials with the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges announced they hired a well-being director, Makenzie Peterson, who would start work April 20 to promote well-being in veterinary education. She previously worked as well-being program director at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Others have helped integrate social work into clinics and hospitals.

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Lori C. Harbert trains BluePearl employees on mental health. (Courtesy of Harbert)

Citation: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 256, 12; 10.2460/javma.256.12.1293

In the early 1990s, Sandra Brackenridge transitioned from helping individual veterinarians understand grief and pet loss to counseling students, faculty members, and clients at Louisiana State University. Today, she consults with veterinary hospitals and social workers as they start social work programs, as well as supervises a veterinary social work program and internship she created at a specialty and emergency hospital in Texas.

Pamela Linden, PhD, is a veterinary social worker and clinical associate professor in the occupational therapy program at Stony Brook University in New York. She said social workers are part of a hospital's interdisciplinary team, using specialized knowledge to improve outcomes.

Dr. Linden knew of at least 10 social workers in New York who were completing their veterinary social work certificates, adding to a growing veterinary social worker population in the city. A large veterinary hospital has asked her for help securing embedded veterinary social workers.

Dr. Brandt noted that the social workers in hospitals are among the licensed mental health professional who aid veterinarians, including psychologists, therapists, and counselors.

FEAR, STRESS HEIGHTENED BY COVID-19

DoveLewis, an emergency animal hospital in Portland, Oregon, hired a well-being program director in February to support its 160-person hospital team that handled about 23,000 cases in 2019. Dr. Shana O'Marra, chief medical officer at DoveLewis, said burnout and turnover are especially large problems in emergency medicine.

“My goal is to try to create an environment where we're fostering good habits and behaviors that are going to help to engage in a healthy way, where people are getting rewards from the hard parts of their jobs instead of feeling them as a burden,” Dr. O'Marra said.

Social worker Enid Traisman founded DoveLewis' pet loss program in 1986 and retired in December. The new well-being director, Debrah Lee, started her work building on existing programs as the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Among her work, she hosted video meetings with DoveLewis teams to give them chances to talk about their experiences, and she uses virtual meetings to keep hosting pet loss support groups.

“I think there's a lot of comfort and healing that can come in once you address that piece of isolation that I think a lot of us are feeling,” Lee said.

Harbert said her team was working this spring to condense lessons for overwhelmed hospital staff members, reducing one-hour mental health lessons to ones completed in 20–30 minutes. The team also tries to help clinical staff members rest their minds and bodies, she said.

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In 2012, The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine hosted the Veterinary Wellbeing Summit—the first of its kind in the nation—thanks to Jen Brandt, PhD, (right) who is now the AVMA's director of member wellness and diversity initiatives. (Photo by Malinda Larkin)

Citation: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 256, 12; 10.2460/javma.256.12.1293

“We get lots and lots of phone calls about people not being able to sleep, and the more they can't sleep, the more they can't regulate themselves emotionally,” she said.

Harbert said her team's social workers also increased their work with staff members and clients by voice and video. They became inundated with calls within the company from people who wanted resources on managing anxiety, stress, and fear.

She said the tools and techniques used by her team remain effective at a distance.

Lee said the additional stress of the pandemic led to changes in how people react, giving them a sense they lack control. That seems to be most common among those in the veterinary hospital who are unable to engage with clients in normal ways and fear for their own safety and the safety of their families.

She describes the science behind how they're feeling and helps them identify where they retain control in their lives.

“It's really, really important—more than ever—to connect with practices that are sustaining or soothing,” Lee said.

Lee also reflected on how to expand support programs.

“I think we're on the brink of a really exciting frontier in veterinary medicine,” she said.

Dr. Strand said that, as more clinics hire veterinary social workers, data will show the impact.

“I think, once the profession is able to see that the presence of a veterinary social worker has a positive impact on the well-being of the profession and clients, that it will be something that is worth the investment,” she said.

Obituaries AVMA MEMBER | AVMA HONOR ROLL MEMBER | NONMEMBER

RICHARD W. BROWN JR.

Dr. Brown (Pennsylvania '45), 98, Boulder City, Nevada, died Jan. 25, 2020. A diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Microbiologists, he joined the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1951 as a research veterinarian in charge of mastitis research at what was known as the Animal Disease Station in Beltsville, Maryland. In 1962, Dr. Brown was named project leader of mastitis investigations at what is now known as the National Animal Disease Center in Ames, Iowa. Early in his career, he was in private practice and served as a veterinarian for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration.

Active with the National Mastitis Council, Dr. Brown served on the council's research committee. He was a co-founder of the Mastitis Research Workers Conference and served as its secretary for 23 years. Dr. Brown was a member of Sigma Xi and the New York Academy of Sciences. His three daughters survive him.

RANDALL C. CUTLIP

Dr. Cutlip (Ohio State ‘61), 85, Ames, Iowa, died Feb. 20, 2020. Following graduation, he joined the newly opened U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Services’ National Animal Disease Center in Ames, where he eventually became head of the respiratory and neurologic disease research unit. During that time, Dr. Cutlip also earned a master's and a doctorate in veterinary pathology from Iowa State University and became a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Pathologists.

Known for his expertise in sheep diseases and the method by which viruses and bacteria cause respiratory diseases, he led a team that investigated how adenoviruses, parainfluenza viruses, mycoplasmas, and Pasteurella bacteria cause pneumonia. Dr. Cutlip developed a definitive immunodiffusion diagnostic test for ovine progressive pneumonia and conducted research on transmissible spongiform encephalopathies to show how prions were transmitted.

In 1995, The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine Alumni Society honored him with a Recognition Award. Dr. Cutlip was also a past recipient of the USDA ARS Scientist of the Year Award. He is survived by his wife, Peggy; a daughter and a son; and three grandchildren. Dr. Cutlip's late brother, Dr. Robert L. Cutlip (Ohio State '62), was also a veterinarian. Memorials, toward the West Virginia Student Scholarship Fund, benefiting students from West Virginia studying at The Ohio State University, may be sent to The Ohio State University Foundation, 1480 W. Lane Ave. Columbus, Ohio 43221, or memorials may be made to a fund for an enhanced sound system at Northminster Presbyterian Church and sent to 1416 20th St., Ames, IA 50010.

ELDRED T. HARDING

Dr. Harding (Auburn '57), 90, Flemingsburg, Kentucky, died Feb. 16, 2020. Following graduation, he founded Fleming County Animal Hospital in Flemingsburg, where he practiced small animal medicine for more than 50 years. Dr. Harding was a veteran of the Air Force. His wife, Ann; a son and a daughter; four grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren survive him. Memorials may be made to Flemingsburg First United Methodist Church, 117 W. Main St., Flemingsburg, KY 41041.

FRED W. KERN

Dr. Kern (Cornell '57), 87, Bridgewater, Massachusetts, died Jan. 28, 2020. He owned a mixed animal practice in Herkimer, New York. Dr. Kern was a past president of the board of directors for Valley Health Services in Herkimer. He was also active with what is now known as the Mohawk Valley Rotary Club. Dr. Kern is survived by his wife, Martha; four sons; and 16 grandchildren. Memorials may be made to Compassionate Care Hospice, 100 Myles Standish Blvd., Taunton, MA 02780.

WALTER J. KREBS

Dr. Krebs (Washington State '44), 99, Grants Pass, Oregon, died Feb. 26, 2020. He owned Redwood Veterinary Hospital, a mixed animal practice in Grants Pass, until retirement in 1989. Dr. Krebs also volunteered with the Grants Pass Urban Forestry service and Wildlife Images Rehabilitation and Education Center.

He was a past president of the Oregon VMA and Grants Pass Lions Club. Dr. Krebs served on the Josephine County Fair Board and with the Josephine County Public Health Department. He was an Army veteran of the Korean War.

Dr. Krebs' wife, Jerry; a son and two daughters; two grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren survive him. Memorials may be made to St. Anne Catholic School, 1131 NE 10th St., Grants Pass, OR 97526; Wildlife Images Rehabilitation and Education Center, 11845 Lower River Road, Grants Pass, OR 97526; or Grants Pass Lions Club, c/o Black Forest, 820 NE E. St., Grants Pass, OR 97526.

BASIL W. LONG JR.

Dr. Long (Ohio State '75), 77, Huntsville, Texas, died Feb. 1, 2020. He practiced small animal medicine at Long Veterinary Clinic in Huntsville for more than 30 years prior to retirement in 2016. Earlier in his career, Dr. Long was an assistant professor at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences and worked at veterinary clinics in the Brazos Valley region of Texas.

A member of the Texas VMA, he served as an official of the former Quail Unlimited and consulted for Pets Helping People, a nonprofit organization. Dr. Long was a veteran of the Marine Corps Reserve. His wife, Carolyn; a daughter and three stepsons; six grandchildren; and a brother survive him. Memorials may be made to Rita B. Huff Humane Society, 530 Bearkat Blvd., Huntsville, TX 77340, or Little Woman Home for Animals, 66 Evelyn Lane, Huntsville, TX 77340.

RUDOLPH OUSLEY

Dr. Ousley (Auburn '80), 66, Prestonsburg, Kentucky, died Dec. 14, 2019. He practiced mixed animal medicine in Kentucky's Floyd County for almost 40 years. Dr. Ousley was a charter member and served on the board of directors of the Eastern Kentucky Walking and Racking Horse Association. He also served on the board of directors of the Middle Creek Volunteer Fire Department. His wife, Delores; a stepson and two stepdaughters; six grandchildren; and two brothers and two sisters survive him.

DAVID H. PARKER SR.

Dr. Parker (Georgia '58), 90, Stuarts Draft, Virginia, died Feb. 23, 2020. In 1961, he founded Clair Park Animal Hospital in Stuarts Draft, where he practiced small animal medicine for 56 years prior to retirement. Earlier, Dr. Parker worked in Chatham, Virginia. He was a member of the Virginia VMA and a charter member of the Blue Ridge VMA. Dr. Parker was also a member of Gideons International. He served in the Air Force during the Korean War. Dr. Parker's wife, Claire; a son and a daughter; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren survive him. Memorials may be made to Gideons International, P.O. Box 715, Waynesboro, VA 22980, or Fishersville Baptist Church, P.O. Box 82, Fishersville, VA 22939.

BILL PERKINS

Dr. Perkins (Tufts '94), 54, East Greenbush, New York, died Dec. 18, 2019. He practiced small animal medicine for more than 20 years at New Baltimore Animal Hospital in West Coxsackie, New York, where he also served as co-chief of staff. Earlier, Dr. Perkins worked in Wynantskill, New York, and Bennington, Vermont.

He was a member of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. Dr. Perkins' wife, Cheryl; a daughter and two sons; and a sister and a brother survive him. Memorials may be made to American Heart Association, 300 5th Ave., Suite 6, Waltham, MA 02451.

HENRY WINSTON PIRTLE SR.

Dr. Pirtle (Auburn '67), 77, Snowdoun, Alabama, died Feb. 25, 2020. He practiced mixed animal medicine in Montgomery, Alabama. Dr. Pirtle was also a dairy and beef cattle farmer until the 1980s. In 1995, he earned his law degree from the Jones School of Law in Montgomery and became a member of the Alabama State Bar Association.

Active in organized veterinary medicine, Dr. Pirtle twice served as president of the Alabama VMA and was Alabama's delegate to the AVMA House of Delegates for several years. He was also a past president of the American Association of Veterinary State Boards, served on the Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, and was a founding member of the Alabama Veterinary Medical Foundation.

He is survived by his wife, Christina Renee; a son, two daughters, and a stepson; six grandchildren; and a sister. Memorials may be made to the Alabama Veterinary Medical Foundation Wellness Program, 773 Tiger Oak Drive, Pike Road, AL 36064, www.alvmf.org.

GENE H. STEVENSON

Dr. Stevenson (Iowa State '66), 77, Bowie, Maryland, died Jan. 20, 2020. He owned Odenton Veterinary Hospital, a small animal practice in Odenton, Maryland, for more than 25 years. Following graduation, Dr. Stevenson served as a captain in the Army Veterinary Corps during the Vietnam War. He subsequently moved to Maryland and worked as a relief veterinarian before establishing his own practice. Dr. Stevenson is survived by his wife, Elaine; two daughters; four grandchildren; and a brother. Memorials may be made to the Cure Alzheimer's Fund, 34 Washington St., Suite 310, Wellesley Hills, MA 02481.

JEFFREY A. SUTARIK

Dr. Sutarik (Purdue '05), 41, Lombard, Illinois, died Oct. 26, 2019. He practiced small animal medicine at Lombard Veterinary Hospital. Dr. Sutarik was a member of the Illinois State VMA. His wife, Haley; his parents; and a sister and a brother survive him. Memorials may be made to Veterinary Care Foundation, c/o Lombard Vet Cares, 244 E. St. Charles Road, Lombard, IL 60148.

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