President’s Message – Improving access to care

  |   Foundation

As she exited the building into the chilling winter rain, the young woman, not quite finished with her second decade of life, braced herself for the smells of marijuana and stale beer. Her hoodie engulfed her head in an attempt to insulate herself from the cacophony of outbursts as well as to shield her from the anticipated confrontation with the many homeless men and women inhabiting the sidewalk she was about to negotiate.  She slung her cat carrier across her shoulder, leaving her arms available to carry the large bags of cat food and cat litter she had just acquired. She was leaving a men’s shelter in the Pioneer Square neighborhood of Seattle that houses a twice-monthly veterinary clinic dedicated to help low-income individuals with the health care needs of the pets they love and care for.

Her feline companion had just been examined and treated by a volunteer veterinarian and a WSU vet student as part of the Doney-Coe Pet Clinic. I don’t know how far she had to travel to get there, but it’s likely the journey took up the bulk of her day. It’s likely she lined up on the street in the rain, hours before the doors opened to take advantage of this free pet care opportunity.

As she walked away, I asked myself, “Could this young woman have been a client of mine?” My clinic is a short 10-minute bus ride from this men’s shelter. Did the cost of care drive her to seek an alternative? The thought of this young woman doing what she did to seek care for her cat weighed heavily on me. I don’t know her living situation or what her day-to-day life was like, but today she dedicated many hours and a possibly dangerous environment to get to this clinic. If she went through all of this because care was out of reach at my clinic… that was a real gut check.

For those of us in private practice settings, I’m sure we can all relate to our clientele deciding not to go forward with necessary care when an estimate climbs above four figures. Providing standard of care medicine is very expensive today. There used to be a time when we might stay late with only one staff member to pin a fracture at a steep discount to help an established client in a tight financial situation. It’s never been a good business idea, but it’s definitely not feasible today with the current costs associated with providing that care.

Although those that meet the income qualifications for treatment at the Doney-Coe Pet Clinic will most likely not be seeking care in our private practices, we’re all seeing more and more clients that have a harder time paying for the increased costs needed to support today’s veterinary practices. I’m so grateful that this clinic exists as an option, but if one of my clients couldn’t afford care for an unanticipated need with their cat, I truly would rather have the ability to care for them in my facility rather than have them wait on a rainy street corner for hours in a rough part of Seattle to receive that care.

Wouldn’t it be nice not to see our clients go elsewhere?  Wouldn’t it be a relief to be able to provide care for them when urgent situations come up, and not lose money in the process? My clinic participates in a program that has been able to help some of my clients in just these situations.

The Veterinary Care Charitable Fund (VCCF) of the American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMF) has implemented a way to reimburse clinics for care they provide to their clients in need. If you haven’t signed up your clinic yet, I encourage you to do so at . Through this fund, tax-deductible contributions can be made by clients directly to an account dedicated to helping your clinic’s patients. It’s so much more secure and effective than the old coffee can we used to collect change in.

At the WSVMA, we are working to establish a fund through our foundation to partner with the AVMF to expand the pool of dollars available to member clinics that utilize the VCCF. We hope to have this up and running as a member benefit sometime in 2020.

Access-to-care is an issue too large to address as individuals, or with just one initiative. But I’m certain that working together, our profession can come up with viable solutions for our clients and patients. Can we start that conversation?

Please reach out to me with any questions or comments. Or maybe just invite a colleague out to coffee and brainstorm a bit. Together we can do great things.

Dr. Gary Marshall is the current WSVMA President and also serves on the AVMF Board of Advisors


Posted January 10, 2020