Finding a way forward with nonprofit service providers

Private practitioners explore state legislation to limit services by nonprofits, also try collaborative approaches
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The South Carolina Association of Veterinarians has pursued state legislation to limit the veterinary services that nonprofit animal welfare organizations provide for pet owners. The Utah VMA has considered legislation to limit veterinary services by county animal shelters for the public and has had initial success with dialogue with the shelters. The CATalyst Council is fostering collaboration between private practitioners and animal shelters at the local level.

South Carolina State House
The leadership of the South Carolina Association of Veterinarians caught state legislators between sessions at the South Carolina State House to discuss private practitioners’ concerns with nonprofits providing veterinary services for pet owners.

These were the examples given during a session on how private practitioners across the country are responding to what many see as unfair competition from nonprofits and government agencies. The session was part of the 2014 AVMA Public Policy Symposium, Sept. 5-6 in Rosemont, Illinois. The AVMA holds the symposium every two years as a forum for leaders of state VMAs and other veterinary associations to learn and strategize about public policy.

The AVMA policy on “Delivery of Veterinary Services by Not-for-Profit/Tax-Exempt Organizations” states: “Veterinary not-for-profit and tax-exempt clinics and hospitals provide access to important medical and surgical services for animals owned by the indigent and otherwise underserved populations.” The policy encourages means testing to determine eligibility for services.

South Carolina

The South Carolina Association of Veterinarians recently suspended its efforts to pass state legislation to limit veterinary services by nonprofits while further studying limiting such services.

Dr. Patricia Hill, SCAV legislative chair and a small animal practitioner, said the SCAV leadership has received numerous complaints about nonprofits. In one category are complaints that some nonprofits are competing directly with private practices. In another category are complaints that some nonprofits are providing poor-quality care, although individuals are often reluctant to make formal complaints.

In 2013, SCAV drafted state legislation to limit the scope of services by nonprofits and regulate the standard of care. Introduction of the bill met with “incredibly vocal and strong opposition,” Dr. Hill said.

Dr. Hill
Dr. Patricia Hill, legislative chair of the South Carolina Association of Veterinarians, speaks about legislation during the SCAV summer conference. (Courtesy of SCAV)

“The legislators individually understand and support small businesses and were willing privately to say, ‘We understand, and we see your point,’” Dr. Hill said. But when legislators received a thousand emails in opposition a day, it was something they could not ignore.

Negotiations with opponents resulted in changes to the bill but did not reduce the pushback. The association was unable to mobilize members to contact legislators but garnered support from the South Carolina Farm Bureau. The SCAV leadership also found that an effective method for educating legislators about the issues was to catch them between sessions at the statehouse.

The association eventually got the ear of a senior state senator who has private practitioners in his family. At press time, the senator was holding hearings to assess the need for regulation at the state level.


Leaders of the Utah VMA recently discussed bringing forward state legislation in response to complaints by members about competition from county shelters, said Dr. Drew Allen, UVMA state legislative chair and a Salt Lake City small animal practitioner. Salt Lake County Animal Services, for example, was offering a variety of subsidized veterinary services for the public.

At the suggestion of a state legislator, the Utah VMA arranged a meeting with the Utah Association of Counties to discuss the issue. Attendees included county commissioners, animal control officers, and animal services directors.

“We ended up being able to have a very good dialogue,” Dr. Allen said. “It was fortunate, there were several of them from the more rural areas who had very good working relationships with their local veterinarians to provide all of their veterinary care who spoke up better than I ever could—basically saying, ‘Why would we want to do medicine?’”

Dr. Allen shared the concerns regarding Salt Lake County Animal Services. The new director agreed to scale back services for the public other than vaccinations.

Dr. Allen
Dr. Drew Allen, state legislative chair of the Utah VMA, said the UVMA and Utah Association of Counties had a good dialogue about private practitioners’ concerns with county animal shelters providing veterinary services for the public. (Courtesy of Dr. Drew Allen)

CATalyst Council

Relations between private practitioners and shelters are rarely adversarial, according to a 2012 survey by the CATalyst Council, an organization that seeks to improve feline health and welfare. Dr. Jane Brunt, CATalyst executive director, shared similar results from a follow-up survey that the council completed just before the Public Policy Symposium.

Dr. Brunt spoke about Catalyst Connection, a program to foster collaboration between private practitioners and shelters at the local level. The pilot project is in Portland, Oregon, with the Oregon Humane Society. The council is getting lined up for a similar project in Columbus, Ohio.

Catalyst Connection facilitates the handoff of veterinary care from a shelter to a private practitioner during an animal’s adoption. The shelter asks each adopter to choose a private practitioner for a complimentary pet check-up, then transfers the animal’s records and the adopter’s contact information directly to the veterinarian. The veterinarian can contact the adopter to schedule the appointment.

Dr. Brunt said shelters and private practitioners do have a common goal. She said, “The driving force should be about the welfare and care of animals in a community.”

Following the presentations, attendees described the situations in their states. The discussion also touched on the point that more veterinarians are going into shelter medicine.

Related JAVMA content:

Competition or coexistence? (Sept. 1, 2012)