Lessons to be learned from relationships between nonprofits, veterinary clinics

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Nonprofit entities have delivered subsidized veterinary care for years, often through spay-neuter clinics. These entities, including animal shelters, rescue organizations, and other animal welfare groups, have recently been expanding to offer more services to the public. This evolution has sparked discussion about the opportunities and challenges presented by the delivery of care by nonprofit entities, including whether care provided through nonprofits affects the public perception of veterinary medicine.

The AVMA House of Delegates took up discussion of this topic during the Veterinary Information Forum and committee meetings held Jan. 5 during the House's regular winter session in Chicago. This led to a recommendation the House forwarded to the Board of Directors.

Dr. Apryl Steele, alternate delegate from the American Association of Feline Practitioners to the AVMA House of Delegates, said lessons can be learned from models that have and haven't worked well in providing veterinary care to underserved populations. (Photo by R. Scott Nolen)

Dr. Morgan Dawkins, Delaware delegate, said in a committee meeting that he notices a perception issue. "If they can do it for that much less than me, I come off as the money-hungry vet. That's the biggest issue. I'll still have clients, but there's still the perception that I'm price gouging. How do we educate clients?"

Dr. Apryl Steele, alternate delegate for the American Association of Feline Practitioners, posited that it's up to the nonprofit to educate clients, too.

"Coming from that side would have as much, if not more, value," she said.

Dr. Dawkins said another issue arises when a nonprofit, which may or may not have veterinarians in leadership positions, doesn't have a good working relationship with the veterinary community. He gave the example of his state government, which used to run animal welfare and animal control but later hired a shelter organization from outside the state to take over. "They had no desire to work with veterinarians, but before, we worked pretty well with the shelters," he said.

Dr. Steele agreed that veterinarians aren't usually decision-makers in these organizations. She suggested working with groups such as the Society of Animal Welfare Administrators to enhance collaboration between nonprofits and veterinary practices.

Ultimately, the House recommended that the AVMA Board of Directors direct staff to work with the AVMA volunteer leadership and SAWA to develop best practices for collaboration among veterinary hospitals and animal welfare organizations as well as educational resources for the public about the benefits of various models of care.

Delegates also asked the AVMA to collect information from state associations, their foundations, and their general memberships on models that provide veterinary care to underserved populations. The idea is lessons can be learned from failed models as well as those that work well, Dr. Steele had said.

The recommendation passed with 89 percent of votes in favor.

Dr. Linda Lord, alternate delegate for Ohio, said, "At the end of the day, we live in a society where there are many models of how we provide care to animals, and we know there is a segment of the population not getting care or (getting) substandard care, especially in smaller communities. There are so many people in need of care at varying levels. Is there a way to allow both to exist?"

Related JAVMA content:

Back to Basics (Dec. 1, 2016)

Competition or coexistence? (Sept. 1, 2012)