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October 01, 2021

Mars Veterinary Health invests in employee initiatives

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Mars Veterinary Health North America announced a $500 million multiyear commitment to create career advancement opportunities, increase workforce diversity, and improve pay and benefits by 2025.

Mars Inc. owns veterinary health care and diagnostics providers nationwide, including Banfield Pet Hospital, BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Hospitals, VCA Animal Hospitals, and Antech Diagnostics, and employs more than 55,000 people in the U.S., according to a July 20 Mars press release.

Highlights of the announcement are as follows:

  • $360 million in increased wages and benefits, including more than 10,000 employees impacted by a $15-per-hour minimum by the end of 2022.
  • $50 million toward further educational and career opportunities for employees.
  • $40 million for COVID-19 pandemic support for employees, including additional pay and benefits.
  • $25 million toward support for educational debt.
  • $25 million for diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in addition to committing to a 50% increase in Black veterinarian employees and 100% gender-balanced senior teams.
Oncology patient exam
Veterinary team members examine an oncology patient at a BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital. (Courtesy of Mars Veterinary Health)

Doug Drew, president of Mars Veterinary Health North America, said in an interview with JAVMA News that Mars Veterinary Health is taking a holistic approach to investments across its business in North America while also collaborating with the rest of the profession. Mars Veterinary Health started over the last two years by increasing starting wages by 38%.

Then, at the beginning of the year, Mars introduced four weeks of paid parental leave, up to 26 weeks of short-term disability at 60% of pay, and gender reassignment coverage for those covered by its health care plans and dependents older than 18. A few months earlier, Mars had launched the website mvh4you.com, which provides resources on mental health and well-being available not only to employees but also the profession at large.

Once COVID-19 hit, Mars increased overtime pay rates. Employees whose hours were reduced because of the pandemic continued to receive full pay and benefits.

“With the pandemic, we knew there would be challenges for those with family members who were sick or who had to provide for their kids,” Drew said, which is why Mars gave each employee an additional 80 hours of sick leave to cover testing or treatments because of COVID.

Later this year, the company is launching the Mars Center for Veterinary Excellence, which will be a hub for offering skill building, educational pathways, and leadership training for employees.

Mars has also been partnering with InStride to help veterinary technicians—and now practice managers as of mid-August—earn an undergraduate degree in science, technology, engineering, or math from Arizona State University. The program that Mars has set up with Penn Foster allows veterinary technicians to become credentialed, or they may earn a bachelor’s degree in veterinary technology from Appalachia State University.

For veterinarians, Banfield launched its Veterinary Student Debt Relief Program in 2017 to help support its associates’ financial well-being. Since then, the program has helped veterinarian employees pay off $16.5 million in loans, and another $16.5 million has gone toward refinancing outstanding loans.

“In coming years, we’re looking to have expanded student debt relief programs across all our business and, if it makes sense, to do more at Banfield,” Drew said.

Finally, he mentioned that Banfield formed the Diversify Veterinary Medicine Coalition in fall 2020. So far, the DVMC has made a “Roadmap to Equity, Inclusion & Diversity in Veterinary Medicine” video and resource page or veterinary professionals, practices, and organizations to use in guiding their own equity, inclusion, and diversity efforts. The DVMC is also in the process of developing scholarship and mentorship programs.