The new Northwest Georgia Veterinary Emergency Clinic, an after-hours emergency clinic, is slated to open Thursday at 5 p.m. The clinic is the result of a need experienced by local veterinarians who have pooled their resources to finance the new clinic.
Veterinarians from more than a dozen practices in Floyd, Chattooga, Polk, Bartow and Cherokee County over in Alabama invested in the new clinic at 111 John Maddox Drive in West Rome. The group has hired three long-time veterinarians — and are looking for a fourth — to staff the facility.
The participating veterinarians have contributed over half a million dollars in upfront money to renovate the building and get the business going.
Dr. Dan Pate of the West Rome Animal Clinic said the concept for the after-hours clinic came out of a meeting between himself and leaders of the Culbreth Carr Watson Animal Clinic and the Mount Berry Animal Hospital. Pate said he wanted to get commitments locked in from as many local veterinarians as possible before moving forward with the project to avoid the kind of issues that resulted in the failure of a similar clinic that was started on Ga. 53 years ago but quickly failed.
Dr. Wayne Zuvers, who received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from Mississippi State in 1999, has been hired as the medical director of the clinic. The other veterinarians who have agreed to come on board are Dr. Deana Hayes and Dr. Phyllis Richardson.
Zuvers comes to Rome after two years with the Regional Institute for Vet Emergencies and Referrals in Chattanooga. Hayes also worked at RIVER in Chattanooga, while Richardson has a Suburban Veterinary practice in Kennesaw and will be coming to Rome on a part-time basis — generally on Sundays — along with other shifts on occasion. Pate said the partnership is still hunting for a fourth veterinarian which would allow the clinic to become a seven-day-a-week operation.
To start, the clinic will be open Wednesday and Thursday nights from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. the following morning. When the clinic opens at 5 p.m. Friday, it will remain open around the clock until 8 a.m. Monday morning.
Zuvers said he was at work in Chattanooga one day after he learned of the new clinic in Rome while looking at the Emergency and Critical Care Society website.
“I thought I would look into it,” Zuvers said. “The fact that (it) was starting from the ground up and was a shareholder experience with local veterinarians, I thought it would be a better experience. I came from a corporate practice, and I’m not a big fan of corporate medicine.”
Zuvers worked in Phoenix for almost 18 years before joining in Chattanooga.
Pate said the three veterinarians who are already on board have close to 80 years of experience between them.
Zuvers said there is still a bit of a stigma with emergency veterinary medicine because some see it as “too difficult, too stressful, you’re at work all the time. That’s not true.” Zuvers did say it takes a special type of person to do the after-hours emergency care because you are working nights, weekends and holidays. He’s done it all throughout his career.
Back when the creation of the clinic was announced earlier this year, Dr. Daniel Todd of the Mount Berry Animal Hospital said the clinic would include state-of-the-art equipment including digital X-ray and ultrasound technology. Zuvers said he has a full in-house lab to do blood chemistries, full EKG monitors and pulse oximetry technology, including a heated hydraulic surgical table.
The equipment in the clinic has cost the partnership approximately $200,000, but that is being paid for with a loan.
“We’re in a healthy cash position to carry us through the first two years,” Pate said.
Todd said it would truly be an emergency facility, not a place where people would take their pets for a routine rabies vaccination.
Jeremy Deaton, a veterinarian at the Nichols Animal Hospital in Centre, Alabama, said the West Rome location is close to perfect for a regional emergency, after-hours veterinary clinic. He explained that his clients in Centre and Cedar Bluff could be at the John Maddox Drive site in about half an hour or less, which is a much shorter trip than facilities in Anniston or Birmingham.
Pate said the reason for having an overnight clinic is that it’s not unusual to get three or more phone calls a night. What veterinarians typically ask their clients when they get that after-hours call is, “Is this something that can wait until the morning or is this something that needs to be seen now?”
Pate said that if he has to go in after hours, it’s likely that he’ll also have to call in a technician or two and then need someone to stay with the animal overnight through recovery.
“The advantage here is we’re going to have a trained staff with people that are used to working in emergency situations,” Pate said.
The most frequent problems relate to animals being hit by a car, ingesting foreign bodies, toxin exposure and the like. Zuvers said dogs are the most typical patient after-hours, but cats are expected to run a close second.
Pate and Zuvers said they would be able to see some “exotic” animals. Pate said he thinks that his most unusual patient has been an ostrich, while Zuvers said his has been a Patagonian cavy, which is a large rodent.
Based on prior experience, the veterinarians anticipate that 60 percent of the business will be on Sundays, 20 percent on Saturdays and 20 percent the rest of the week.
Once the animal has been stabilized at the emergency clinic, the pet can be taken back to its regular vet the following day.
Zuvers said he fully understands that people will want to see their regular vets and that it is stressful to bring their pets to a doctor they don’t know.
“We’re not only here to help the animal, but we’re here to help the owners as well,” Zuvers said. “I want them to feel comfortable with me.”
Pate said that he frequently gets asked by people who bring in their pets if someone will be staying with their animals overnight.
“Now I can tell them yes, this will give us the ability to have 24-hour coverage in critical cases,” said Pate.