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Pets need social distancing too: Veterinarian revamps business amid pandemic

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YOUNGSVILLE — Heartwood Animal Hospital says it is trying to strike a balance between the staff-patient-client contact necessary in their industry and said industry’s new COVID-19 safety guidelines.

The veterinarian practice is using curbside pickup, a mask mandate and hourly cleaning, the hospital’s practice manager said.

“The first three to four weeks were pretty difficult for us,” the manager, Miranda Nemitz, said. “Just to get into a new routine of how we’re communicating with clients and how we’re making sure we’re still staying efficient.”

Heartwood, which opened in 2000, has experienced steady growth over the past few years, mirroring the growth Youngsville has undergone at large, it said.  

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, Heartwood and its staff have had to throw out their old work routines in favor of new guidelines set by the North Carolina Veterinary Board. 

These, along with recommendations from the American Veterinary Medical Association, now dictate how Heartwood is run.

“We moved to curbside pretty quickly. We are only allowing clients in the building for end-of-life euthanasia services, and then all of our staff and the clients are required to wear masks if that situation comes up,” Nemitz said. “We have a couple of extra cleaning protocols: hourly cleaning of door handles and anything that clients could have touched — pens and pieces of paper and clipboards.”

The hospital’s pre-appointment forms and applications, such as those for consent and boarding, have been moved to Heartwood’s website, while an animal’s medical history and current state are discussed over the phone — reducing actual contact to a minimum.

“Then we go out to the car to get the pet,” Nemitz said. “All the exam services, treatments are done at that point, and then the doctor calls with any recommendations or just to let them know how their pet is doing. And then we’re doing all over the phone checkout.”

Overall, she said, wait times remain the same at around 30-40 minutes.

Still, as the state reopens in the wake of COVID-19, the North Carolina Veterinary Board has given more leeway in terms of what can be considered essential services. 

During Phase 1 of the state’s reopening, Heartwood and other animal hospitals were allowed to conduct grooming services, preventative dentistry and spay and neuter procedures, as well as board animals.