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Wait times soar, patients turned away at Indiana veterinary hospitals

COVID-19 forced hundreds of hospitals to divert patients. Many people do not realize the pandemic has also triggered a health care crisis for pets.

Bob Segall

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Published: 4:18 AM CST November 23, 2021
Updated: 12:02 PM CST December 3, 2021

When Dr. James Speiser, DVM, walks into the emergency room, he knows exactly what he’s walking into.

“It just never ends,” the longtime veterinarian told 13News. “It’s all day, every day. There’s just too many patients.”

It’s a Wednesday morning at Speiser’s IndyVet hospital on the southeast side of Indianapolis. Seventeen animals have already been treated and are in recovery. Eight more are in the ER being evaluated. And a large monitor at the end of the ER shows ten additional pets are still waiting – most for hours.

Veterinarians and staff already have 35 animals to care for, and it’s only 11:15 a.m. on what is usually one of the lightest days of the week.

“Right now, the wait time is listed up there at four to five hours.” Speiser said, pointing to new names that just appeared on the wait list. “We’ve had people wait for up to 12 hours, and people don’t like to wait. I don’t like to wait. It’s just more patients than can be possibly seen by the amount of personnel we have.”

When 13 Investigates returned on a Saturday afternoon, the wait time had grown to eight hours. And after nine more emergencies arrived within 20 minutes, the animal hospital was forced to take drastic measures.

“We’re currently diverting, only seeing the most critical patients,” Speiser announced just before 3:00 p.m. “We simply have to tell some people that we can’t see them.”

Credit: WTHR
The intake board at IndyVet indicates a wait of four to five hours.

As the veterinarian looked around the patient intake area crowded with animals, doctors and trained technicians, he glanced up at the waitlist monitor that showed some animals would not receive treatment until early the next morning.

The activity is non-stop. The mood is somber.

“It is an absolute nightmare. I’ve been in this business 45 years. There’s never, ever been even close to this type of situation. Ever. And everybody has the same problem,” Speiser said.

Diverting patients is a worst case scenario, and it’s become all too familiar.

A 13News investigation discovered all of central Indiana’s 24-hour veterinary hospitals are increasingly relying on diversions to manage a crisis inside their emergency rooms, and that crisis can lead to devastating choices for families seeking urgent medical care for their pets.

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