Marvel the dog was a past patient at the UF Small Animal Hospital before protocols began to change during the coronavirus pandemic. (Chance McCall/WUFT News)

How UF’s Small Animal Hospital Has Prioritized Clients During Coronavirus Era

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Ashley Intihar couldn’t have imagined how much her job would change in the course of two months.

As a clinical trial assistant at the University of Florida Small Animal Hospital, her job involved talking to owners of the various animals that she helped work on. However, things were soon to change with the preventative measures taken to stop the spread of COVID-19.

In an effort to help with social distancing, the hospital initially stopped owners from bringing their pets into the hospital, instead having veterinary assistants go to a line of cars to retrieve the pets from them. Since April 1, however, the hospital has been sending only a handful of employees, dressed in personal protective equipment, to retrieve the pets. Additionally, face masks and identification badges are required for employees to enter the building.

Intihar, 22, has been involved with the hospital since 2017 and began working there as a vet assistant in 2019. She said one of the largest changes is the lack of face-to-face interaction with the owners of the pets and the cancelation of volunteers and clinics. She also said the animal hospital is just following standard protocol for this type of event and many other animal hospitals are also doing curbside from their clients.

“It’s been really stressful because everyone works in very close proximity when handling the animals,” Intihar said. “People tend to forget that what we do is just as stressful as being a nurse.”

She said that the first thing she remembers changing was that owners were screened over the phone about recent travel.

Intihar said “the hardest change for me is not getting the interaction with the clients, and that’s one of my favorite things about the job.”

Alyssa Howell, 23, a clinical trial assistant and UF graduate, has also worked at the animal hospital since last year. She normally helps with many of the clinics at the animal hospital, but now only oncology clinics are being conducted.

“Work has been slow and there are less hours,” she said, “but mentally it has become more stressful because there are animals that we can’t enroll due to external circumstances.”

She thinks the hardest thing for her is having to take all the extra precautions when handling patients and the limited interaction with other departments has also presented a challenge.

Lana Fagman, 32, manages clinical trials for animals’ naturally occurring diseases —much like human clinical trials. She said prioritization of clients is just like a human doctor, for whom urgent clients are taken high priority.

Fagman said emergency services have had to rotate shifts more frequently in order to protect teams from intermingling and potentially spread any contagion.

“In some ways, it has been easier because things have been moving faster and streamlining the process, but I think it has been harder on the clients due to travel and being out of the loop,” Fagman said. “We are really missing our volunteers that need experience for their programs.”

About Chance McCall

Chance is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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