Urgent-care vet clinic opens in Northampton


Staff Writer

Published: 10-11-2022 8:02 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Integrity Veterinary Center saw its first patient on Tuesday, led by a team of seasoned professionals intent on filling several gaps in local veterinary services and taking a humane approach to treatment for animals, their owners and the hospital’s staff.

The hospital at 518 Pleasant St., moments away from Interstate 91, provides dogs and cats with oncology, internal medicine and urgent care as well as outpatient ultrasound services, but not emergency treatment, routine wellness checks or vaccinations.

Owner Dr. Martha MaloneyHuss said the new venture meets a need for pet owners with few options in the area beyond their primary veterinarian. Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Hospital in South Deerfield is the nearest site offering similar services and all three members of Integrity’s leadership team once worked there.

Dr. Erika Mueller, Integrity’s chief operating officer, was chief of medicine at the South Deerfield hospital, which she founded in 2006. Chief of staff Dr. Claire Weigand was an internal medicine specialist there — addressing chronic illnesses, infectious disease, multi-organ syndromes and more — while MaloneyHuss worked as a veterinary oncologist.

“The fact that we are combining these two powerhouses into one facility is just amazing to me,” MaloneyHuss said of her colleagues.

At the moment, pet owners can wait weeks or months for ultrasounds, and it could require significant travel, but Integrity is offering that service to the Northampton area.

“The problem is that many of the facilities that have ultrasound capability are running ER services right now, and they’re overwhelmed,” Mueller said. “Trying to get in with something that is a chronic problem, something that isn’t immediately life-threatening? Those are the patients that keep getting put off and put off until they are an emergency.”

MaloneyHuss said the nearest veterinary urgent care facility is an hour’s drive from the city and, likewise, overwhelmed. Integrity is the only facility in western Massachusetts with a practicing veterinary oncologist.

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The space, MaloneyHuss said, is less “clinical” than other hospitals. Bird feeders will hang outside the huge windows in the consultation rooms for the delight of the cats.

The hospital, which is open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., cannot yet treat exotic or large animals such as snakes or horses.

Taking burnout seriously

The staff of Integrity will not take phone calls after hours, and at the end of the workday, the hospital will close and everyone is expected to go care for themselves both physically and emotionally. Integrity will accept appointments Monday through Thursday and offers what MaloneyHuss said are competitive salaries so that staff don’t have to overwork themselves to pay bills.

“One thing that we are really focusing on with this hospital is making sure that we provide top-quality medicine in a way that is sustainable for our staff,” MaloneyHuss said. “We want to make sure that … our doctors and our staff are not going to burn out after a few years. They are not going to be subjected to such ongoing stress that they suffer burnout and ultimately moral injuries, like many of our colleagues.”

She said suicide is a crisis in the veterinary field and Integrity will do what it can to support its workers.

According to a 2015 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in six veterinarians has considered suicide and female vets are 2.4 times more likely to die by suicide than the general population; 80% of vets are women.

The study found that 1.1% of males and 1.4% of females in the field had attempted suicide since veterinary school. Although those figures are lower than the general population, the study notes that “veterinarians’ ready access to drugs may more often result in lethal suicide attempts, leaving fewer survivors to respond to the survey,” and a 2019 study found that “poisoning was the most common cause of death among veterinarians.”

Veterinary technicians and technologists, according to the 2019 CDC study, are more likely to die from opioid overdoses than veterinarians and the general population.

Weigand said she has lost two colleagues to suicide.

“Right now, with the burnout rate and the compassion fatigue, to have somebody (who has been) seeing cases every day for 30 years” is an asset to animal owners, Weigand said. “We still love it. We’re an oddity.”

Prevention better than cure

During the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, many owners stopped bringing their pets to the veterinarian for routine visits and, in some cases, even for serious health issues, Weigand said.

“We were seeing cases that were so much sicker than they needed to be,” she said.

Now, as the few available facilities are consistently overbooked, pets are still experiencing dire consequences.

“The flip side of that is that now people are getting puppies and kittens, and they can’t get in to get vaccines,” she said. “We’re having to react to things instead of prevent things.”

MaloneyHuss said some owners have opted for palliative care and euthanasia rather than the high cost and travel associated with cancer treatment. Integrity, in addition to providing that care for local pets, hopes to encourage people to get pet insurance in case of catastrophic injury or illness and take proper preventive care.

Obesity, the doctors agreed, is a major problem in dogs and cats, leading to torn ligaments, diabetes and inflammation, among other ailments. Pets should not be exposed to smoking and they need to eat a properly nutritious diet, rather than what Weigand described as “boutique home-cooked meals.”

The region’s primary care veterinarians and specialists, MaloneyHuss said, form “one giant team,” but veterinary care starts at home.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony is planned at Integrity on Friday at 1 p.m.

Brian Steele can be reached at bsteele@gazettenet.com.]]>