Plans are underway to open a nonprofit emergency veterinary hospital in Rochester
Three local veterinarians are in the process of creating what could be Rochester's first nonprofit emergency veterinary hospital.
Dr. Isadora Marion, founder of Doorbell Vet, Dr. Brenda Buck, owner of the Animal Hospital of Rochester, and Dr. Bruce Ingersoll, a professor in Genesee Community College's Veterinary Technology program and a part-time veterinarian at York Animal Hospital, are working to fill an urgent need for access to veterinary care in the region.
The plan, for now, is to base the practice at the Animal Hospital of Rochester at 1150 University Avenue.
For almost the past two years, local pet owners have had to drive to Buffalo, Syracuse, or beyond if their pets required emergency care after 10 p.m.
"We can't keep sending people hours and hours away for their pets," Ingersoll said. "Not only is it not fair to them, it's not fair to these other facilities, either. They cannot absorb Rochester's population of pets."
Access to veterinary care has been a persistent problem for years, both locally and nationally. But it reached a critical point in Jan. 2022, when Veterinary Specialists and Emergency Services (VSES) in Brighton, which was the Rochester area's only 24-hour emergency veterinary hospital, eliminated overnight hours, citing staff shortages.
VSES further curtailed its hours this August, when parent company Thrive Pet Healthcare also announced that the hospital will close on Nov. 27.
Ingersoll, Marion, and Buck are scrambling to fill the gap by establishing Rochester Emergency Veterinary Services, the name they gave to a practice they incorporated about two weeks ago. Their goal is to open in early 2024, but they are still in the process of getting their plan off the ground.
The group is applying to the IRS for 501c3 status.
"We decided the best way to go about it was to establish a nonprofit, so in theory, it can't be taken away from the community again, " said Ingersoll.
Some VSES employees and a Monroe County legislator blamed the hospitals' corporate owners for its collapse, citing poor working conditions and an overemphasis on profits, which they say made it difficult for the hospital to attract and retain emergency veterinarians and specialists who already face heavy job pressures due to the nature of their work.
A spokesperson for Thrive said they tried to recruit veterinarians from other local clinics to work on a rotating basis, but the pool of full-time candidates with emergency and surgical care experience was very limited.
Ingersoll said this will likely be a challenge for his group, too, as they try to open a new hospital.
"The caseload is not going to keep us from growing into what we need to," he said. "It's going to be getting the staff that's going to be a struggle for us."
If they can hire at least four veterinarians, Ingersoll said that will be enough to deliver emergency care during the overnight and weekend hours when it is currently unavailable in greater Rochester. But they would like to do more.
"In an ideal world, we'd start with six veterinarians, which would give us 24 hour, 7 days a week coverage," he added. "It would be minimal. It would be one doctor (for) each shift, but it would actually keep us open 24/7."
Many veterinarians have noncompete agreements with their employers, which restrict them from going to work for a competitor within a certain geographic area.
According to Ingersoll, Congressman Joe Morelle's office assisted his group with freeing VSES veterinarians from these contractual clauses. But Ingersoll said so far, no job offers have been made.
The New York state legislature passed a ban on noncompete agreements in June, but it is not clear if Gov. Kathy Hochul intends to sign the bill into law.
Ingersoll, Marion, and Buck will serve as Rochester Emergency Veterinary Services' first board of directors.
They expect to announce a fundraising campaign for the hospital as early as next week. Ingersoll said they have talked to potential donors but have not taken any donations yet.
"We feel like there's going to be a huge outpouring," Ingersoll said. "This is a huge topic for a lot of people. Once the floodgates open, we need to be set up and ready to deal with that."
Ingersoll also stressed that even though the hospital will operate as a nonprofit organization, that does not mean they will offer low-cost services.
"We're going to hopefully have funds like most hospitals do, to help those truly in need," he added. "But for the most part, they're going to be paying market value for veterinary care."
As they work toward their planned opening, Ingersoll said he and his partners have studied the bylaws and organizational structure of other nonprofit veterinary hospitals, including Angell Animal Medical Centerin Boston, and Schwarzman Animal Medical Centerin New York City.