Vet clinic on base expanding number of surgeries available to pet owners

Recent expansion | Will help shorten facility’s treatment waiting list

By Julie Smith/JBLM PAO on January 10, 2013

An expansion of Joint Base Lewis-McChord's veterinary center will double the number of surgical procedures staff can perform, shortening the waiting list for treatment for pets of service members and military working dogs.

The addition of a new surgical suite, recovery area, lab and office space brings the total number of operating rooms to two and allows veterinary staff to schedule an additional surgery three days a week.

That's good news for the approximately 16,000 privately owned pets and 35 military working dogs cared for at the facility, and as one of five locations for the Army's First-Year Graduate Veterinary Education program, the facility has the staff to accommodate the growing schedule.

"This year, we have four veterinarians right out of school who are new to the Army," said branch chief Capt. Emily Purswell. "So this internship program not only introduces them to an intense clinical setting where they can learn their veterinary skills, but they also learn how to be Army officers since they are commissioned directly as captains."

The JBLM veterinary center is also unique in that it has two board-certified veterinarians on staff. Chief of clinical medicine Maj. Jodi Nicklas manages the FYGVE program on the installation and Maj. Erin Haverly from JBLM Public Health Command provides education about the transmission of diseases between animals and humans.

"The hope is that (the interns) have better medical and patient skills while also learning about leadership and public health so they can perform their jobs better," Nicklas said. "We want them to be more well-rounded and capable."

The expansion will certainly help, Purswell said. Not only will staff members receive medical training, but the new office space will be used for continuing education events, officer development and training for military dog handlers.

The expansion will also allow the veterinary center to begin using an intensive care unit oxygen cage, which vets now have the space to use. They have already begun using a new digital radiology unit, which makes it easier to upload and send X-rays for referrals to clinics off base. The JBLM clinic relies on emergency hospitals and referral hospitals in the area for after-hours and weekend care, since the JBLM veterinary center is not staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Purswell said.

The veterinary center stays busy seeing about 50 patients per day for general wellness care and mild to moderate illness, and with the new surgical suite, staff members perform approximately 60 surgeries each week.

"When this clinic first opened in 2002, they did wellness only. They didn't do spays or neuters; they just did vaccines and preventive care. Now, we're a full-service clinic. That didn't all happen with the expansion; it's been an evolution and right now, we are offering the broadest range of services and diagnostics than we've ever offered," Purswell said.

Service members are charged a fee for care, but Purswell said the $25 cost to see a veterinarian or the $15 charge to see a technician are minimal compared to off-base costs. Service members residing on JBLM must register their pets with the JBLM Housing Office. Those living off-base don't have to register their pets with housing, but they can register with the veterinary center to become patients. Individuals must have access to Madigan Healthcare System to get veterinary care.

Purswell hopes the expansion will pave the way for a large JBLM veterinary center in the future with more veterinary specialists, but she's happy with the modifications to the facility.

"This expansion is long overdue. It's a small step toward getting a new facility, but I think it's going to greatly expand our capabilities, not only for military working dog care, but also for privately owned animal care," she said. "We're going to be able to do more for our patients here on base than we've ever been able to do before."