Montclair Veterinary Hospital rebounds after brief closure, reopening
By Lou Fancher
It’s possible that there is no other place in the world exactly like the Montclair Veterinary Hospital.
Where else can you take your household pet with congestive heart failure and know that a state-of-the-art MRI machine will diagnose the condition accurately? Or chat with hospital manager Guillermo Camacho about his favorite national parks and share stories with Dr. Audrey Salinas, who speaks in reverential tones of her 87-year-old “definite cat lady” grandmother who at one point in time adopted and cared for 11 feral cats?
It’s all true and special and doesn’t even touch on the veterinary hospital’s much-needed presence in Montclair after an abrupt April 2022 closure of the facility under previous management left pet owners — and vets, technicians and staff members employed there — reeling. The hospital up to that point had boasted a 60-year history and had been bought in 2018 by Thrive Pet Healthcare, a privately owned company based in Austin, Texas, with more than 400 locations in multiple states.
After the hospital’s unexpected closure, it was purchased by local veterinarian and entrepreneur Dr. Andrew Moffatt and his Bay Area-based, collaborative veterinary hospital group, VetnCare. The hospital’s clinically-led, American Animal Hospital Association-accredited doors swung open three months later, in July of last year, with most of the original doctors and technicians rehired.
With that effort and a robust management staff in place, comprehensive veterinary services resumed and the restoration of community trust began. Camacho joined the hospital after a decade working in retail management for large companies such as Target, Rite Aid and Gap. The 31-year-old with a fondness for the outdoors brought special interest in efficient systems and “soft touch” processes that integrate the human factor in commercial transactions.
“Whenever someone comes with a good idea, I try to do it,” said Camacho. “Like recently, one staff person had an idea to reorganize the pharmacy. We did it, and about a week later it was super-efficient, with everything categorized by treatment and made better because we can fill prescriptions faster. With the doctors, I listen. The team was different, with all of the vets and four technicians returning from the closure combined with new hires.”
Initiatives included creating a training guide and holding regular skill-building sessions on various office and clinic practices. For the clients, Camacho said, “Everyone is really involved with a pet that is part of someone’s family. When the former company closed down and we opened up, there were issues of trust. It took us a while to build that trust back up.
“One of the best efforts was the benefit hospital tour we did with Hillcrest Elementary School that had me and about 10 staff members showing 25 kids about CPR, ultrasounds, dentistry, exotics, surgery layouts and (more). The school fundraised for their purposes by auctioning slots for parents to bring their kids in. A lot of the kids wanted to be veterinarians when they grow up. We’ve had people switching over to our hospital because they felt the team was not just entertaining but knowledgeable.”
The VetnCare model positions veterinarians as owners of each local hospital while supporting them with administrative, operational, marketing, finance and human resources staff. The locally-managed independent hospitals together form a powerful network, Camacho said.
“We’re all connected. A patient who comes to us in Montclair and maybe is traveling in Napa, they can go to our hospital up there. If a client’s hospital in Salinas is booked up, they can drive to Montclair to see us.”
The integrated system works to save expenses too.
“We lean towards advance practices so we do as much as we can before transferring animals to an ER hospital. We’ll triage so if they have to go to an ER, it’s only overnight. We know ER costs can be super-high and we work around problems; maybe by working with a lab that charges less or pushing back a test that’s not an emergency. Some things can wait without sacrificing the animal’s wealth or care.”
Dr. Salinas graduated in 2020 with a doctorate in veterinary medicine from UC Davis and was employed at the prior Montclair hospital when the shutdown happened.
“I was actually on maternity leave and in labor the day Montclair was shut down,” Salinas said. “We were so shocked and had no idea it was coming. I know it was devastating for our clients. I do feel sad because we lost trust when that happened.
“As a team, it was out of our control, but most of our doctors and technicians came back and we opened as quickly as possible. It’s hard to repair trust and the veterinary field has always had that struggle. Communication isn’t easy and we have to act as both specialists trained in veterinary skills and science and as sympathetic friends.”
Salinas said her Montclair clients are pleasant and notable for their devotion to pet care.
“These are people who really love their animals,” she said. “They’re a joy to work with in a way that allows me to practice advanced medicine. We have a wonderful client base and new people coming in, and there’s something special here. They believe we have a desire to do our best for their animals. They care so much and will go above and beyond for their pets.”
On the horizon for veterinary medicine, Salinas said she is most excited about improved diagnostic testing, advance surgery techniques and safer anesthesia. She added that fear-free care, behavioral services for pets suffering separation anxiety after many owners returned to work when pandemic mandates ended and graceful euthanasia for animals at the end of life are vital components that will complete and restore the client-hospital circle of trust in Montclair.