An Academic-Community Collaboration in Veterinary Medicine

Dana Zimmel, D.V.M., recently received a letter from a client about the care her two dogs received at a new Pet Emergency Clinic in Ocala and at the UF Small Animal Hospital in Gainesville. 

Kathie Dudley wrote: “Last Sunday I returned home to find both of my dachshunds (Lucy and Freckles) had been bitten by a snake. We rushed them to the new UF Pet Emergency Clinic here in Ocala. After evaluation of both my babies, Dr. Luiz Bolfer told me we would have to take them to the UF Clinic in Gainesville after the Ocala office, and gave them a dose of antivenom.

 “…. They are our family, like our children, and a huge part of our lives. I honestly felt like I was dying inside at that moment. I was sitting in the exam room with Freckles in my arms trying to explain to him why mommy couldn't make him better, when Dr. Bolfer came in and told me we were taking both dogs to Gainesville ….  At that moment, all I could think of was the well-being of my baby and was so excited that there was hope my babies would be OK…By the time we got to Gainesville Lucy took a turn for the worse and Freckles was holding his own. Unfortunately on Monday we lost Lucy, but Freckles got to come home on Tuesday…The love and dedication I saw in the eyes and actions of all the doctors and staff of both the UF Pet Emergency Clinics was amazing. After seeing Doctor Andrea Martinez and Doctor Gareth Buckley care for my babies, and seeing the genuine concern and compassion in their eyes, I knew Sunday night that no matter what the outcome, my babies were getting the best care and love possible.”

This poignant letter acknowledges the dedication and skill of our veterinary medicine faculty, but there is one aspect that reflects a nationally unique collaboration between community-based veterinarians and our faculty—the new Pet Emergency Clinic in Ocala, where Ms. Dudley first took Lucy and Freckles.

By law, veterinarians must provide care for their patients 24 hours a day. If there is not an after-hours clinic, they would all have to be on call all the time — clearly a strain on their personal and professional lives. Up until the opening of the Pet Emergency Clinic in Ocala, the only options for emergency service in that community were located 40 miles away in Gainesville (at UF) or in Leesburg. This is too far for many clients to drive, especially elderly clientele. A group of 21 veterinarians in Ocala formed PETS (Pet Emergency Treatment Services) to address the problem. They turned to UF to help for several reasons: UF faculty would provide high-quality care; the cost of opening a new facility of sufficient size, plus the cost of equipment and staffing, would be more than they could do alone; and if any one of them operated the Pet Emergency Clinic, there may be an unfair competitive advantage for the others. Thus, they needed a neutral group to run the hospital that would not complete with them for primary care.

The leader of PETS, Dr. Dion Osborne, called one of UF’s internal medicine veterinarians, Dr. Richard Hill, over the holidays to ask if we were interested. Dr. Hill notified Dean Hoffsis and Dr. Zimmel, who heads the UF Small Animal Hospital, and they met immediately to discuss this option. PETS raised the funds needed to build out a leased, 5,000-square-foot building chosen by the PETS-UF group. Location was a key decision. Taking into account the population Marion County as a whole, a safe and convenient location was chosen. The building itself was an empty shell. UF worked with PETS on the design and funded the equipment. The layout is patterned after the Small Animal Hospital in Gainesville but on a smaller scale. Two months were spent working on the agreement and design and four months on the build-out.

On July 2, the Ocala Pet Emergency Clinic opened with tremendous community support. UF subleases the facility and meets with the Ocala veterinarians at least quarterly to ensure smooth operations and to address any issues that may arise.

Pictured are the UF veterinarians and staff who are working at the new UF Pet Emergency Treatment Services after-hours emergency clinic. (Photo by Sarah Carey)The Ocala Pet Emergency Clinic operates from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. during the week and 24 hours a day on the weekend and holidays. The Clinic is staffed by four faculty board-certified in Emergency & Critical Care and four residents. There are one or two veterinarians on site per shift. This same group rotates in the ICU in Gainesville. Nine veterinary technicians also work at this location. Both walk-in emergencies and transfers from other veterinary clinics are welcomed.  Every referring veterinarian is sent a copy of the discharge orders by 8 a.m. If the patient needs continued care, the local veterinarian is called between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. to determine whether the patient should go back to their clinic or be transferred to Gainesville for specialty care.

A cat named “Fence” was the Clinic’s first patient.Data from the first month indicate this facility was clearly needed. More than 300 pets were seen during July, brought directly to the Emergency Clinic by their owners or referred from 33 area veterinary hospitals. To put this in perspective, our Gainesville hospital will see 2,000 patients per month.  Moreover, despite the opening of the Ocala Emergency Clinic, our Gainesville Emergency Service continues to grow, suggesting little if any overlap between the two markets.

To date, as in the case of Lucy and Freckles, 21 clients have had their pets transferred to Gainesville from the Ocala Clinic, ensuring continuity and the provision of specialty care as needed. The veterinarians appear to be very happy with the clinic.  As conveyed to Dr. Zimmel from Dr. Jenny Salpeter, one of the PETS veterinarians, “our clients have been very happy and confident with the compassion and quality of care.”

Dana Zimmel, D.V.M. Dr. Zimmel is extremely well-suited to lead this effort for UF. She obtained her B.S. in animal science from UF in 1990 and her D.V.M. in 1995. She then completed an internship and residency at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, becoming a Diplomate in the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and Diplomate in the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners. She states that her plan was to “go into private practice and become a practice owner to combine my love of medicine and interest in business. I spent one year in private equine practice in Ocala, Florida. It was a great experience but I realized I would rather work in a specialty hospital.” After a faculty appointment at The University of Georgia in Large Animal Medicine, Dr. Zimmel returned to UF, first in Equine Health Extension (IFAS), and then in progressive leadership roles at the College of Veterinary Medicine, culminating in her appointment by Dr. Hoffsis as chief of staff in 2011. As chief of staff, Dr. Zimmel oversees the Small Animal Hospital, Large Animal Hospital, the new Ocala Emergency clinic, Pharmacy and Laboratories. She states that “my goal is to focus on customer service and financial sustainability. At the same time I want to provide an innovative atmosphere for clinical teaching and create opportunities for clinical research.”

Regarding the Ocala Pet Emergency Clinic, Dr. Zimmel states that “I am very proud of our team working there. The time and effort our doctors have given to this new clinic has made it a success.”

Forward Together,

David S. Guzick, M.D., Ph.D.
Senior Vice President, Health Affairs
President, UF&Shands Health System