Great Health Divide | One year later, creative thinking helps EKY veterinarian keep going

Big changes have allowed the vet to keep ‘bridging the great health divide’ for animals in Appalachia.
Great Health Divide | One year later, creative thinking helps EKY veterinarian keep going
Published: Oct. 10, 2022 at 2:17 PM EDT
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WEST LIBERTY, Ky. (WKYT) - An eastern Kentucky veterinarian says some outside-the-box thinking has helped him recruit and retain valuable workers amid a national shortage for his industry in rural areas.

Last year, Dr. David Fugate of West Liberty Veterinary Clinic told WKYT’s Garrett Wymer that they were understaffed and overwhelmed, as a critical shortage of veterinarians left fewer doctors trying to keep up with more demand.

“We were at the end of our rope when we talked to you,” Dr. Fugate said on a recent morning at his clinic. “We’d been run over. We’d literally been run over. When you get to that place - I think everybody’s been there before - you get to where, ‘I don’t know what else to do. I’ve done everything I can do. What do we do?’ So we prayed extra.”

Original story from August 2021:

Since then, they have hired two more veterinarians and opened up a new addition, leaving them much more capable of handling the volume of work that has now become the new normal.

“We didn’t know, but now we plan on it being OK,” Dr. Fugate said. “We’ve made arrangements for it to be OK.”

Last year, Dr. Fugate said that he was thinking outside the box to try to make working at the clinic more attractive.

One example is what they did with a home on the property that once belonged to Dr. William Holbrook, the late founder of the clinic. The basement now serves as a daycare for a few of the staff members’ children.

“You don’t want to leave your baby whenever you first come back to work. It’s hard,” said Samantha Johnson, a veterinary technician holding her young son, Carter. “They make sure we’re taken care of as long as our babies are taken care of. You couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Dr. Fugate said that, with the need for vets not going anywhere, he hopes other places might consider taking some of the steps they did.

Because he knows that vet shortages remain a systemic problem in rural areas across Kentucky and the country.

Three of the six shortage areas the state nominated last year - part of a program to bring in vets in exchange for helping repay student loans - had positions that went unfilled. Four of the five shortage areas nominated for the current fiscal year are once again for food animal medicine in rural areas. They are all still listed as open.