New 24-hour animal hospital in Kamloops, B.C., aims to reduce stress on local vets, pet owners

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When Crystal Phare’s three-year-old French bulldog Winston was hit by a car in the community of Pinantan Lake last November, she expected there would be emergency care available for her pet 35 minutes away in Kamloops, B.C.

But, to her distress, she discovered her local vet clinic wasn’t able to provide urgent after-hours care for her dog.

Phare ended up having to drive more than 300 kilometres to Langley in Metro Vancouver in order to access an animal hospital there. 

“Having such a traumatic experience and then not being able to have the care — it was devastating,” Phare recalled. 

Her experience highlights the effects that burnout among veterinarians is having, with many reducing their on-call hours in recent years.

Dr. Adrian Helmers and Dr. Megan Broshak have been planning to change that in Kamloops, as they and their team have been working for the last 18 months to bring the first 24-hour emergency veterinary hospital to the city.  

Now, Phases Veterinary Emergency Hospital is finally open, and Helmers believes it will make a big difference for local pets and their owners. 

“I’ve seen a drastic change in the number of people needing emergency services out of hours and our vet clinics just not being able to keep up with that need,” she said.

White room with an operating table with a blue mat and a black cover
The primary surgical operating suite at Phases Veterinary Emergency Hospital. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

“What Phases wants to do is remove the stress of having that accessibility of care so you can be 100 per cent sure that here in Kamloops you will be able to get care for your pet.”

People in B.C.’s Interior were previously advised to drive to Kelowna or Langley — a drive of more than two hours or three hours, respectively — to get after-hours emergency care for their pets.

Concerns over vet burnout

Society of B.C. Veterinarians president Fraser Davidson said the opening of the new hospital in Kamloops is important as clinics across the province reduce after-hours service amid an increase in demand and a shortage of vets.

Just last month, the Lakeland Veterinary Clinic in 100 Mile House told CBC News it would be restricting emergency services between 11 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. in an attempt to prevent staff burnout.

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Dr. Fraser Davidson, the Society of B.C. Veterinarians’ board president, says Canadian veterinarians have been experiencing extreme burnout and worsening mental health due to staff shortages, an increase in pet ownership and the round-the-clock stress of the job.

Davidson said vets are dealing with burnout because they can’t work constantly — but if they don’t offer care for their patients, it takes a toll on them emotionally.

By offering a hospital with 24-hour care, he says everybody wins.

“The clients get better access to healthcare after hours. The vets that don’t provide 24 hour care know that their pets are being looked after,” he said.

“It’s an absolutely excellent thing for the sustainability of our profession,” he added.

Some in the industry have tried other ways of providing more access to care, including pooling resources between clinics. 

In March 2023, meanwhile, the provincial government doubled the number of seats available to train vets in an attempt to reduce overall pressure on the system in B.C. 

Aiming to expand

Phases offers a number of services including surgery, anesthesia and care for exotic pets including birds and reptiles.

Helmers said the hospital has a staff of around 40 people and they are recruiting vets and locums from the Lower Mainland and Kelowna to help fill gaps.

She hopes once the facility is more established, it can recruit specialists. 

“It’s kind of one of those things, you know — if you build it, they will come,” she said.

Helmers said the hospital won’t replace your regular vet clinic, but instead complement it. 

“We are just emergency referrals and urgent services, so we will accept those referrals from your family vet. But we will also allow walk-ins on an urgent and emergent basis,” she said.

Black and white French Bulldog with one leg missing and bandaged lies on a tan doggie bed.
French bulldog Winston recovers after having his leg amputated. His owner had to drive more than 300 kilometres to get after-hours emergency care for the dog after he was hit by a car. (Submitted by Crystal Phare)

Phare said she’s pleased about the opening of Phases. 

“It means the world to us to have that care here,” said Phare, who added that she’s spent more than $35,000 covering vet costs and travelling back and forth from Pinitan to Langley for Winston’s care since November. 

The bulldog required extensive jaw surgery, lost one of his eyes, and had one of his legs amputated. Phare said while more dental surgery is required, Winston is healing well and back to his usual high-energy self.

“We don’t regret for one minute… you can’t not save his life once you start,” she said.

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