Dr. Michael Blackwell knew he had a mission while working at Young-Williams Animal Center, the largest animal shelter in East Tennessee. There was a growing number of Americans who were struggling to acquire necessary services due to the 2008 recession, and veterinary medicine was one of them. Flash forward to today, Covid-19 has amplified the need for more accessible veterinary care, exacerbating the problem at hand. Dr. Blackwell discussed all things access to care, as well as his current project, AlignCare, on a recent Community Conversation call. In case you missed it, read on for the Avanzino Leadership Award recipient’s take on the current situation as well as how your organization can help improve it.
Animal shelters across the nation can play a critical role in providing access to care – they just may need a little help. “One of the most inspiring parts of our country is the shelter industry,” said Dr. Blackwell. “You (shelter staff) are doing tremendously important work.” Dr. Blackwell stated that shelters already do so much to help, but there is a resource you can tap into to further progress the movement toward achieving more accessible and equitable care.
Private veterinarians are a resource that can help your animal welfare organization, however, “having a connection with them that is predictable, consistent, and efficient is important to getting the help that you need,” said Dr. Blackwell. His program, AlignCare, is finding a way for veterinary practices to help, while acknowledging that veterinarians can’t do it for free as they are small businesses that have to meet a bottom line.
AlignCare is one way that animal welfare organizations can better leverage the veterinary medicine industry. “You cannot achieve efficiencies if you don’t have adequate structure and organization,” said Dr. Blackwell. “That’s what we’re trying to accomplish through AlignCare. It provides structure, predictability, consistency and efficiency, while avoiding duplication of the service delivery infrastructure.”
Dr. Blackwell encourages animal welfare organizations to continue to expand their veterinary services if their community does not have private veterinary practices available. If there are veterinary practices in your community, he urges you to connect with those services and create a relationship to provide care. “If you go and build another operation, then you actually increase the cost of veterinary care in that community for everybody, because you’re duplicating a lot of infrastructure.”
So how can animal shelter workers help to advocate for a change? “The most important thing to do now is to commit to working collaboratively around a shared vision, sharing ideas and creating a unified front.” Dr. Blackwell believes it is important to find the common interests and needs and move forward with them. To create a unified front, animal welfare organizations must work together to create a unified voice. AlignCare provides that platform.
“The work we do really is not about animals as much as it is about families in this country who happen to have non-human family members.” He says we must change our messaging to focus on American families who deserve access to care. “It’s not just about dogs and cats, it’s about American families.”
Dr. Blackwell said, “When we commit to community-based initiatives to build new veterinary service delivery models, these new instruments to reach underserved families, those who are left out of the party right now, we will get to a better place.”