States Call on Veterinarians to Volunteer in Coronavirus Response
While more questions remain, some states are gauging the interest and availability of veterinary professionals.
Several states are calling on veterinarians to step up as human health care volunteers in response to the coronavirus crisis.
The Vermont state government website states that “Our hope is to develop a large pool of people willing to help should any rapidly developing situation require additional volunteers,” including nurses, pharmacists, physician assistants, veterinarians, and more.
The effort appears to be in a preliminary stage, with states working to identify how large this pool of volunteers could be, if needed.
Erin Forbes, chair of the communications committee for the Vermont Veterinary Medical Association, says details about how veterinarians would be used, how long they would be asked to volunteer, and if they would be insured or compensated have not been disclosed.
“There hasn’t been any clarification on what they would expect volunteers to do. Obviously, we would have to worry about the legality of it—we’re not licensed to work on people, so we need some clarification as we move forward,” says Forbes. “I think a lot of veterinarians would be willing to help while also making sure they’re taking care of themselves, their families, and their practices. Some of it depends on their circumstances—if you’re an elderly veterinarian or have health problems, you shouldn’t be going into the hospitals—but I also don’t foresee them having us go in and intubating people. My thought is they would have us talking on the phone and helping with triage, because we’re good at it. We’re also good with dealing with stressed out people and calming people down.”
While these calls may be alarming to some veterinary professionals, Mark Cushing, founding partner of the Animal Policy Group and former litigator, says the service should remain voluntary.
“The federal government has certain powers during an emergency, but those powers don’t allow the government to step in and take over a veterinary clinic in these circumstances,” says Cushing. “They don’t allow the federal government to step in, grab a veterinarian and say: ‘you go here and do something because you know something about medicine.’ Not all civil liberties are thrown out the window when you’re facing a threat. But they can invite people, and that’s what you’re seeing in Vermont.”
Forbes notes that while many questions need to be answered to make an ultimate decision, the choice will ultimately be made as each individual professional weights the costs and benefits.
“We took an oath to protect public health. That’s part of the oath I took to become a veterinarian so at the end of the day that matters a lot,” says Forbes. “I also think you could do it in a reasonable way. Say they need people to help answer phones on Tuesday afternoons. I don’t work at that time anyway, so if I could sit at home and answer the phone or sit in a call center and not be exposed to people, there’s very low risk but also a huge benefit.
“If you’re asking me to come in Monday through Friday and not going to pay me, I don’t see myself doing that. You have to weigh the risk of what they want and the severity of the situation. But at the end of the day, if people are going to die and we can prevent that, we took an oath and we have to stand by that.”