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Local veterinary medical center pleads with clients to be respectful to staff and to not resort to verbal abuse

The Orchard Park Veterinary Medical Center has put up signs asking clients to be respectful to staff, adding that verbal abuse to employees is getting worse.

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — A local veterinary medical center says it has seen a disturbing trend amid the pandemic -- unruly behavior from clients towards staff. The hospital is now taking steps to stop these types of interactions.

"We have had clients who have thrown things, we have clients who verbally abuse the staff, the doctors," said Allison Raffaele, hospital administrator at Orchard Park Veterinary Medical Center. 

Leaders at the medical center said this behavior really started to be a problem about a year ago and that staff members here are verbally abused daily.

"It's extremely emotional to see the staff who are so compassionate and work so hard every day to take care of our patients who many are very, very sick and they advocate for the patients," Raffaele said.

"And then, to have clients screaming at them and yelling at them and having unrealistic expectations it's emotionally draining."

Throughout the pandemic, more people have adopted pets, and with a shortage of staff at veterinary medical clinics, there aren't many open appointments, resulting in client frustration, the staff added.

"They expect that their pets will be seen for surgical consults immediately which we only have three surgeons so that's not always possible of course the cost as well," Raffaele said.

The medical center says it hired overnight security and has had to call the police at times. The agency also put up signs pleading with people to be courteous.

"It hasn't unfortunately deterred the behavior as much as we thought it would," Raffaele said.

"I would hope that it starts to get better we are actively recruiting veterinarians, we're recruiting staff, we're trying to manage expectations for clients so that they know what to expect."

The Orchard Park Veterinary Medical Center says it got a restraining order against one client. Orchard Park Police tell us that they've been to the clinic nine times in the past 12 months.

The message from the medical center to the community once again is to be respectful toward staff, amid the shortage of veterinarians.

The Erie County SPCA echoes the sentiment about unruly clients, writing in a statement:

"The veterinary industry is incredibly strained at the moment, and it’s impacting both private practices and shelter medicine. This isn’t a regional issue, but a nationwide crisis. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms the growing shortage of veterinarians to be in the 3,000 to 5,000 range nationally. Add those numbers to complications in veterinary care due to a worldwide pandemic, and you have a recipe for heightened emotions. When people are seeking the best, often lifesaving, care for a beloved pet and cannot receive it due to lack of veterinary ability or prohibitive costs, the potential for elevated agitation exists. Here at the SPCA Serving Erie County, we have experienced these heightened emotions from some pet owners at both our humane society and our public veterinary clinic. We keep reminding ourselves that the reactions are borne out of love for a pet and try to find other ways we can assist individuals; unfortunately, this is not always possible," said Gina Browning, a spokesperson for the SPCA.

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