What to Expect in the Emergency Room at Tier 1 VMC
Not all animal hospitals handle their emergency services the same way, but this is how we function at Tier 1. On any given day at Tier 1, there are between 1 and 6 doctors seeing patients. This number includes specialists, primary care, and emergency care providers. This staffing structure is unique to Tier 1, as we strive to provide comprehensive veterinary care for Alaska. We offer this level of care by staffing a doctor exclusively for walk-in and emergency cases. If we cannot independently provide the service, we work hand-in-hand with other specialists around the state to bring those services to you. We even offer technician appointments for follow-ups, concerns, or medical needs that don’t require a face-to-face with a doctor. These appointments are even available on a walk-in basis.
We have a color-coded system to communicate not only amongst our team but also to our community what to expect at Tier 1 at any given time. Our case density and subsequent capacity for care waxes and wanes throughout the day. The color-coded system helps keep everyone updated and set realistic expectations.
Regardless of the current system status, here’s what you should anticipate when visiting Tier 1 for a veterinary emergency. You should expect:
- to wait
- to pay more
Wait Times for Emergency Vet Appointments
Having your pet seen in the emergency department is no different than being seen in the ER yourself. It’s not first-come, first-serve; we see pets in order of priority through a triage system. If you come into the ER complaining of chest pain or difficulty breathing, you will be seen before the girl with the bladder infection or the kid with the broken arm. The order to be seen is determined by triage. Who medically cannot wait? Where is the greatest risk to loss of life?
Additionally, not every patient in the hospital has a family waiting in the lobby. Please understand that there are many kennels in the treatment room. Occasionally, every single one is full of patients receiving care while their families wait at home or in the vehicle for updates.
When we see your pet on an emergency basis — without an appointment — then you are waiting to see the doctor who is there to cover emergencies and walk-ins. Any time our doors are open, we always have a doctor on shift specifically to see patients that do not have an appointment or may be suffering from an emergency condition. However, there is only one of these doctors on the clock at a time, and we do our absolute best to see every patient as quickly as possible. If we have a cancellation, our other doctors will even swing over to grab walk-in appointments, filling every available minute we can while still honoring our previously scheduled appointments.
We are moving non-stop to get every animal the care they need as efficiently as possible. If other clients and patients are moving in and out of rooms before you, that is likely because they made an appointment weeks ago for primary care, a technician appointment, or a specialist consultation for a pet with a complicated condition. Or, they may be there with a pet who is gravely injured or ill and needs critical care to survive.
Wait times vary widely from as little as a few minutes to several hours until you can speak with a doctor depending on your pet’s stability. Be prepared to wait several more hours after your pet has been examined for diagnostics and treatments to be performed. As backward as it sounds, having to wait longer is generally good news for your animal because they are stable enough to wait. However, there are obvious exceptions. For example, if the doctor is in emergency surgery, everyone may have to wait while we try to save a life. So please, bring a book, some snacks, and a healthy helping of patience.
Cost of Emergency Veterinary Care
We can see you today; you may just have to wait a few hours, but we will see you. When your regular vet cannot see you for three weeks, why do you think that is? How can we accommodate so many same-day walk-ins when others cannot?
The reason that Tier 1 is able to see all these extra patients, perform specialty care, and hospitalize patients overnight if needed is that we have more staff, space, and advanced medical equipment that may not be available everywhere else. This increased capability comes with a drawback; we have to pay for it, which means the care will be more expensive. Tier 1 VMC is not the cheapest option in the valley by a long shot — but we aren’t trying to be. We are trying to provide comprehensive, quality care when you need it. But that comes with a cost, for you and for us. We are not trying to replace your relationship with your vet. Our goal was to augment care options available to our community, in our community. We work with your regular vet to facilitate the care needs of your fur family.
If you cannot afford the care we recommend, we can talk about alternative care options. Or, if your animal is stable enough, we can help get you through until you can see your regular vet. I avidly encourage everyone to have an emergency fund for their pets, or better yet, pet insurance. With that said, we require payment at the time of services, and most pet insurance companies operate on a reimbursement scheme. We are not qualified to be a lending organization. Although we can’t offer payment plans, we do everything we can to help your pet get the care they need. We can even provide access for you to apply for credit options like care credit and scratch pay and help you through the process.
Providing Compassionate Emergency Veterinary Services in Alaska
Tier 1 is owned and operated by veterans, and respect is an intrinsic part of our Tier 1 culture. We treat all of our patients and clients with courtesy, compassion, and respect. That road goes both ways, and we expect civility and respect from our clients. We understand emergencies are stressful; having a member of your family hurting can cause anxiety and a tumult of emotions. Please recognize that we are here to help your pet and treat all of our team with respect because it really does take a village to provide this level of care. From the front desk to kennel assistants, technicians, doctors, and administrators, every member of our team is essential to providing the gold standard of care for your pet.
We respect and value our staff, and, as a result, we cannot tolerate disrespectful or abusive behavior. Unfortunately, sometimes this means having to part ways and refer care elsewhere. If our relationship with you and inability to communicate effectively inhibits care for your pet, we are happy to help get you, your pet, and all their records to a facility that can better meet your needs.
No one likes to be in the ER — for themselves or their pet. That includes us. We care about helping you in your time of need. We want to fix your pet, and we want to do it with as little wait or inconvenience for you as possible. At Tier 1 VMC, we will always do our best to provide the best comprehensive care for your animal whenever it’s needed.
Tier 1 Veterinary Medical Center in Palmer is Alaska’s only comprehensive animal hospital. We are available by appointment, in addition to accepting emergencies and walk-ins. With CT, MRI, and Ultrasound available on-site, our facility provides advanced treatment options for your pet. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.
Dr. Paige Wallace is the Urgent Care Coordinator at Tier 1 Veterinary Medical Center. Born and raised right here in the Mat-Su Valley, Dr. Wallace received her education and veterinary training through her service in the United States Army. She served as a Captain with the 218th Medical Detachment Veterinary Service Support, under the 62nd Medical Brigade. Dr. Wallace has extensive experience treating trauma cases in remote areas and with limited resources, bringing a wealth of knowledge and think-on-your-feet experience to the Tier 1 VMC team.