British Columbia

Kamloops vets calls on community to help fund 24-hour clinic

Two Kamloops, B.C., veterinarians are appealing directly to local pet lovers to help fund an urgently needed 24-hour clinic in the city.

Challenges with lack of staff and burnout causing local vets to limit on-call services

Adrian Helmers runs Neighbourhood Veterinary Hospital in Kamloops (Natalie Dollman)

Two Kamloops, B.C., veterinarians are appealing directly to local pet lovers to help fund an urgently needed 24-hour clinic in the city.

The appeal comes amid a surge in pet ownership and a growing shortfall in vets, many of whom are leaving the industry due to burnout. 

Adrian Helmers, who runs Neighbourhood Veterinary Hospital with fellow vet Megan Broschak, says there is already an after-hours pool of vets, but the challenges with overwork are causing other clinics in town to limit their on-call services to existing patients.

One hospital has gone so far as to pull out of the after-hours pool and has started referring pets to neighbouring Kelowna, two hours away. 

"We're in a bit of a state of emergency with veterinary medicine, not just in Kamloops but all of Canada," she told Daybreak Kamloops host Shelley Joyce.

Working toward 24-hour clinic

As a result, Helmers and her veterinary partner say they would like to start a 24-hour pet hospital in Kamloops.

Helmers says her vision is a well-situated hospital that would be open all hours of the day throughout the year.

"We'll allow for walk-ins and emergency referrals from other clinics."

Despite the need, Helmers is still working to secure a location, pass regulatory approvals and secure sufficient funding for the site.

"We're easily looking at a startup cost of around $5 million, so it's not a small cost, that's for sure."

As a newer vet, she says she is running into issues securing funding from banks, so she's looking at alternatives, including a direct appeal to the community.

Adrian Helmers wants to reduce burnout in the veterinarian profession in Kamloops by opening a 24-hour animal hospital. (Natalie Dollman)

Later this month, Helmers and her partner are hosting a community fundraising event where they will meet with potential donors and landlords about the project.

It's a smart move, according to Thompson Rivers University teaching professor Dan Thompson. Part of his research looks at how people and companies access loans.

He said crowdfunding is a good way to get startup funds.

"Given how much people love their pets...I'm a pet owner. If there's a lack of good veterinarian services in town, that's something where everybody might pony up and contribute $50-100 and it adds up," Thompson said.

Helmers said larger corporations have approached her to help fund the project, but she says she's hoping to avoid that because it would put control into the hands of a company.

"We do want this to be a small city project — so a project for the city, by the city."

Round-the-clock clinic has local support

A 24-hour facility would be welcomed by other vets in Kamloops.

Matt Nicol works at Riverside Small Animal Hospital. Earlier this year, his clinic stopped offering after-hours care and started referring people to a 24-hour clinic in Kelowna.

"The current situation is just not sustainable, and I know other hospitals are facing similar kinds of burnout that we have," he said.

He said after-hours coverage is sorely needed when it comes to providing work-life balance to veterinarians. Nicol said he's heard of vets passing up jobs in Kamloops to move to Kelowna because of the lack of a 24-hour hospital.

Helmers said her plan is to be able to open in the spring or summer of 2023.


Jenifer Norwell

Story Producer

Jenifer Norwell has been working with CBC since 2008. She's worked in Prince George, Vancouver, Sudbury and now makes her home in her hometown of Kamloops. She works with CBC Kamloops and with Daybreak Kamloops.