August 2021

In this VETgirl online veterinary continuing education blog, VETgirl’s Chief Happiness Officer, Jeannine Moga, MA, MSW, LCSW, clinical veterinary social worker, discusses how to ask for help. Because we all need it! This is Part 2 of a 2 part blog, so please make sure to check out Part 1 HERE!

How to Ask for Help: Part 2

By Jeannine Moga, MA, MSW, LCSW, Chief Happiness Officer, VETgirl

This past year found veterinary teams struggling to juggle overflowing caseloads and extraordinary demands for service, all while managing personal risk, public health guidance, and the realities of family and social life in a pandemic. It was all too much. I know I’m not alone when I say I was looking forward to getting to the other side of 2020.

And here’s the challenge: we are half way through 2021, and the breathing space most of us hoped for has not arrived. From every nook and cranny of veterinary practice, wait times for appointments are high, clients are persistently frustrated (and often seem unreasonable), and cases are being diverted from emergency rooms and critical care units. Turnover, particularly amongst technicians, is soaring. People are burned out beyond measure. We need help, and pronto.

This Part 1 post from last fall focused on the “how’s” of asking for help on an individual level (particularly when overwhelm and bandwidth get in the way of seeking support). This post – a footnote and update, of sorts – focuses on how to ask for help in a healthcare system that continues to struggle with the impact of COVID. In the spirit of “information is power,” this is what folks looking for professional mental health support need to know (a):

1) COVID dramatically increased reports of mental health concerns across the country, and about half of American adults continue to struggle with mental health impacts.

2) Many folks who identified a personal need for mental health support have not received it, identifying time, money, and inability to find a provider as the biggest barriers to care.

3) Behavioral health providers are in short supply as workforce shortages, furloughs, and blooming caseloads ripple through the system (b).

AND there is good news to counter-balance these challenges: many behavioral health providers have pivoted to telehealth platforms in an effort to reach folks who need, but have trouble accessing, care. Furthermore, insurance companies are reimbursing for telehealth services at higher rates than ever before (with some insurers waiving co-pays). Additionally, the vast majority of practicing therapists are working diligently to coordinate care, make themselves more available, and preserve care quality despite the collective challenges of reaching a highly-stressed population.

So, what does this mean for you? If you feel like professional support would benefit you, but you don’t know where to begin (or have been frustrated by trying to find help), please remember these tips:

1) Check your coverage for COVID updates to behavioral health accessibility and reimbursement. Insurers recognize the need for ongoing mental health support, so guidelines and coverage frequently shift.

2) Start with your PCP, if you have one. Primary care providers often keep names of trusted behavioral health colleagues at the ready, and their direct referrals can sometimes speed up the process.

3) Be patient. As in veterinary medicine, particularly specialty care, wait times are long. In my own practice, it was not unusual for new clients to wait 2-3 months for an appointment. AND, I always kept a couple of appointments open for acute needs – so if you are in dire straits, ask to be put on a cancellation or emergency list. Get on the list and circle your supports (being intentional about high-yield self-care) in the meantime.

4) Be persistent. Not every provider will be the best fit for your needs and/or your schedule. We recognize this and don’t take it personally if you want to be referred to someone else who may be better positioned to serve you. As I used to say to all of my new clients, “I want you to get what you need to feel better – and
I may not be your person.” Don’t be afraid to say so. Therapists are happy to cross-refer within and between practices when a client’s needs aren’t the best fit for their skills, training, background, and/or calendar.

a. Data from the Kaiser Family Foundation (April 2021)

b. Sloane et al, August 2021:

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