San Francisco SPCA to open clinic in Excelsior while selling Pacific Heights location

Amid a nationwide shortage of veterinarians, animal hospitals and pet owners have sometimes found themselves in dire straits. Many veterinary practices are severely understaffed, and pet owners — even in a city as large and welcoming as San Francisco — have found that pet care isn’t always accessible.

In an effort to accommodate the ongoing shortage of veterinarians and improve access to local care, the San Francisco SPCA announced Thursday that it is selling its Pacific Heights Animal Hospital to a team of local veterinarians and opening a new low-cost community veterinary clinic in Quartier Excelsior. The goal, SFSPCA officials said, is to strengthen the city’s pet care landscape while further aligning the nonprofit with its mission to serve the most needy pet owners. and their companions.

The Pacific Heights Animal Hospital on Fillmore Street, which sees nearly 16,000 patients a year, is being sold to a group of Bay Area veterinarians who have partnered with Curo Pet Care, a veterinary services company based in San Francisco. With the proceeds from this sale, the SFSPCA will establish a community clinic that will primarily serve the Excelsior, Bayview and Hunters Point neighborhoods — an area of ​​the city considered a “veterinarian wasteland” for its relative lack of healthcare providers, Jennifer Scarlett said. , president of the SFSPCA.

“It’s like coming home to what is our true calling, and it’s thinking about those animals that won’t get care unless we find creative ways to do it, and we do it. doing where it’s most needed,” Scarlett told The Chronicle. Selling the Pacific Heights hospital is bittersweet, she said, “but I’m absolutely 100 percent sure that it’s the right thing to do, for Pac Heights as well as for the area we’re trying to serve.”

The idea is that by selling the Pacific Heights location to a veterinary group, neighborhood residents won’t lose access to the pet care they already have, and that the SFSPCA will be able to divert some of its resources to support communities that currently lack a veterinarian. services.

“We didn’t want to leave the Pac Heights neighborhood in a tailspin,” Scarlett said. “Our global mission is to expand access to care, and that’s for everyone.”

Scarlett stressed that the decision to sell the hospital is entirely “mission driven” and not about saving money. The SFSPCA Mission District campus will continue its current operations.

The need for a community clinic in the Excelsior became apparent a few years ago, Scarlett said, when the SFSPCA began to take a closer look at the parts of town its patients came from. A large portion of the animals arriving at the hospital or animal shelter with parvovirus infections, which can be prevented with a vaccine, came from the southeast corner of San Francisco. The SFSPCA has set up vaccination clinics in the area and heard from residents that limited transportation and high costs of care were deterrents to seeking veterinary services.

“San Franciscans love their animals but, unfortunately, veterinary care is often only available to those who can afford substantial fees,” supervisor Ahsha Safaí, who represents the Excelsior, said in a statement to The Chronicle. “The SPCA’s investment in the Excelsior will provide essential veterinary services at low cost. I look forward to working with the SPCA and stakeholders to expand low-cost veterinary services in San Francisco. »

The clinic is expected to open by the end of the summer and will be modeled after a walk-in clinic that the SFSPCA has been piloting for two years at its Mission District campus. The clinic won’t be a full-service care center, Scarlett said, but it will provide basic, low-cost veterinary services that are largely lacking in the city’s southeast corner, such as general health checkups, vaccinations , drugs and antiparasitic treatments. for skin and ear problems.

“The idea is to keep overhead low so we can keep costs low,” Scarlett said. “We know that’s not a complete answer, but we’re going down that road trying to figure that out in real time because there’s such a shortage and such a need.”

The new Pacific Heights hospital — to be called San Francisco Animal Medical Center, or SF AMC — will expand the services offered by the SFSPCA hospital. It will open for general medicine on Monday and in the coming months will add specialist care such as oncology and cardiology, as well as 24-hour emergency services – something SFSPCA officials have been forced to ending last summer due to the shortage of veterinarians.

The new veterinary group said it would honor all existing appointments at the Pacific Heights site, and Curo Pet Care plans to offer jobs to every SFSPCA employee at the hospital, allowing them to stay in the practice. .

“San Francisco can count on us to provide them with the same quality care that the SFSPCA has always provided, and Pets Unlimited for generations,” Margo Mehl, one of the incoming veterinarians, said in a statement. “We are honored that the SFSPCA has chosen us to take over this renowned facility, carry on its legacy of excellence and build an unparalleled center for veterinary care. »

Andy Picon (he/him) is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @andpicon

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