Embracing compassionate care

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Jul 01, 2007

The delivery of veterinary care can be every bit as good as that of human medicine, says Diane Levitan, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM.

She is putting that belief into practice with emphatic confidence.

Her Long Island veterinary hospital, called the Center for Specialized Care, is considered the first U.S. private practice to offer overnight stays for owners while their pets are hospitalized. She christened all seven compassionate-care rooms.


Peace of mind is the reason Dr. Diane Levitan (left) opted to open up her Long Island, N.Y. hospital for overnight stays by pet owners.
Equipped with a chair that expands into a bed, desk, work station, sink, mirror, telephone, access to a shower, and comfortable floor mat for the patient, the rooms are simple — neither extravagant nor particularly comfortable — but practical.

After all, it's not about the trappings: It's an expression of the importance of the human-animal bond — especially during a critical illness or end of life.

"In some cases, owners simply don't want to leave their pet," Levitan tells DVM Newsmagazine. "In other cases, the patient does significantly better with its owner nearby."

With a veterinary technician or doctor on the premises 24 hours a day, the option creates less stress for the patient and owner. "How many times have veterinarians had to call to make a life-and-death decision over the telephone? When they see the patient and its quality of life either improving or declining, they never have a doubt. They feel they are making the right decision."

These compassionate-care rooms are adapted from human hospitals, Levitan adds. "I believe veterinary care should model the care we receive from physicians. We are letting clients know they can be there with their pets — that's the most important message."

"The potential for the human-animal bond is so underestimated. In our society today, grown men – tough bikers – are allowed to show their emotions when it comes to pets, and they are doing it," Levitan says. "The human-animal bond has become so strong, it is almost not even a necessary phrase any more. Pets are now part of the family."

Even so, Levitan had to weigh the liability risks as well as risks for staff members in allowing overnight stays within the practice.

"We have regretted a few people. But it's very rare," she adds.

To solve the problem, the practice goes through a type of screening process that includes a consent form outlining the rules.

If an owner is invited to stay, the first night is free, but the charge is $240 a night thereafter. The longest stay to date has been 12 days. "It's not a hotel. It's a hospital. And the charges are for around-the-clock nursing care.

"Still, people aren't afraid to complain," Levitan says. "But I've learned you can't please everybody. I've never had anyone tell me they wished they didn't stay."