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When Greed Overshadows Compassion

We recently had a very unpleasant experience with one of our local veterinary hospitals. Our ten-month old cat, Zoe, crashed into the stairs face-first and dislocated her jaw. It was ten o’clock at night and our regular vet’s office was closed and did not provide emergency hours. They did, however, give us a list of 24-hour animal hospitals, all owned by the same corporation, VCA Animal Hospitals.

The hospital was close to our home and they told us to come right down. Once we arrived, Zoe was whisked away from us. Unlike all other veterinary offices we have been to, we were not allowed into the examining room with her. After about fifteen minutes, a doctor called us in to the room. Zoe was not there. The doctor explained that it appeared the jaw was dislocated and it might also be fractured. She wanted to know if we wanted an x-ray taken. Surprised, we said of course. She then asked if we would “be okay with” paying $260 for the x-ray. Again, we said of course. Zoe needed treatment. How could that possibly happen without an x-ray?

The doctor disappeared for about half an hour. When she came back she confirmed that Zoe’s jaw was dislocated but did not appear to be fractured. However, she said, nothing could be done until a radiologist read the x-ray and a surgeon looked at the cat. Neither would be in until the morning. When we asked why she could not put the cat’s jaw back in place, she said the radiologist “might” see something she missed in the x-ray and the surgeon was really the expert at cat jaws. We looked more closely at her name tag and she was, indeed, a doctor of veterinary medicine, one who, for some reason, could not fully read an x-ray or work on an injured animal.

We objected to the length of time Zoe would be forced to endure a dislocated jaw. The doctor assured us the cat would receive pain injections, that is, if we were “okay” with the cost. Zoe would need to stay overnight and the surgeon would see her first thing in the morning.

Since we had no other option (a thing the animal hospital staff knew full well) we agreed and trudged out to the front desk while the doctor worked up an “estimate” for services. When we saw the bill, we were stunned. The estimate stated: “This treatment plan may range from $993 to $1241”. There was an induction fee of $83.70. A general anesthesia fee of $174.50 for the first half-hour. An anesthesia monitoring fee of $64.35. A miscellaneous surgery fee of $352. A hospitalized feline fee of $73.55. A general hospitalization fee of $43.95. And $200.60 worth of injections. A deposit of 75% was required or no services would be rendered. The woman at the desk curtly explained that if we did not have the money, we could apply for their credit program, funded by a third-party financial institution that we happened to know was currently under investigation in our state for unethical business practices, fraud, and several other things. The office did not offer payment plans. The woman told us bluntly, no advanced payment, no treatment. We paid.

The next morning the surgeon called to confirm that the jaw was only dislocated, not fractured.(How about that? The doctor had read the x-ray correctly the night before. Amazing!) She wanted to know if we wanted the cat treated. (Unbelievable question, but true.) We said of course, refraining from adding the words “you moron”, and she told us she would work up an estimate and call us back. We had a feeling we knew what was coming.

Sure enough, the estimate was a range of $921 to $1151 in addition to what we already paid! We authorized the treatment and said we would have a check for them when we picked up the cat. Five minutes after we ended the call, another person from the animal hospital called and informed us that they would not treat the cat until we paid the estimate in full. We were beyond stunned by this point. We had given them a check for $691 the night before. It had already been over twelve hours since Zoe had been injured. Did they really intend to let her sit there with a dislocated jaw until we got them another check? They did and made that clear to us in no uncertain terms. We rushed down to the hospital and paid.

Zoe is home with us now and is healing. Her jaw was not fully dislocated and while they surgeon was examining the cat prior to the official procedure, Zoe’s jaw moved back into place. Although we were grateful it had been so easy, we were also incensed. The jaw could have been repositioned the night before, saving Zoe hours of trauma. Because the treatment took less time than anticipated and they did not use the anesthesia, the cost was less than estimated. The staff of the hospital seemed to feel they had done us a favor by coming in below the inflated estimate.

Cost to fix a cat’s dislocated jaw: $1308.64. Lack of compassion on the part of the employees and the corporation that runs the animal hospital: Beneath contempt.

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