The march of hospital satellites into the suburban market is nothing new in the human world. Boston hospitals have been spreading their expertise and reputations into towns outside the city for years.
Now it’s happening in the animal world, too.
The nonprofit Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals last week opened a branch in Waltham of its well-known Angell Memorial Hospital.
The new 9,000-square-foot MSPCA-Angell West offers a 24-hour emergency room, as well as anesthetic surgery, X-rays, and ultrasounds.
“Many veterinarians operating in Waltham and surrounding towns were referring people to Boston for specialty care,” said MSPCA spokesman Rob Halpin. “This will be a significant location convenience for clients already living in the area who come to us in Boston.”
The opening comes as other animal hospitals in the western suburbs say they have seen a spike in cases, saying more people are seeking round-the-clock emergency and specialty care for their pets, who are seen as part of the family.
“We’ve definitely seen growth faster than the rate we anticipated,” said Sommer Aweidah, marketing director for InTown Veterinary Group, a network of 24-hour animal hospitals that recently opened a branch in Natick. “People want to provide their pets with this level of care and they want the convenience of it being nearby.”
‘This is a compassionate industry. There’s not a lot of cutthroat competition.’SOMMER AWEIDAH, Marketing director for InTown Veterinary Group, on the trend among veterinary hospitals to open branches in the surburbs
Since the Natick IVG location’s opening in December 2011, Aweidah said the branch hospital has seen an extraordinary surge in cases: Emergency visits grew 56 percent from 2011 to 2012, and specialty appointments spiked 71 percent in 2012, she said.
“Boston is such a big human hospital center, with places like Massachusetts General Hospital opening up branches on the North Shore, and it’s the same thing in our industry,” she said, noting the organization has hired new surgeons,
emergency doctors, technicians, and radiologists. “It’s responding to an actual desire in the pet owner world, which is saying, ‘I’d love to have physical therapy for my dog but I can’t drive an hour each time.’ ”
Demand in Waltham is also apparent: The new MSPCA branch opened a half-mile down the road from the 24-hour animal clinic Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Center of New England, as well as the New England Veterinary Oncology Group, which specializes in treating pets with cancer.
“We have sent some cases to Angell in [Jamaica Plain], and sometimes we have received cases from them,” said Sheri Siegel, a veterinarian at the Waltham oncology practice. “But I’m not sure how it’s going to play out with them down the street, to be honest.”
Neither the Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Center nor the MSPCA said they were worried about losing business to the other. The longstanding Waltham practice said it has developed close relationships with local referring veterinarians, while MSPCA officials said their organization offers a wide depth and number of services.
“We’re not worried about them taking away business from us,” said Kelly Parkinson, practice manager for Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Center. “We welcome them to the community. This means more options for the public.”
“This is a compassionate industry,” Aweidah said, noting that the Natick practice does not feel threatened by another local animal hospital opening. “There’s not a lot of cutthroat competition.”
One thing is common in the animal hospital world: steep out-of-pocket prices.
Last week, doctors at the new MSPCA facility had to operate on a 13-week-old Labrador retreiver named London after the pup got a leg stuck in her crate. Fixing the leg fracture and dislocated shoulder ran the dog’s owner thousands of dollars, according to MSPCA veterinarians.
“It was definitely a scare to see that number, said London’s owner, Sarah Rossetti, of Natick. “I’m 22, and I don’t have much in terms of savings.
“But they worked with me and set up Care Credit and had me sign up for financial assistance. It was definitely worth it.”
Rossetti said her other options were to let London’s fracture heal on its own, which would leave the pup with a permanent limp, or to amputate the leg entirely.
“It was necessary to get it done so she could have a normal dog life,” Rossetti said of the surgery. “She’s part of the family. She’s my baby.”
MSPCA officials said the organization offers payment plans, which many customers are happy to take advantage of.
“For a lot of people, it’s not about the money, it’s about not having, say, $4,000 all at once,” said Caty Sumner, a criticalist and emergency veterinarian at the Waltham MSPCA.
Halpin also noted that 90 cents of every dollar the agency receives is reinvested in MSPCA programs. The other 10 cents pays for administrative costs, he said.
The Waltham branch will not offer general medicine services, as there are already dozens of general practice veterinarians in the area, MSPCA officials said.
“We want to be your other vet, not your new vet,” said Sumner.
Halpin said Angell Memorial focuses on specialty treatment, including dermatology, ophthalmology, surgery, and neurology, to name a few.
However, Halpin said: “If a feline or canine patient comes in with a dermatological issue, for example, we try to find out if there may be an underlying allergy or an internal medicine issue.”
For now, the Waltham location specializes in 24-hour critical care, surgery, cardiology, and internal medicine.
However, digital X-rays of animals taken in Waltham are uploaded to the organization’s general database, where the specialists in Boston can analyze the images, Halpin said.
“Patients can stay under one roof and see specialists in multiple specialties, and we can also layer in advanced diagnostics, such as MRI imaging and CT scans,” he said. “It’s pretty sophisticated stuff.”
And if needed, Halpin said, a shuttle can transport animals to Boston for care and then take them back to Waltham.
The Waltham location will not have a permanent animal shelter, officials said, citing space limitations. However, the branch may host special events in the future where animals from other MSPCA locations are brought to Waltham to promote adoption.
The new branch will also add 35 veterinary and animal welfare-related jobs to the city, representatives said. Nearly a third of the staff, including board-certified specialty veterinarians and technicians, have already been hired, Halpin said.