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An oasis of tranquility

Article

Dr. Gary Gallerstein knows that when clients bring their pets to the veterinarian, they're stressed out-and so are the pets.

Dr. Gary Gallerstein knows that when clients bring their pets to the veterinarian, they're stressed out—and so are the pets. So when he and co-owner Dr. Carmine Bausone and practice manager Carol Chaney dreamed up their vision for Acacia Animal Health Center in Escondido, Calif., they worked hard to create a Zen-like feeling for clients, pets, and team members. Lush greenery, a cool color palette, and three rock fountains—two inside and one outside—set a peaceful tone for the hospital entrance.

Zen garden: For team members' use only, the central garden offers a quiet spot to relax and catch one's breath during a busy day. The result? Relaxed and happy team members means relaxed and happy clients and patients.

When clients walk in the front door, they're greeted by the veterinary concierge, whose sole purpose is to be attentive to incoming pet owners. This is Dr. Gallerstein's favorite client service. Phones are answered in a walled-off space behind the front desk, so the reception area is quiet when clients walk in and while they're waiting. To keep it even more calm and quiet, clients review invoices, pay bills, and schedule rechecks in the exam room. This ensures that the concierge isn't distracted by phone calls, bill paying, or the discharge process but can focus on catering to the client waiting to be seen. "In a typical hospital, receptionists handle everything that goes on at the front desk," Dr. Gallerstein says. "They deal with too many distractions—it's not peaceful."

The hospital may be a restful place now, but when it first opened in January 2006, Dr. Gallerstein was anything but relaxed. "That was a bad month to open," he says. "We missed the holiday rush for our pet resort. For the first five months we were open, revenue was almost flat and it wasn't a happy time." But in the last six months of the year, the practice has grown by roughly 40 percent. And its luxury boarding facility, All Seasons: A Five Paw Resort, has played a big role in that growth. Each "sweet" for dogs has a ceiling fan and a monitor playing Animal Planet, and these pets also get extra-special attention from the staff. There are also cat condos, bird bungalows, and other exotic boarding areas. "The pet resort has been an amazing success," Dr. Gallerstein says. "It caught on really well with our clients, and it helps pay the mortgage." Dr. Gallerstein recommends that anyone building a new practice consider adding luxury boarding. "It's relatively passive income—not doctor generated, and if you do it right, it gets clients from the pet resort side into the hospital for other services."

Acacia Animal Health Center

Exotic pet care and boarding also contribute to Acacia Animal Health Center's success. The practice's patient load is two-thirds dogs and cats and one-third birds and other exotics. One of the things that was important to Dr. Gallerstein in the design of the facility was to incorporate a separate avian and exotic hospital within the hospital. "One end of the hospital is for dogs and cats," Dr. Gallerstein says, "and then we have a separate treatment area, surgical room, and set of exam rooms just for birds and exotics." It was important for Dr. Gallerstein to ease pets' anxiety by preventing various species from commingling.

Waiting area, dispensing pharmacy, and kids' nook: The nook keeps little ones busy with Animal Planet showing all day long. The wall's striped paint treatment adds visual interest to the tall space. Two colors of flooring were used in the public areas to break up the large expanse of tile.

From conception to reality, it took Dr. Gallerstein six years to move into the finished building. "I thought it would be a nice challenge, and it was something I was ready for, but obviously I had no idea about the amount of effort and time it would take to make the dream a reality," he says. But it's the best thing he could have done, he says. "You wouldn't think a new hospital would improve the quality of medicine we provide, but it does," he says. "The whole team is thrilled to work here and it shows in the tremendous growth we've had and the much higher level of client service that we're now able to offer."

Exam room: The exam rooms are comfortable and spacious. Each room has a door for hospital team members to enter that's separate from the client entrance. This keeps the traffic flowing smoothly.

Main entry: The lobby serves as the dividing line between the clinical practice and the pet resort. In this area, clients can grab a cup of coffee, peek into puppy classes, or enjoy a quiet moment before seeing a doctor.

Welcome: The concierge station is the first thing clients see on entering the lobby. Plastic laminate countertops were used to keep the cost of the custom cabinetry down. A PVC edge-banding treatment was applied to the surfaces of all countertops, cabinet doors, and shelving edges to prevent chipping.

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