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Saying aloha to Hawaii’s first emergency and specialty veterinary hospital
Veterinary Emergency + Referral Center is the 2022 Hospital of the Year for facilities over 8000-square-feet
A little over 15 years ago, Will Coleman, DVM, and his husband, Chris Frendreis, decided they were tired of cold Colorado winters and their long-distance relationship from Denver to Steamboat Springs, so they began searching for a new place to live. They were considering Hawaii, scheduled a trip, and fell in love with the state as soon as they arrived. While preparing to move to Oahu, Coleman noticed that there was only one 24-hour veterinary practice on the island and determined to open another.
“When I moved here, there was 1 ophthalmologist…and a…surgeon who would come into your general practice and do…surgery for your general practitioner…and there were no other specialists in the state. Well, at least on this island. There were a couple of other semiretired specialists that were, I think, doing more general practice, but it was tough,” Coleman explained in an interview with dvm360®.
“I felt like I took a big step back in time moving here from Denver and suddenly didn’t have specialized [veterinarians],” he added. “Our goal was to…bring it back to the state-of-the-art…[profession] that veterinary medicine has grown into.”
To fill this need, Coleman, Frendreis, their business partners, Erika Sox, DVM, DACVIM, and her husband, Graham Burns, DVM, DACVR, opened the Veterinary Emergency + Referral Center (VERC), the first 24-hour emergency and specialty hospital in Hawaii. After later being purchased by Ethos Veterinary Health, they built this 17,250 square foot hospital offering many services: emergency, critical care, diagnostic imaging, internal medicine, interventional radiology, neurology, oncology, and surgery. There are 17 veterinarians on staff, and 6 or 7 are usually seeing patients simultaneously.
VERC is also gaining attention for its design, having received the dvm360® Hospital Design Competition award in the over-8000-square-foot category during the 2022 Fetch dvm360® Conference held in Kansas City, Missouri, this past August.
Inside the hospital
The lobby is welcoming, with refreshments and separate seating for canine and feline patients, and the hospital has 14 exam rooms, which feature portraits of employees’ pets to “bring a little cheer to the staff,” Coleman said, adding that “I like to point out my dog when I’m in the exam room where his picture is.” He also thinks it’s “calming to the clients to see such a clean and beautiful design,” with windows in the lobby and many exam rooms
There are 4 surgery suites—2 for orthopedics and neurology and 2 for soft tissue—connected by a sterile corridor and semi-sterile induction area. The enclosed intensive care unit is located at the center of the hospital and contains everything patients need to recover, including wet and dry treatment tables, caging and runs, and a charting area. VERC also has a 128 slice CT and the only MRI on the island and what they refer to as their “Bat Cave,” a room dedicated to radiology reading. The isolation suite for infectious animals has a negative pressure vestibules to prevent the spread of disease, and staff can observe patients through the windows and via an audio and video monitoring system.
Patient and staff comfort
Coleman’s objective was to have shared workspaces for easy collaboration and better patient care. At their first hospital in Hawaii, there had been a lot of wasted space, and the staff worked in tight quarters. Although they expanded to about 6000 square feet, “everybody…[was]…on top of each other…and hallways…didn’t flow well,” he said, which “added a lot of stress.” Along with shared spaces, VERC also designed a spacious, quiet, and welcoming break room where employees can have coffee and espresso and snacks and lunch.
Coleman and his team wanted to fill a veterinary need on Oahu. They thought out the hospital’s design carefully and now treat pets to the best of their abilities while hoping to expand the staff to provide even more services. Winning an award was an unexpected honor.
“[I]t’s kind of a dream come true,” Coleman said, adding that he had sought to bring “something new to Hawaii…a place that not only provided great care for the patients, but a great work environment for staff, and…where clients could be comfortable and trust that they’re getting the best care. It’s an honor,” he concluded, “I’m very proud to receive the award.”
Currently, Coleman and Sox no longer serve as the medical directors for the hospital, but the duo and Sox’ husband Graham still practice at VERC.