Three-year study at University of Tennessee aims to increase access to veterinary care


Maddie's Fund provides $2.8 million for UT's AlignCare program, which takes a One Health approach to meeting needs of low-income families-including the four-legged members.

(Getty Images)We in the veterinary community want people who want pets to be able to have pets-for the health and well-being of those on both ends of the leash. We also want people to be able to care for those pets long term. For those with limited finances, the cost can be too much at times. Along come programs like the University of Tennessee's AlignCare to help meet this vital need.

UT's College of Social Work Program for Pet Health Equity has received a $2.8 million grant from Maddie's Fund to support research and development of the AlignCare “One Health” model, a healthcare system designed to improve access to veterinary care for underserved families, according to a release.

The three-year AlignCare study involves researchers from UT's social work, business, veterinary and public health schools. It's an extension of work done by the Access to Veterinary Care Coalition, which commissioned a national study of barriers to veterinary care performed by the College of Social Work and also funded by Maddie's Fund. The results of that study will be available by the end of the year.

AlignCare's One Health approach recognizes that access to veterinary care for underserved families requires different types of professionals to work together. Medical treatment for pets is one aspect of this model, but a family's financial reality and other factors that prevent adequate veterinary care must also be addressed.

“Thanks to Maddie, millions of pets and their people will benefit from the One Health approach that is AlignCare by sustainably gaining access to veterinary care,” says Michael Blackwell, DVM, MPH, lead investigator and former dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine. “Lack of access to veterinary care is the greatest animal welfare crisis affecting owned pets in the United States. We can manage our way out of this problem by making evidence-based decisions, ultimately achieving pet health equity and improving family and community health and well-being.”

According to Dr. Blackwell, existing social service and public health programs do not adequately consider the presence and influence of pets on overall family health and well-being. Additionally, veterinary service providers are focused on a pet's medical needs and are not structured to address financial limitations of the families. The goal of the AlignCare study is to provide evidence-based guidance for veterinary service providers to help more patients in the context of limited resources, which may help prevent nontreatment and euthanasia.

“Animal welfare's primary focus has been to find homes for homeless pets. AlignCare takes this vision to its next big step in revolutionizing the status and well-being of companion animals by helping to keep pets in their homes,” says Laurie Peek, DVM, part of the executive leadership team for Maddie's Fund. “We are delighted to fund this project as it honors the human-animal bond and the love that pets and people have for one another.”

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