The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 24, 2005


Change comes to the Carlisle Animal Hospital

Practice Manager Rebecca Harrison and veterinarian Dr. Melissa Sargent pose with Harrison's dog Lily in the pharmaceutical area. (Photo by Cynthia Sorn)

Two years ago the ownership changed at the Carlisle Animal Hospital, ending the hospital's long history as a single veterinarian-owned business. Now major changes are occurring again as the hospital hires a new staff and makes plans to renovate the facility.

Complete staff turnover

Veterinarian and owner Dr. Peter Morey sold his practice to the Healthy Pet Corporation of Fairfield, Connecticut, but planned to continue working at the facility. By March of 2004 he had decided to leave the practice, while maintaining ownership of the building and the land. Dr. Betty Johnston continued her veterinarian services until April of this year, when she left for Acton Animal Hospital. When asked, Dr. Johnston would only say that she is unable to comment on her decision to leave.

With one former staff member remaining, a new staff has been put into place, explained Rebecca Harrison, practice manager. New herself, she is excited about the changes and feels positive about the future of the animal hospital. She is in charge of "financial stuff, medical equipment, policies, and procedures," she explained in the office she shares with Dr. Melissa Sargent, the lone veterinarian. Sargent has the title of "Chief of Staff," and keeps a careful eye on the professional tone set by the staff. To offer more service, the hospital employs "relief doctors," contract veterinarians who work for the Healthy Pet network of doctors. Currently Dr. Linda Hannemon has been seeing patients at the hospital.

While praising the Healthy Pet Corporation for their network of doctors and technicians, Sargent is feeling the stress of being the single permanent veterinarian. "I hope we hire another doctor soon," she commented. The hospital wants to offer "full exotic services," hiring a vet with experience with reptiles, rodents, and other exotic pets.

Two new receptionists, Jenifer Sireen and Michelle Konior, work full time in the front office. Danielle Denerly joined the team as a CVT, Certified Veterinarian Technician, and the one former employee, Karen Cataldo, is a Veterinarian Technician, a position similar to a CVT, explained Sargent. The other new employee is Karen LaPierre, a Veterinarian Assistant, who also works in the front office.

Transition to Healthy Pet Corp.

Carlisle is used to stability, Sargent noted, and she said was pleased the transition from the old staff to the new went well. "This is an incredible community." When Healthy Pet purchased the business almost two years ago they brought in their high standard of medicine, she explained. They declined to discuss the motivation for the complete restaffing, saying the former employees left for personal reasons. "I've seen what several single-owner animal hospitals do that make poor choices," said Sargent, "like hiring family; bad business choices." Harrison agreed, saying there is a set structure with Healthy Pet. "We have phenomenal benefit packages for our employees," she added. "Healthy Pet is more of a silent corporation," said Harrision. "Everything we do is for the safety of the pet. This not a Healthy Pet hospital, this is a Carlisle hospital."

Morey plans lawsuit

Morey, reached by phone at his home in New Hampshire, said he is disappointed the company has not renovated the interior of the building. He said he is taking Healthy Pet Corporation to court but did not elaborate on the case. He expressed regret, saying he and his lawyer tried to settle out of court with Healthy Pet, "but it didn't work out." He said he heard the former employees were asked to cut their hours or work extra hours. "The help left because everything is the bottom line."

A former worker who did not want to be identified said the atmosphere was so uncomfortable that the former practice manager left a few months ago. The worker said employees were not allowed to say where Dr. Johnston went. "There might be lawsuits for everyone if we talked."

Renovations planned

During a tour of the facility Sargent said they "are waiting for their permit" to begin renovations. Currently she and Harrison share a small office which they would like to convert into a third examination room. They plan to finish the second floor, creating offices, an employee break room, and storage spaces. Although Sargent is extremely fond of the 1968-model x-ray machine ("It takes the best x-rays!") she admitted the machine needs to be in a separate shielded room and not in an alcove.

The back rooms contain small, chopped up spaces including three old cement-wall kennels, two of which are used for storage. Sargent said new equipment has been ordered. "We now have a $20,000 surgical monitor," she explained. "We will be getting a dental x-ray unit shortly." Carlisle Building Commissioner Bob Koning said an application for a permit has not been submitted yet. But a contractor for the animal hospital did check on the possibility of expanding into the second floor, and found no legal barrier to the renovations. "They have a long way to go" to get to the building permit stage, Koning said.

Current trends

Harrison predicted more independently-owned animal hospitals will join a larger umbrella corporation. "There will probably be more like this." Sargent agreed, saying a big benefit is the network of doctors and surgeons they can call on. Costs can be lower using the network, she said. For example, she explained, through the connection with Healthy Pet they can request "an excellent surgeon," while saving costs. "We can get in a surgeon, not a board-certified, but [costing] 30% less," than a certified surgeon, she explained. "We do have a board-certified surgeon in the network," Harrison reminded her.

Sargent and Harrison both agree the hospital is in a good location. "Close to Bedford, Billerica, Carlisle, Concord, Chelmsford, great spot on 225," Harrison said. "It would be a shame if there wasn't a hospital in Carlisle."

2005 The Carlisle Mosquito