Animal hospital responds
Defends billing practices for town’s shelter cats and dogs
by Adriana Rambay Fernández
Reporter staff writer
Dec 16, 2012 | 3421 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
ANIMAL CARE – Secaucus Animal Hospital Veterinarians Dr. Andrea Danforth and Dr. John Hatch provided an overview of their billing practices for services provided to the town of Secaucus.
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After a long history of providing animal care to the town of Secaucus, the Secaucus Animal Hospital has recently come under scrutiny for invoices dating back to 2010 after council members questioned who authorized the treatment for services.

Last week the Reporter paid a visit to the hospital to meet with Dr. John Hatch and Dr. Andrea Danforth to get their response. The veterinarians expressed a willingness to work with the town to clear any confusion over billing. They attributed the confusion over billing to a lack of understanding over the work they do for the town’s sheltered animals and the volume of animals they treat.

Building understanding

“I don’t think they realize how much work we do for the town,” said Hatch in regard to the recent scrutiny by local officials. “We do all of this work heavily discounted.”

Until recently, the town had held off paying $35,000 in old bills. The hospital had billed the municipality a total of $88,000 for 2011.

Danforth said the hospital has given the town a major discount for their services. Of the total charges from 2011, the hospital deducted $134,000. And while the town held off payment, the hospital had to continue to pay its technicians’ salaries, for example, for caring for town cats that were boarding at the hospital, which amounted to $45,000.
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The animal hospital has had a long-standing relationship with the Secaucus Animal Shelter, providing medical care such as spaying, neutering, vaccines, and wellness care.
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This year the town has incurred $71,950 in animal care fees to date. Officials will soon review another bill from the animal hospital in the amount of $32,000 of which $16,000 is under scrutiny because of questions over authorization. However, the municipality has deducted $10,000 from that bill until the animal hospital provides proof that the invoices actually belong to the town.

In regard to the $10,000, the hospital said that they would have to know which patients the town is referring to in order to demonstrate who brought in the animals.

“I can’t think of any bills we couldn’t validate,” said Hatch.

Long-standing relationship

“We love doing what we do,” said Hatch. “We want to work with the town…with the shelter. It is so much part of the ethos of who we are.”

The animal hospital has had a long-standing relationship with the Secaucus Animal Shelter, providing medical care such as spaying, neutering, vaccines, and wellness care.

“As long as there has been a shelter, the Secaucus Animal Hospital has provided Secaucus with its animal needs,” said Hatch. “The practice goes back to the 1940s.”

Hatch has been practicing 24 years and Danforth has been practicing eight years. Danforth has worked at the hospital since Hatch took over in 2005.

The hospital moved into a new building on County Avenue last year. Three rooms have been taken up with needy cats that live at the hospital – many of them former town cats. The hospital has helped adopt out over 178 town cats since 2008.

Secaucus’ animal shelter moved to its current location on Meadowlands Parkway from a town garage on Centre Avenue in 1989. While the space has seen major enhancements and improvements to what was once just an outdoor shed, the facilities are not equipped for surgeries or medical procedures.

Hatch said that in all of his years working to provide services with the town, this is the first time the charges for those services have been challenged.

From verbal to voucher authorization

A new voucher system was put in place months ago that requires a written sign-off by shelter staff for any animal that gets treated at the hospital. Prior to the voucher system, the hospital accepted verbal agreements to treat animals. As of October, 283 town cats had been seen by the hospital.

“Pretty much it was all verbal,” said Hatch. He said that when someone brought in a stray or feral cat, the hospital would call the town but they would always treat the animal first, especially in cases requiring life-saving care.

Hatch added that at times they would get calls from council members, the mayor’s support staff, or the mayor himself to authorize treatment.

“Somebody always verbally authorized,” said Danforth. “We never took it upon ourselves to authorize care on the town’s bill.” She said the hospital often had authorization within a day or two.

For any stray cats, the hospital had the understanding that they belonged to the town.

“We never assumed,” said Danforth regarding costs for strays. “It wasn’t like we said, ‘Oh, bring it in, and the town will pay for it.’ ”

She said that the people who brought in stray cats were told that if the town didn’t authorize treatment, they would be responsible for the charges. In some cases, individuals took on the stray’s expense. The hospital charges $65 to neuter a cat.

Hatch pointed out that the majority of the bill with the town was not from walk-ins with strays rather most of the costs came through the shelter.

“Having a voucher system wouldn’t have reduced this bill,” said Hatch. He noted that the number of animals has increased in recent years especially with the TNR program.

When shelter was maxed out

When a cat was brought in for spaying and neutering, it was often released into the wild if feral, or returned to the shelter if it was socialized, healthy, and adoptable, according to the hospital. However, in the past two years the shelter has been overloaded with cats. Last year 37 cats that had been found in a hoarding situation were taken to the shelter. Eighteen of those had to be euthanized by the hospital because of tumors, open sores, and poor health conditions. Another 26 cats that were stuffed into a dog crate were dropped off at the shelter around the same time. Most recently, the shelter had an outbreak of ringworm – now under control – but an issue that prevented any new animals from being taken in.

“If every single cage is taken in the shelter and we call up, they will say, “sorry we can’t take it,’” said Hatch. He noted that when that happens often enough and over an extended period of time the boarding fees go up for the town. Boarding costs the municipality $73 per cage – a cage can house two to three cats. Most recently, the remaining town cats that had been housed at the hospital were relocated back to the animal shelter.

The hospital currently has 25 town cats – kept at their own expense – for their adoption program. Most of the cats have some type of health issue and need special care. Of those animals there is “Old Man Steve,” a frail, white diabetic cat who is likely more than 20 years old, according to Danforth. He was brought in by the shelter to be euthanized and the hospital kept him on.

The hospital staff have also personally adopted 20 pets. In 2011, the hospital adopted out 40 cats for the town.

“When we adopt out for them they get their adoption fee,” noted Danforth. She said that is likely not accounted for in their records. Hatch added that it takes the technicians’ hours to conduct outreach and send out emails to find town cats homes.

“We don’t want to fight over bills,” said Danforth. “We want to just make animals better.”

Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at afernandez@hudsonreporter.com.

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