Saturday, February 20, 2010

Brando gets sick; Metairie Small Animal Hospital gets rich

Last Friday night, Brando began to have diarrhea, although when I first discovered it I wasn't sure if it was that or vomit. It had that kind of acidity to it. Yuck. He seemed better the next day, but when I left in the evening he wanted to stay on my bed, so I let him...and returned a few hours later to bloody puddles everywhere. I tried some pepcid, but he threw that up. So I slept with him next to me in bed, worried about his deteriorating health. He was scheduled for surgery this week for several cysts and a few bad teeth that should be removed.

In the morning, we drove out to Metairie Small Animal Hospital, one of the clinics that also operates as an emergency facility. I had called ahead, and it was suggested that I come in at 9 to avoid the emergency fees. Brando's symptoms were identical to some problems Sula has had in the past, which were treated for her with a quick IV of fluid, an injection of anti-nausea meds, a prescription for Flagyl and some I/D food. But the Dr. at MSAH wanted Brando to stay overnight, possibly for two nights. And, in a panic, I agreed and went home to sit in a stupor with the other three dogs.

In the morning I called to check on him, and was told he was doing well. They had given him an IV, an injection of anti-nausea medication, and were going to test him with some I/D food. They had run blood tests and he was slightly anemic and possibly suffering from pancreatitis. Brando has never stayed overnight anywhere in the past eight years. I asked if I could visit him. They said yes, and I drove in and sat for nearly an hour with Brando laying in my lap, immobile. I didn't want to leave. Finally I told the staff that they could put him back...and they said "Oh, you can take him home." Huh? Why had I just spent an hour visiting with him if he could come home? The Dr. who checked us out said, "Well, you insisted on it." Actually, all I had done was ask, that morning, if he could come home, and had been told no.

I picked up his meds: a prescription for Flagyl and another antibiotic, along with some I/D food. The bill came to $620.

A few days later, I noticed that they had billed for two days of hospitalization at $125 a piece. The blood work, IV, etc was all itemized as additional charges. I called to ask about the bill and was told that they bill per day, not per 24 hours. "We're not a hotel," they said. I said, "So you should tell people that you have a minimum two-day fee." They said that's not true. "If I bring my dog in, and he stays overnight, but you charge me an extra day because he's there in the morning before I can get him, then that's a minimum two-day fee. How could someone possibly be charged only for one day?" "Well, if you took him home the same day you brought him, that would be one day." I've never heard of a facility charging this way. And I've used a lot of vets. "You need to realize," they told me, "that there isn't an additional exam fee, and the hospitalization also includes fluids and injections, etc." "Actually," I explained, "those things are itemized on the bill. And I understand there wasn't an additional exam fee, but there also wasn't an exam on each day he was there."

And at that, all they could say is "Well, I can see how you might be confused." And I said "I'll certainly think again before coming here, and I'll be sure to let everyone know what your policy is."

They said they could totally understand why I would want to do that. And so I am.