I am blessed to live and work in a generous community, one that offers a lot of support to its local businesses and citizens. I know that my community isn’t unique in this aspect and many of you hopefully find yourself in similar situations. However, no matter how prosperous and thriving the people around us may be, there is always someone in need, someone who may be struggling to get food on their table, let alone pay for an emergency veterinary expense. The amount of money that we have does not correlate to how much we love our furry family, and every critter should have the chance to receive proper medical care. So how can you as a veterinarian service those clients who can’t cover the fee? Set up a Good Samaritan fund at your clinic.
I don’t know how many times I’ve had clients intentionally overpay on their bill or simply drop off a check and tell us to give the excess money to someone who needs it. As I said, I live in a very generous community. The trouble with this was that we had no way to decide whose bill to add that to. Instead the money was just donated to the animal rescue, which is a good cause as well, but it doesn’t directly benefit those pets that currently have owners who are unable to pay. Setting up a Good Samaritan fund is a great way to funnel those donations to the people who need them.
What is a Good Samaritan Fund?
In case you’ve never heard of one before, a Good Samaritan fund is a collection of money, usually donated, that can be used to help others in need of financial assistance. There is usually some form of application or referral required to ensure that people qualify to use this money. In the case of a veterinary clinic, funds could be directly applied to outstanding balances or to cover non-elective or emergency procedures on pets in need. In some cases these animals might not have owners, or the owners can’t be contacted. A Good Samaritan fund can prevent you from having to turn animals away due to an owner’s inability to pay or keep you from paying out of your own or the clinic’s pocket.
How to Start a Good Samaritan Fund
Since your Good Samaritan fund will be fueled mainly by donations, you can go about collecting those in more ways than one. First of all, deposit any extra money that clients give you — either for their own bill or to put toward others — in the Good Samaritan fund account. You can also try placing a collection jar on your reception counter. Make sure you clearly note what this money will be used for, and you’d be surprised at how people’s pocket change can add up a beneficial amount. Another option to keep the green flowing into your fund is to hold fundraisers: dog washes, dinners, dog walks, T-shirt sales, you name it, with all proceeds going toward helping others.
Some clinics may even be blessed with an endowment from a client who has passed. Sometimes these endowments will have stipulations such as for emergency care or oncology only, and most of the time they are left to bigger teaching hospitals. For example, Oregon State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital has the Olive K. Britt Endowment for Emergency Medicine, which is dedicated for use on shelter animals or for owners who can’t afford critical, lifesaving treatment for their pets. If your clinic is lucky enough to have such an endowment, you might not have as much freedom in deciding how to use it, but you will undoubtedly appreciate it and rely on it from time to time.
How you handle the account can vary as well. Some clinics choose to have a separate bank account that they can withdraw money from and then apply to other accounts in need. Some clinics create a Good Samaritan account as part of their other clinic records; it holds a constant credit and fees can be applied to this account instead of to the client’s. If you choose to do it this way, just make sure the medical records still stay with the patient and client, not with the Good Samaritan fund. Finally, some clinics may just choose to give those successful applicants cash from the fund to pay for their fees. This typically isn’t the best way to go about it, though, for record-keeping purposes.
How to Administer Your Fund
The biggest decision when starting a Good Samaritan fund is deciding how you’re going to award the money. Unfortunately, you’re not going to be able to pay for every animal that walks through the door, so figuring out some sort of application system is a must. Applications for help can be written or oral, but the same qualifications need to be met in order to ensure that you’re spreading the money around in a fair manner. You will also want to decide if these funds can be used for routine fees, such as vaccinations or spays and neuters, or saved for major emergency situations only.
The stringency of your application process will depend on the size of your funds as well as the needs of your community. You may find that you’re awarding smaller amounts more frequently at times and are able to pay larger amounts less often at other times. It all depends on demand and supply.
You may also want to appoint one person as the go-to who makes these decisions. An office manager, secretary, or head receptionist would be best, someone who knows the books. In some emergency situations, these decisions may need to be made quickly, so be sure your appointee is readily available and able to think on their feet. A backup person can also be named for those times when the main person can’t be reached.
Is a Good Samaritan Fund Right for Your Clinic?
I think we all can name people in our client base who could use some financial assistance to better care for their pets. That being said, Good Samaritan funds are for every clinic. As long as you have the drive to help animals in need, which is probably why you got into veterinary medicine in the first place, you can make funding like this happen. Involve your veterinary team; together everyone can decide how to secure funding and to whom those funds should be provided. Involving the team may make them more passionate about the fund itself and entice them to work harder to promote the cause, soliciting donations or applications.
As a veterinarian, you never want to turn away an animal in need, especially if it’s due to an inability to pay. Setting up a Good Samaritan fund will not only prevent you from doing that ever again, it will also provide a much-needed service in your community. If set up properly, they are easy to administer and maintain, leaving you plenty of time to get back to the job that you really love.