Clinics that Work

By Vet-Advantage
May, 2016

Collaboration is John Payne’s vision for Compassion-First Pet Hospitals


John Payne has a vision for excellence in veterinary medicine, and it looks something like the Mayo Clinic on the human side.

At Mayo, the patient arrives (either at the flagship facility in Rochester, Minn., or one of the outlying facilities in Florida or Arizona) and is triaged to the physician or specialist best suited to address his or her medical issues. If that clinician needs help, he or she can get it from any of the hundreds of professionals who are gathered under the Mayo roof – or who can be consulted via telephone or video camera.

Similarly, the veterinarians in Compassion-First Pet Hospitals (formerly Veterinary Specialists of North America) work in a collaborative atmosphere to deliver the very best, most compassionate care possible, says founder and CEO John Payne.

Payne founded VSNA in 2014 as a regional group of specialty veterinary hospitals in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including Animal Emergency & Referral Associates, Animal Eye Center, Countryside Veterinary Hospital, East End Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Center, Marlboro Animal Hospital, Red Bank Veterinary Hospitals, and Veterinary Referral Center. Today, the company has 11 hospitals – four of which are strictly specialty or emergency facilities, and seven of which are either a hybrid general medicine/specialty facility, or a general medicine facility. Its largest is the Red Bank Veterinary Hospital in Tinton Falls, N.J., with 25 exam rooms and about 60,000 square feet of space. Plans call for Compassion-First to develop two additional regional hospital groups in 2016 – one in the Pacific Northwest and another in the Southwest.

“We are just at the beginning of our potential,” says Payne, former CEO of Banfield Pet Hospitals and former president of Bayer Animal Health North America. “We believe strongly in the importance of growing regionally. This allows hospitals to collaborate with one another, and have easy access to medical advancements and experts throughout a pet’s care.”


Name change

“The name ‘VSNA’ did not reflect what we are ultimately trying to achieve for pet owners, pets and our referring veterinarians,” says Payne. “We wanted to lead with our greatest strength – our compassion for people, pets and our colleagues.

“We believe in delivering exceptional care for pets and an exceptional client experience for the pet owner,” he says. “We provide exceptional medicine because of who we are, the doctors we have, and the staff we have. It really comes down to the philosophy of compassion and the philosophy of always doing the right thing for all parties involved.”

That extends to referring veterinarians as well. “The referring DVMs are entrusting their pet and client to us, so we have to represent them in the most positive way we can,” he says.



Given his experience with Banfield, it’s not surprising that Payne is thinking big. Consolidation is taking place in veterinary medicine, just as it is in dentistry and human medicine, he says. Older veterinarians are looking toward retirement and selling their practices, and recent graduates have little interest in owning their own practice.

But Payne’s vision isn’t one of consolidation for consolidation’s sake.

“We’re not a consolidator, even though mechanically, it looks that way,” he says. “We are a group that is looking for really good practices to join us, and we [work to] make these practices even better than they were at the time of purchase. We turn down as many as we buy – in fact, probably more.

“Our goal is to make practices better and to [foster] collaboration, and to do things in a much different way than they are currently being done in specialty hospitals.”

Compassion-First focuses on recruiting experienced doctors who practice in a wide variety of veterinary specialties, such as minimally invasive surgery and interventional radiology. The company also implements technologies rarely found in veterinary medicine, such as lithotripsy for kidney or bladder stones.

But the real key to excellent patient care is collaboration, Payne says. “In one room, you will have, two, three, maybe four different specialties working on one particular case.” For example, a pet that is suffering an adverse reaction to radiation therapy might be referred to an integrative oncologist, who could recommend acupuncture to relieve the symptoms.


Lessons learned

Payne intends to put the lessons he learned in his prior positions to good use at Compassion-First, especially the ability and willingness to be a good listener.

“We have to be good listeners,” he says. “Rather than thinking we know it all, and we have more experience than anybody else around, we oftentimes find out new things if we are active listeners instead of active talkers.” Blending one’s own experience with new ideas helps cultivate and develop people, he adds. And that starts with the leader.

“Leaders have to be passionate about what they’re doing. They have to be visible. They have to talk to people, listen to people, and [deliver] on their promises. They have to be truthful, even when it hurts. They have to be able to say ‘no’ as easily as they say ‘yes.’”

Payne’s message of collaboration should resonate with suppliers as well, he says. It’s the same model that he and Banfield used to create a strong relationship with MWI Animal Health.

“We want to use the best products and services our suppliers offer. But we are people who collaborate with suppliers. We are loyal. We would like [suppliers] to make sure we are taken care of, because we are going to take care of them.”

Topics: Trends


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