At Guardian Angels, we are always innovative, and we are always looking for ways to make things better. It has been our philosophy for the last almost 12 years that anything we find to be a weakness or a need, we focus on it and try to come up with an innovative idea to make it stronger, make it better.
We’re always trying to be the best at whatever we can do because let’s face it, people’s lives are at stake. We are responsible for many lives both two-legged and four-legged. We want to make sure they always have the best that they can get whether it’s the dog or the person.
New Medical Savings Plan to Help Our Recipients
COVID was actually a very positive period for us when the rest of the world was struggling mightily. Not that we didn’t have different challenges that we had to adapt to and overcome, but it also gave me time to reflect on our programs and some of the different things that we wanted to do better. One of the things that I did the first year of COVID was to create a Medical Savings Plan.
In the past, we always required that recipients have commercial pet insurance on their service dogs because veterinary bills are quite high, especially if you have an emergency of any kind. These are very valuable dogs. Our recipients were frustrated with these companies even though we had recommended the very best that were out there. These companies were only paying 80-90% of the veterinary bill, the recipient still had to pay out of pocket upfront for services when rendered, then ask to be reimbursed, and then struggle to argue their case for reimbursement from the pet insurance company.
Their insurance premiums were being raised without any type of notice. One of them went from $29 a month to $70 a month. Many of these people live on limited disability incomes, therefore they cannot afford those kinds of radical changes. We didn’t want them to be faced with these issues. They have enough challenges in their lives because they are already coping with a permanent disability and sometimes multiple disabilities.
So, how could we ease that piece of it? We came up with a Medical Savings Plan where they are guaranteed to pay a small flat fee a month that will never change and a small normal deductible like you would with anything else.
After that, we cover everything, and the process is simple. The recipient calls our veterinary department, we approve the reason for the visit, we talk to the doctor, we gather all the information and approve the necessary treatments as suggested by the attending veterinarian. We monitor the entire process so that we have full knowledge of the health of our dogs. Then we pay the bill right over the phone, so the recipient is never paying out of pocket for any of those bills.
There is no restriction on what we pay for. With the commercial companies, they often didn’t cover office visits or wellness checks. They wouldn’t pay for preventatives or vaccines. We pay for everything, so it’s a comprehensive answer for our recipients.
Borden Institute of Higher Learning and a New Hospital for our Dogs
We have always struggled to find the right people with the backgrounds, experience, and knowledge necessary for this industry. My solution began years ago, when I started the Apprenticeship Program to teach students how to be a service dog trainer. This quickly became college-accredited and VA-approved. Because of the lack of qualified people, I was able to develop our own people quite successfully through the apprenticeship program.
The next thing I thought about was that the pandemic had put so many people out of work. About 30% of all businesses throughout the United States, including non-profits, closed permanently and they still expect probably another 10% to close as a result of not being able to climb out of the problematic issues caused by the pandemic. We have been continually improving our apprenticeship program and realized that we may be able to help even more people by training them in other dog-related fields. There is a huge shortage of professionally trained skills in the animal industry.
Because of this need for more qualified people, I decided to create the Borden Institute of Higher Learning, another non-profit, where we intend to teach all animal-related courses for people who want a career in the animal field. This will include licensed veterinarian technicians, nationally accredited veterinary assistants, kennel management, specialties in certain parts of medicine like physical therapy, emergency medicine, acupuncture, etc. Right now, our curriculum designer is creating the classes we will be teaching.
We are located 40 miles from the nearest emergency hospital. If we have a problem in the middle of the night or off-hours, we do not have a better answer to our needs than having to drive almost an hour to an emergency clinic. It does present some challenges for us and the people of our community. I decided that we needed to build our own hospital which is under construction currently. One of our older buildings is being totally remodeled into a veterinarian hospital that will serve as a non-profit teaching hospital, and it will serve to take care of our own dogs and our own teams. We will be hiring a veterinarian to head up the program and hospital.
Our hospital will also serve as a lab for hours necessary for the licensed veterinarian technician courses and veterinarian assistant courses. Students will be able to complete all their studies both in the classroom and hands-on in one place – our campus.
Funds Being Raised for New Campuses in Florida and Pittsburgh
We are also working on getting funding for new campuses. We already own property near our current location where we will build our new headquarters. We also bought property in Pittsburgh which will be our first campus outside of Florida. These will both be state-of-the-art campuses for training and on-site recipient housing while our teams are being paired. We’re very excited about our plans for growth. Looking further into the future, once we get our campuses up and running, we hope to open more across the United States!
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