A year after opening a solo oncology practice in a rented space, Dr. Tracy LaDue, DACVIM (oncology), DACVR (radiation oncology), found the inspiration she needed to build her own freestanding hospital. At the time, she was treating patients at a human radiation facility three times a week during off hours, and one day Dr. LaDue happened upon her clients huddled together in the tiny waiting room. They were engaged in a group therapy session of sorts, commiserating about their pets' illnesses, the problems they were facing, and, most of all, the friends and family members who thought they were crazy for going to such lengths to treat a pet.
"Watching my clients bond like that made me realize how much I wanted my own place, with a living room feel, for them to feel comfortable in and to meet others who understood their situation," she says.
Floor Plan: Southeast Veterinary Oncology
That year, Dr. LaDue attended the Veterinary Economics Hospital Design Conference in Kansas City with her business operations manager, who is also her father. There she met her architect and came away with oodles of ideas and information for her project. Just over a year later, in December 2007, Southeast Veterinary Oncology opened its doors to an existing and ever-growing clientele—and eventually earned a 2009 Hospital Design Competition Merit Award.
LIVING ON SPECIALTY ROW
Choosing a location for Dr. LaDue's dream practice came easy. She was already renting space in the facility where her husband, Dr. John Meeks, DACVIM (neurology), works as a veterinary neurologist. That hospital's owner, Dr. Andrew Hopkins, DACVIM (neurology), sold her some adjacent land that overlooked a pond. It was situated near several other veterinary specialty clinics, including dermatology, ophthalmology, internal medicine, emergency, and surgery practices. Nestled amongst these hospitals a mile off the interstate in an area without any other standalone oncology centers, Dr. LaDue found her niche.
A look at the numbers
"The waterfront location seemed ideally suited for our goal of catering to the comfort of the client and the pet," says Dr. LaDue. "The backyard is beautiful and our garden is growing. It's peaceful and perfectly suited to the type of medicine we practice."
"I JUST WANT TO TREAT CANCER!"
To kick off the building process, Dr. LaDue posted a "room wish list" on the bulletin board in her rented office. Staff members—her "right arms," as she calls them—listed all the rooms they wanted in the practice if they could have anything at all. After winnowing the list down to the most practical rooms, she then asked the teams who worked in each specific area to list all the features and tools they wanted in "their" rooms.
"I approved everything in the end and helped pick the fun stuff," Dr. LaDue says. And topping off her own personal wish list was a large wraparound porch, complete with rocking chairs. "I know times are tough economically, but I couldn't build this practice without my porch," she says. "It says to clients that we're a home in front with a full-service cancer center in back."
Another must was the brick wainscoting that covers the porch pillars, a feature that ties her building's exterior to the all-brick veterinary neurology facility next door.
While Dr. LaDue enjoyed picking and choosing the different elements of her practice, she was equally grateful that her father could handle the business matters. She also gives credit to her architectural team, accountants, and contractors, who made the project happen with minimal fuss. "I knew I needed to be taking care of my patients and making money for this building project to happen," she says. "I didn't know the business details and I didn't want to. I just wanted to treat cancer and spend time with my kids. Thankfully, my dad allowed that to happen."
Nearly a year before move-in day, the Southeast Veterinary Oncology staff implemented a new computerized medical records system. Everyone was well-versed in the system before the big move, which eased the transition. And because the practice was only moving across a parking lot, move-in day was a cinch. The team closed the doors on the rented space on Friday and opened the 6,733-square-foot practice to an existing client base on Monday.
"I don't have any dramatic move-in stories like some people," Dr. LaDue says. However, the big open house she had scheduled just after opening? That's another story. Two weeks away from giving birth to her second child, Dr. LaDue found herself in the hospital with a kidney stone, missing her own party. But the show went on, and now, two years after the grand opening, Dr. LaDue is happy with her growing business, which has already extended to a satellite facility. She's in a practice she calls her dream home away from home, doing what she loves with the clients and patients she considers family.