Modern Space: Colorado State’s Equine Hospital


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Colorado State’s new equine hospital is built for more personalized care and advances in equine medicine.

This fall, Colorado State University’s equine veterinary services moved into a larger standalone space entirely dedicated to equine medicine and care. The new Johnson Family Equine Hospital was built to provide extra space for individual horses and improve personalized care. Not just for the patients’ comfort, but also to allow clients to be more involved in their horse’s care with side-by-side rounds rooms, and a separate, on-site equine pharmacy. The move also signals the university’s commitment to preparing its graduates for the changing landscape of veterinary medicine.

Since the late 1970s when the old hospital was built, the equine practice has expanded into several specialties, said Chris Kawcak, DVM, PhD, Diplomate ACVS & ACVSMR, Director, Equine Clinical Services. At the time there were three basic disciplines – surgery, medicine and ambulatory. Equine Reproduction is a large unit but located at its own facility on the Foothills campus.

“Since that time, in addition to Equine Surgery, Equine Medicine and Equine Field Service, we have expanded into Equine Critical Care, Equine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation, Equine Diagnostic Imaging, Equine Ophthalmology and Equine Dentistry,” Kawcak said. “We also have specialists in anesthesiology, cardiology, neurology and the like. With that many services, we became a bit confined for space in the old facility. We needed an indoor arena and more exam rooms, space for advanced imaging equipment, teaching and client interactions. We also needed a better layout to secure and care for horses with contagious diseases. All these things have been built into the new facility.”

New features for new standards of care

The Critical Care space is the equine hospital’s biggest new feature. “In the past, the isolation facility was located away from the hospital and we had to rely on staff and clinicians to trek back and forth to care for those animals,” said Kawcak. “Some of the patients would require intense monitoring and care, sometimes in a sling. It became overwhelming in that facility, especially as our quality of care continued to expand. The new facility provides a bio secure environment and intense monitoring. We really needed those features.”

Other features in the facility such as the Indoor Arena and lameness area, Orthopedic support stalls and surgery and imaging have also expanded.

The teaching hospital’s audiovisual system will help instructors improve upon their teaching and communication with clients. “We planned the building to accommodate new technologies as they become available. We currently have a CT system in place to enhance our imaging, and there will be several other devices coming online in the next year.”

Photo of horse sculptures outside Colorado State's new equine hospital.
The building will accommodate new technologies as they become available.

Equine medicine today – and tomorrow

Kawcak said the increase in specialty programs has been the biggest change in equine medicine from the 1980s to now. “We now have specialists in all disciplines, which increases the quality of care.”

The market has changed as well. Horses are now looked upon more as companion animals than a commodity, and owners expect a caring approach from the veterinary industry. Clients expect more hands-on treatment for their animals and better communication. The owner wants to be integrated into the care. Human medicine is going through the same evolution, and COVID-19 has amplified that need.

“We are looking more at a value-based care system vs. a fee-for-service system,” said Kawcak. “Clients expect us to work within the different specialty services to peel back the onion and find the issues that are at the heart of a problem for their horse. As an example, it is not uncommon for our Equine Sports Medicine clinicians to work with our neurology specialists on a performance issue in a sport horse. The answer often lies somewhere in between the specialties.”

For new graduates entering the field, debt and staffing are acute issues today. Graduates are faced with an ever-increasing debt load. Educational costs are increasing and state funding is depleted. In the past, states would be responsible for the lion’s share of costs. Today, that is gone and the burden falls on the students.

Kawcak said CSU’s college administration is planning to roll out a new curriculum format to help better prepare its students for the emerging needs in the industry. “For practitioners today, the staffing shortage is really having an impact. Like all other industries, we need to figure out how we bring value not only to staff but also to associates. More is expected and we need to find ways to help people grow and thrive in our industry. It’s no different than other industries, except that we share the burden of patient responsibility.”