On Aug. 9, wires caught fire in the attic at Veterinary Care of Ithaca, a practice owned by Jennifer Biasillo, D.V.M. ’12. Her staff brought patients to safety, but the fire shuttered the business for repair and renovation.
Three weeks later, Biasillo’s practice – which has five veterinarians, 12 staff members and more than 5,000 active patients – found a temporary home in the College of Veterinary Medicine’s (CVM) new Small Animal Community Practice (SACP), where students learn about running a primary-care practice.
“I have no idea if this is a possibility, but … a few exam rooms would allow us to remain partially functional. … I know it’s a lot to ask,” Biasillo wrote to Dr. Meg Thompson, associate dean of hospital operations and corporate relations, when Thompson reached out to ask how she might help.
Thompson got approval from Lorin Warnick, Ph.D. ’94, the Austin O. Hooey Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine. Next, Thompson and David Howe, assistant dean of finance and administration, began working with colleagues in Cornell’s administration, resulting in an emergency-occupancy short-term license arrangement.Meanwhile, CVM allowed Biasillo to use classrooms and atrium space to keep her practice breathing.
“It’s kind of like two practices working side by side and sharing some things,” said Biasillo. Three to six students rotate through SACP as part of their clinical training every two weeks. Not only do they work with SACP veterinarians, they also now get the chance to observe Biasillo’s practice and reflect on the experience.
Faculty and staff from CVM moved into SACP’s new 10,000-square-foot building at the corner of Campus and Caldwell roads in July. SACP was designed to accommodate a general practice and eventually the primary care surgery program and Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program.
“Our town-gown relationship is every single day,” said Thompson. “It’s really the heart of our business. To help a local practice in an emergency like this was an unusual challenge for the college, but from the dean to the SACP clinicians and technicians, we all felt it was the right thing to do.”
Biasillo shared with Thompson knowledge she gained from dealing with damaged equipment and insurance companies, and working with architects who have redesigned the building to provide more functional reception and treatment space. “So I learned a lot in the process as well,” said Thompson. “She’s an amazingly capable individual … and I’m impressed with how much her team loves her.”
Biasillo began her career as a licensed veterinary technician, certified in canine rehabilitation. She ran a rehabilitation facility, working on pets with a variety of disorders. “That gave me the perspective of managing my own cases,” she said. It also introduced her to running a business. Biasillo enrolled in CVM just before turning 30 and worked as a licensed technician at Veterinary Care of Ithaca throughout school.
“Being in vet school, having been in the field for so long, and being older gave me a unique perspective,” she said. She purchased the practice in 2015.
After the fire, patients and community members reached out to her, offering compassion and even help with cleaning. “I don’t know what we would have done if we hadn’t had the space to keep serving our clients and our patients,” Biasillo said. “It takes something traumatic sometimes to make you realize the people we’re surrounded by are very amazing. I am grateful for a lot that came out of it.”
Carrie Koplinka-Loehr is a freelance writer with the College of Veterinary Medicine.