On a recent Wednesday, MRI technicians at the Animal Medical Center on East 62nd Street chatted excitedly about the return of some of their favorite patients — the Bronx Zoo penguins. Elsewhere in the building, an NYPD officer waited in the dermatology unit with his giddy canine partner, Petey, for a monthly allergy shot, while surgeons on another floor performed a groundbreaking feline kidney stone procedure pioneered at the center. In the elevator, the medical center’s CEO, Kathryn Coyne, comforted an older pet owner whose dog was undergoing treatment for lymphoma.
As the Animal Medical Center enters its 110th year in 2020, its team is looking forward to a $70 million building expansion and enjoys a thriving donor base, both of which seemed far out of reach when Coyne joined the team in 2010. Back then, the not-for-profit veterinary hospital, a world leader in specialty care, was facing challenges on multiple fronts.
The center confronted a funding crunch as pet owners reduced their spending on animal health care amidst the financial crisis, while many of those who could afford to had begun taking their pets to the for-profit clinics springing up across the city - in part because the center’s excellent standard of care had been tarnished by a reputation for shoddy customer service. Coyne’s job was to rescue a 100-year-old institution that provided lifesaving care to 26,000 animals a year.
“Nobody wants to invest in a sinking ship, no matter how much they care about something, and we really were at a very desperate, I would say, point in time back in 2008, 2009 up till 2010,” Coyne says.
Fresh off a decades-long career in hospital strategic planning and turnaround management, she got to work recruiting donors and attracting clients back to the center with a culture change.
“Sometimes people forget that there's somebody at the end of the leash that's actually the person that's paying the bill and can actually communicate with you, so it took a little bit of time to kind of re-educate people in terms of the importance of customer satisfaction, which in my soul, I felt was really the key to success,” she explains.
Coyne’s drive to advocate for patients and their caretakers brought her to work in hospitals in the first place. Originally a journalist by training, Coyne got involved in health care after the birth of her daughter, who was born with spina bifida. Coyne spent 27 years in human health care management, focusing on "patient care and patient satisfaction."
As it had in hospitals before, Coyne’s advocacy and focus on relationship-building paid off. Today the Animal Medical Center treats upwards of 56,000 creatures a year with the help of loyal donors and partnership programs with neighboring hospitals including Cornell Weill, NYU Medical Center, and Memorial Sloane Kettering — which worked with the center to develop a cure for melanoma in animals as it works towards a human antidote.
The AMC has also expanded its charity care under Coyne’s leadership, including the Seniors’ Animal Veterinary Effort (SAVE) which subsidizes care for the pets of seniors on fixed incomes, and “401Canine” providing free health care for dogs returning from active military duty and veterans’ service animals.
“When those veterans come in and that dog is their only lifeline, and you save it for them or extend the quality of life for them so that they don't have to be separated ... When those dogs come in and they go home with those people, it's like the best day of your life, honestly,” says Coyne.