Dec. 2, 2022

Connecting Human Health with Vet Care with Dr. Michael Blackwell | The Long Leash #70

Connecting Human Health with Vet Care with Dr. Michael Blackwell | The Long Leash #70

Veterinary care is expensive, even though the health of family members – human or canine – is priceless. When it’s the dog’s pain pills or food on the table, what’s a human to do?

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Too many people face a cold reality when their dog gets sick: they want to give vet care, but simply cannot afford it. Ways to cope vary, including hoping and wishing the problem will disappear on its own, reducing pain and other medication use to “make them last,” and even euthanizing a dog who might recover with proper care.

It’s devastating for the family members and the veterinarians and their staff who must help them make these terrible choices.

When money is the issue, and money is not there, no question has an easy answer.

Our guest today is Dr. Michael Blackwell, the founder of AlignCare Health. His organization is a national, community-funded One Health interprofessional system that helps families with limited means get access to veterinary care.

In other words, he helps keep families together, regardless of species.

Dr. Michael Blackwell’s received his calling to help after hearing about a veteran whose dog was put to sleep because he could not afford his treatments. What was the problem? A police officer had shot his dog (unjustly), and the resulting injuries required extensive and expensive procedures.

The veteran’s utter loss and devastating pain “lit a fire” in Dr. Blackwell’s soul. That’s when the high-ranking government official and educator decided to start breaking down economic barriers that prevent pets and their families from getting the care they need.

Dr. Blackwell joins us for an in-depth, moving discussion about how our pet’s care influences our own health and healthcare, and why affordable veterinary care is critical to our health as a species and citizens.

Episode Links

Access to Veterinary Care-Barriers, Current Practices, and Public Policy A project of the Access to Veterinary Care Coalition, Dec 2018

AlignCare Health official website

This episode is sponsored in part by EverPup and BarkBox.


0:00 Introduction

2:26 Start of Interview

4:09 The Event that Changed Everything

6:38 1 in 4 Families Lack the Ability to Pay for Vet Care

8:58 Phycological Benefits of Having a Pet

11:32 Economic Barriers to Vet Care

13:05 Status of Pet Insurance

17:03 Health Benefits Associated with Pet Ownership

19:21 What is AlignCare?

22:47 AlignCare in Los Angeles

34:55 The Emotional and Financial Stress of Being a Vet

45:54 The Importance of Public Servants

50:09 First Minority Dean of a Major Vet College

54:14 Future of AlignCare

56:52 Outro

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Dr. Michael J BlackwellProfile Photo

Dr. Michael J Blackwell

DVM, MPH / Assistant Surgeon General, USPHS (Ret.)

Dr. Blackwell currently serves as the Director of the Program for Pet Health Equity at the University of Tennessee. He is the founder of AlignCare Health, a One Health interprofessional system to improve access to veterinary care, especially for families with limited means.

Previously, Dr. Blackwell served as:
Dean, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Tennessee
Chief of Staff, Office of the Surgeon General of the United States
Deputy Director, Center for Veterinary Medicine, Food and Drug Administration
Chief Veterinary Officer, U.S. Public Health Service

During 23 years on active duty with the U.S. Public Health Service, he achieved the rank of Assistant Surgeon General and Rear Admiral.

Dr. Blackwell has received numerous awards and recognitions, including the Distinguished Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, and two Surgeon General’s Exemplary Service Medals. He is the 2020 recipient of the Avanzino Leadership Award and the 2021 recipient of the Senator John Melcher, DVM Leadership in Public Policy Award.