Demise of Partners in Wellness leaves some veterinarians in bind

Program failed to catch on, Nestle PurinaCare says

Published: October 14, 2013
By Jennifer Fiala

Dr. Kathryn Trenholm has roughly six weeks to devise an in-house system to administrate wellness plans for the 80 or so clients in her practice who have purchased Nestlé PurinaCare’s Partners in Wellness program since last year.

After 18 months in business, Partners in Wellness is closing.

Company officials made the announcement last month, notifying veterinarians and policyholders that the program would be discontinued by Nov. 30.

That leaves Trenholm and veterinarians in at least 110 other clinics across the country responsible for handling fallout concerning clients who have active Partners in Wellness contracts.

Partners in Wellness debuted in April 2012 as a "turnkey system" that enabled practitioners to offer customized preventative-care plans while Nestlé PurinaCare handled the program's billing and administration.

Now veterinarians who've endorsed Partners in Wellness say they were wrong to trust the Purina name and promote the program to clients.

"This is a load of manure landed in our lap, so to speak," said Trenholm, a practitioner in Ayer, Mass. "Nestlé Purina dumped this on our heads and handed us a spoon to dig out."

Officials with Nestlé PurinaCare say the decision to close Partners in Wellness stemmed from its failure to catch on in the veterinary market. About 4,800 clients participated in the program.

The decision was "based on economics and months of careful analysis," the company said in a statement to the VIN News Service. "While we believe wellness programs can play a role in the veterinary industry, we have determined that the requirements to make this program a long-term success do not align with our long-term objectives."

Asked why Nestlé PurinaCare couldn't phase in their decision by allowing pet owners' contracts to expire, officials responded that they were doing veterinarians a favor. "The November 30 end date provides clinics time to exit the Partners in Wellness program and start up a new program rather than running two wellness programs simultaneously, potentially confusing both clients and staff members,"
Nestlé PurinaCare said in a statement.

Veterinarians aren't expressing gratitude. Airing their angst on the Veterinary Information Network (VIN), an online community for the profession, some practitioners have criticized groups that promoted Partners in Wellness to the profession, namely the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA).

AAHA explained in an emailed statement that the group analyzed Partners in Wellness when it emerged in 2012 before naming it one of AAHA’s Preferred Business Providers.

AAHA officials say they were surprised to learn of its anticipated closure.

“Until very recently, all communications from Nestlé Purina indicated they were fully behind Partners in Wellness, even after they had exited the pet insurance business,” the statement said. “… We estimate the impact to AAHA practices to be minimal — only 24 AAHA practices have clients signed up with active Partners in Wellness plans.”

For now, those veterinarians likely will need to create a means for continuing and administrating their clients' wellness plans even though Nestlé PurinaCare has pulled out of the program.

Trenholm notes that higher ups at Nestlé PurinaCare recently promised to assign company staff to help with the transition. Trenholm is one of a handful of veterinarians across the country, she said, who had a lot of success selling wellness programs through Nestlé Purina.

"My long term relationship with Nestle Purina will depend on how this transition process goes," Trenholm said. "If the proffered help comes through as promised and the transition goes smoothly then they will begin to restore my trust in the company. If not, it will take a long time before I can trust them again. I feel that ending Partners in Wellness especially in the manner that it was done was a poor decision."

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