OK Vet Board shields CVM/VMTH from complaints, evidence suggests

Allegations that the Oklahoma State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners has been allowing CVM’s Teaching Hospital to avoid repercussions that other Oklahoma veterinarians would likely face in similar circumstances appear to be substantiated, based on a review of recent complaints and discussions with subject matter experts. CVM Independent has confirmed that the OKBVMA dismissed valid claims against Teaching Hospital veterinarians when patient records were substantially incomplete.

Late last year, a dog suffering seizures presented to the Teaching Hospital with its owners.  A review of the case files was conducted by at least four veterinarians, including former CVM faculty, faculty from another veterinary college, the dog’s primary care veterinarian and one additional veterinarian at our request.  Each of them independently came to the same conclusion: The patient medical records were so incomplete as to make it impossible to fully discern what care was – and was not – provided to the patient before it passed away.

The dog’s owners attempted first to speak with the Dean of the CVM to share their concerns, and while a recording of that meeting shows the Dean apologizing for his team’s deficient performance, the owners indicate that no follow-ups of any substance occurred thereafter.  In fact, they report increasing levels of diversion and unaccountability in the months since.

Multiple veterinarians, including two who are familiar with Oklahoma rules and regulations governing the profession because they are licensed in the state, recommended that these owners submit the case and records to the OKBVMA, which oversees veterinarian licensure.

The process to file a claim is straightforward: pet owners who feel a veterinarian in the State of Oklahoma who has not upheld the standards required of them when treating a patient can ask the OKBVMA to investigate.  The OKBVMA will open a case and request the veterinarian who handled the case to respond, after which it will make a determination and, if warranted, discipline or fine the implicated veterinarian.

At first, the assigned investigator for the OKBVMA communicated what the dog’s owners felt was genuine concern.  They felt that the investigator saw exactly what every veterinarian who had reviewed the records saw – incomplete, confusing and substandard record keeping that made it impossible to fully understand what care the dog received prior to its death.   Until suddenly, they say, their claim was dismissed.

“CVM pulled off some kind of magic trick. Months after the patient died, CVM sent the Vet Board a no-letterhead, no-signature letter – not even from the veterinarian who saw the patient – conveniently filling in every blank and every missing treatment in the patient’s original file,” said one person who has reviewed that document, which CVM Independent has also independently confirmed. “I have seen dozens and dozens of these types of complaints in several different states, and I have never in my life seen something like that.”

“Imagine a hospital that can magically fill in records months after a patient dies and nothing happens to them,” this person continued. “No letterhead, no signatures, and the Vet Board rubber stamps it. What incentive does anyone there have to do things right if you can just wait to get caught, read a Vet Board complaint, and then fill in all the blanks. The reason it’s so striking to me that it’s unsigned is because normally the veterinarian submits a response on their own behalf because it’s their license at issue.”

CVM Independent reviewed email communications between the then-Hospital Director and the dog’s owners in which the Hospital Director implicated University lawyers as approving the submission of a state agency-required document in a formal proceeding without letterhead, signature or substantive answer.

A person familiar with these types of complaints explained that it is not uncommon for lawyers and administrators to be involved in drafting responses to ensure proper formatting and accurate information. “But the reason this letter is so strange is because you have a complaint saying specific doctors might have done something wrong, and an unsigned University response that just says ‘we’ did everything right. But ‘we’ doesn’t have a license, only the veterinarian who actually handled the case. I don’t know what the Vet Board was thinking on this one.”

Around that same time, a second claim was made to the OKBVMA by another pet owner alleging similar issues, with the same result.  In that case, a dog was put under sedation but there are no records of required examinations, diagnostics, recovery protocols and other standard operating procedures which are typical in such cases. CVM Independent reviewed that patient record as well and found that it was nearly entirely blank.

We also reviewed time- and geo-stamped video of the dog, taken by the owner, showing the patient struggling to regain consciousness both in the car leaving the hospital and several hours later at the owner’s home.  A veterinarian who was not involved in the case also reviewed the video and told the CVM Independent, “This is why you do not discharge a patient that is not fully recovered, period. That amount of time to recover from sedation is not common and could mean that dosage was off or there was a reaction to the particular substance used. It’s why you always fully recover a patient before discharge. What are they teaching over there?”

This case was mentioned in an OSU Grievance Committee hearing regarding the alleged wrongful termination of an employee, who is this dog’s owner, where the supervisor of the team responsible for the sedated dog testified that the tending veterinarian changed or updated the patient record months later, presumably after the case had gone to the OKBVMA.

“The Vet Board would know that, they had the records, and the computer system clearly shows when any entry is made into a patient’s file,” said the same expert who is familiar these types of complaints. “It’s ironic you send malpractice cases to the Board and they appear to commit ‘oversight malpractice’ in return.”

Further questions about the independence and objectivity of the OKBVMA emerged when the owners of the first case spoke by phone with Board officials to ask why their case had been suddenly dismissed. “They said they were told a nurse who helped us, who apparently was the owner of a dog in another case they had, they said that person was quote ‘a problem’ for OSU and made it sound like they had to get rid of these cases.  Now who was calling them from OSU telling them that and what does it have to do with anything? This is about animals and medical care, you look at the facts in the record and you make the call. Our dog suffered and died and this OK Vet Board process was ridiculous.”

A person who has worked at CVM with knowledge of these matters told CVM Independent, “It’s fishy, the Hospital Director when these things happened is married to the former President of the Oklahoma Veterinary Medical Association. That employee they’re talking about is who the whole staff elected to represent us on the Dean’s Staff Council to tell him how toxic this place is, who he fired as fast as he could. Feels like strings were pulled.”

CVM Independent has confirmed the connection between the former OVMA President and the then-Hospital Director of the Teaching Hospital, but has not been able to independently verify claims of undue influence. In a survey of staff and others conducted online from April to August of this year, the referenced former Hospital Director received relatively high marks for ethics and honesty, and was in fact one of the only leaders of the CVM to receive such marks.

CVM Independent is also investigating the allegations regarding the employee’s termination, but has confirmed that she was elected by the staff to the position on the Dean’s Staff Council, and was personally fired by the Dean thereafter.

Following the Vet Board’s dismissal of these cases, the Dean of the CVM appointed the veterinarian at issue in these complaints to the position of Department Head overseeing the Emergency and Critical Care section of the Teaching Hospital.