High-profile Calif. DVM in hot water


Prosecutors attempt to pin Dr. Robert L. Rooks on nine charges carrying up to $45,000 in fines; DVM's license at risk

San Diego- A board-certified surgeon and head of Southern California's largest referral clinic faces charges from the state attorney general's office that include falsifying records, fraud and permitting lay staff to practice veterinary medicine.

Dr. Robert L. Rooks, owner of All Care Animal Referral Center (ACARC)in Fountain Valley, and his attorneys will meet for a hearing April 28 inSan Diego Superior Court. Prosecutors claim evidence reveals Rooks usedunlicensed anesthesiologists, falsely advertised veterinary staff as board-certifiedspecialists and promoted a heavy machine operator with no formal veterinarytraining to director of surgery, court records show.

Rooks, claiming his clinic treats 30,000 pets a year from Los Angelesand Orange counties, did not return phone calls seeking comment. The award-winningveterinary surgeon and practice owner could be put out of business if foundguilty, but Susan Geranen, executive officer of the California VeterinaryMedical Board (CVMB), says that's unlikely.

"This isn't a revocation case, it's about negligence," saysGeranen, whose group investigated the complaints and will make the finaldisciplinary call based on judicial recommendations. "Dr. Rooks hasa state-of-the-art, high-dollar referral practice. He gets the tough cases,and there's a lot of money involved. We have cases that are much worse thanthe case against Dr. Rooks. His has just gone high profile."

In the spotlight

Since the mid-1990s, media have targeted Rooks regarding more than adozen civil litigants alleging malpractice and usually settling out of court.Interest peaked when a veterinary magazine videotaped Rooks' lay directorof surgery inserting PEG tubes in a cat. That same employee falsified surgery-anesthesiareports per Rooks' orders in another case, records show.

Those allegations aside, it was a complaint filed by former client JoannePatrice on which the investigation initially was based, Geranen says.

Patrice, originally filing in 1998, claims ACARC unnecessarily performeda surgery on her cat that led to its heart failure and death. Despite complaintsfrom at least one practitioner employee, Rooks also misled consumers tobelieve some staff veterinarians were board-certified in areas such as neurologyand internal medicine, advertising that the hospital "has specialistsin many specialty areas of veterinary medical practice who are highly trainedand are leaders in their field who are regularly available to diagnose andtreat rare disease," the report says.

The state contends that's not the case.

"In fact, ACARC had only a few board certified specialists on staffwho were regularly available," the report says. "ACARC promotedother specialists as being available, when, in truth, they did not residein Southern California and only visit at ACARC on occasion."

'A strong case'

While Rooks and his attorneys have formally denied the charges, Geranensays in her opinion, the state's evidence meets the high standard of proofknown as clear and convincing evidence to a reasonable certainty. Just gettingcases to the state, she adds, is a highly evaluated process.

"We've looked at this case closely," she says. "We investigate,make the initial determination of a violation and our enforcement team,made up of veterinarians, sends it out to an expert witness. If the caseis thought to be negligence, based on that second review, it goes to theattorney general. When it goes there, they review it based on the burdenof proof."

A judge makes the final determination, and Geranen says action againstRooks is likely.

"There are grounds for discipline," she says. "If I hadto guess, I'd bet on probation."

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