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Oregon board vies for authority to assess mental, physical competency
Salem, Ore. — Oregon's Veterinary Medical Examining Board (OVMEB) came closer to gaining the power to question a suspect veterinarian's mental and physical health with passage of Senate Bill 318.
SALEM, ORE. — Oregon's Veterinary Medical Examining Board (OVMEB) came closer to gaining the power to question a suspect veterinarian's mental and physical health with passage of Senate Bill 318.
The proposed law was submitted at the request of the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association (OVMA) in January. If made into law, it would mandate veterinarians who are questioned by the board to undergo professional evaluations to maintain their licenses.
"We wanted to get the legislation in motion to prevent any future authority issues," says Glenn Kolb, executive director, OVMA.
"There was a situation last summer with a veterinarian who was accused of animal neglect on her farm," Kolb says. "At the time, the state board wasn't sure how far they could carry its authority."
When board members conferred with their attorney, they were informed that they did not have the power to demand veterinarians surrender their licenses unless the offense occurred within a practice setting.
Because Dr. Susan Matlock, the veterinarian Kolb refers to, had not neglected animals in her practice but is accused of mistreating personal pets, the board could not demand a psychological evaluation and subsequently revoke her license.
"That situation was the impetus," says Lori Makinen, executive director, OVMEB. "We believe there was a serious problem, and we had no power.
"The veterinary medical examining board is the only medical board in the state that wasn't able to take actions on its concerns," Kolb adds. "This situation had never been an issue before."
"Since the bill passed in the Senate, the next step sends the bill to the House of Representatives. If everything works out the way we hope, it could be a law as of July 1," Makinen says.
The bill, if made into law, would mandate veterinarians questioned by the board to undergo professional evaluations to maintain their licenses.
Sen. Kurt Schrader, a veterinarian and OVMA's past president, sponsored the bill.
"Protecting the public is OVMA and the exam board's primary concern," Kolb says.
The Civil Law Committee proposed House Bill 2283, which would nullify Senate Bill 318 if it became law. The bill would require the board to offer a licensee a contested case hearing if the board orders the veterinarian to undergo a competency evaluation.
There are two competency cases that are currently before the board that would be impacted by this bill.
"There is currently a situation where a veterinarian's surgery capabilities are compromised because of nerve disease," Makinen says. "The doctor is basically butchering animals in surgery and is not stopping on his own."
This type of case falls directly under the assault of HB 2283. The current protocol includes a professional evaluation as a routine part of the investigation with results being part of a confidential case file. The current version of HB 2283 would eliminate confidentiality since the final order in a contested case hearing is public. This includes the results of the evaluation.
Those who bring complaints to the board also are jeopardized under this bill because confidentiality would be lost. This might make clients less likely to report veterinarians who genuinely have compromised abilities.
"This bill most importantly does not help the mission of the board of veterinary medical examiners," Makinen says. "An incompetent veterinarian could continue to practice while contesting a case hearing."
The veterinary board opposes an amended version of HB2285 that would eliminate confidentiality from the complaint process.
Veterinary clients often do not want to be identified when they bring a case before the board, says Jonathan Betts, DVM, chairman of the OVMEB.
The exposure of those making complaints to the board includes employees and colleagues who otherwise might not help the board in their effort to fully investigate complaints.
"If made into law, the bill would have a chilling effect on the public's willingness to report veterinarians suspected of substandard practice or doing harm and on veterinarians' willingness to police their profession," Betts adds.