OVMA opts to repeal ban on non-DVM ownership

April 1, 2004

Columbus, Ohio-Ohio Veterinary Medical Association (OVMA) leaders plan to rescind a statewide prohibition on non-DVM ownership of veterinary hospitals and clinics in a move that surprised stakeholders on both sides of the issue.

Columbus, Ohio-Ohio Veterinary Medical Association (OVMA) leaders plan to rescind a statewide prohibition on non-DVM ownership of veterinary hospitals and clinics in a move that surprised stakeholders on both sides of the issue.

The announcement came at the Midwest Veterinary Conference Feb. 28 in Columbus. There, OVMA released plans to repeal the ban as part of its newly revised practice act, which awaits the state Legislature's approval. If passed, corporate-run veterinary hospitals will be free to set up shop in Ohio, leaving 18 states still prohibiting non-DVM practice ownership.

Ohio veterinary leaders, once ardently against corporate ownership, have reconsidered, OVMA Executive Director Jack Advent says. The law unjustly targets spousal ownership rights, he says, and corporate outfits already circumvent the ban via management agreements with veterinarians. That became evident last year when the Ohio Veterinary Medical Licensing Board (OVMLB) settled a three-year battle with Veterinary Centers of America (VCA), allowing the corporation to run Ohio practices, provided veterinarians are the legal owners. Since then, the profession's concerns have deflated, Advent says.

"While the subject of corporate ownership was once a lightening rod, I don't think there's as much concern as before," he says. "Years ago, people tended to think corporations were going to buy up practices left and right. Now they realize that hasn't happened, and there are compelling, positive arguments on the other side."

Changing attitudes

Those arguments include allowing non-DVM spouses to operate practices after the veterinarian owner dies. Current Ohio law permits just two years of spousal ownership before forcing the practice's sale or closure.

"That's unfair," Advent says. "We have a surviving spouse situation, and that's a major concern."

Retiring veterinarians with high-revenue practices also are driving the profession toward broader ownership laws, says Dr. Jim Wilson, an attorney and owner of Priority Veterinary Management Consultants in Yardley, Pa.

"There are a bunch of veterinary practices grossing more than $5 or $10 million," Wilson says. "What are sellers to do when no one can afford to buy them out? The creators of those practices have no exit strategy other than to sell to corporate players."

Caught by surprise

That doesn't mean relaxing the law is the answer, says Heather Hissom, executive secretary for the OVMLB.

"Technically any practice with a corporate name in Ohio should be owned by a veterinarian, and we fought for a long time on that," she says. "At the height of our case against VCA, a judge was prepared to shut them down for not complying with our laws. The legal system worked for us; I'm surprised OVMA has taken this route."

So is VCA Chief Executive Officer Bob Antin, who says OVMA's decision indicates the veterinary community has come to terms with corporate medicine's role in the profession.

"I give Ohio a lot of credit," he says. "We own less than 1 percent of hospitals in the United States after being here for seven years. We're not taking over. All we are is an alternative; we're part of the profession."

The old guard

Not if Dr. Donn Griffith, of Dublin, Ohio, had it his way. While many of his colleagues accept corporate practices, the 62-year-old small animal practitioner insists they're bad for veterinary medicine, eliminating opportunities for veterinarians to become financially successful.

"This will totally take the joy out of being a veterinarian," he says. "The only way to make money in this profession is as an owner. I think we're being short sighted and selling out for future generations. Veterinarians have historically made bad business choices, and this is one of them."