Regulators to addicts: Come clean with state agency

LVMA-endorsed counseling won't guard against regulatory rebuke, officials say

July 22, 2008 (published)
By Jennifer Fiala

Baton Rouge, La. — The Louisiana Board of Veterinary Medicine (LBVM) wants veterinarian addicts to come forward and go through the agency’s impaired professional program. Dodging the system via peer review programs provides no “safe haven” from regulatory rebuke, agency officials warn.   

The advice responds to what LBVM officials describe as “an increase in the number of reports of professional impairment on the part of veterinarians.” According to an agency newsletter, “The recipients of veterinary care, including the public at large, are not immune from the effects of this disease at the hands of impaired veterinarians.”  

Details concerning how LBVM quantifies the increase as well as its attempt to clarify “incorrect information and unfounded assumptions” regarding its protocol for handling impaired professionals, remain foggy, at best. When contacted by the Veterinary Information Network (VIN), Administrator Wendy Parrish stated that board officials never speak publicly on any issue, per agency policy. “No one ever gets an interview,” she contends. In addition, phone calls to board attorney Mike Tomino and President Dr. Mica F. Landry were not returned.   

At press time, the Louisiana Veterinary Medical Association’s (LVMA) Bland O’Connor, executive director, also failed to answer VIN interview requests concerning regulators’ complaints about an association-backed peer-review committee designed to assist drug- and alcohol-addicted members. According to the newsletter, a recent LVMA presentation to members advised addicts to “come to the peer review committee before contacting the LBVM.”   

That’s a no-no, LBVM officials contend. Contacting a peer-review committee will not “insulate the impaired professional from the jurisdiction of LBVM,” the newsletter states. “Should an impaired veterinarian continue to practice as such and the LBVM is not made aware of the problem, the impaired veterinarian would be investigated and sanctioned pursuant to the law regardless of whether he is a participant in the peer review program.”   

To deal with professional impairment cases, LBVM implemented its protocol, which favors self-reporting by addictive individuals and is not punitive, officials explain. Veterinarians who suffer from addiction and attend professional counseling are asked to enter into an agreement with LBVM. The accord allows the DVM to continue practicing medicine under certain terms, conditions and limitations. The identities of forthcoming addicts are kept in confidence. However, if a veterinarian denies a proven impairment problem, a formal hearing is conducted, and the case becomes public record.   

“Again, the veterinarian who helps himself is allowed to continue to practice within the bounds of identified parameters,” the newsletter states. “… In this fashion, the individual is supported during recovery, as well as the public is protected, as long as the veterinarian complies with his agreement for rehabilitation.”  

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