Power play: CVMA aims to reel in board authority; rebuttal planned
Sacramento, Calif. — Longstanding disputes between the California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) and California Veterinary Medical Board (CVMB) came to a head last month, with the introduction of a bill designed to curb the power of regulators.
SB 1205, scheduled for hearing April 18 in the California Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee, calls for major oversight of CVMB, including the formation of a committee designed to assist and advise regulators on making changes in accordance with the act. In what regulatory officials call "shocking," the bill, sponsored by Sen. Sam Aanestad, proposes amendments to the state's Business and Professions Code that force the board to "prioritize" citations, rein in fines and treat offenses based on whether there's direct harm to animals.
Critics of CVMB liken the agency to a "runaway train," unfairly nitpicking veterinarians for minor offenses. They also consider the group overly influenced by its Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT) Committee, which succeeded last year in gaining authority for licensed technicians to cut relief holes for catheters — a procedure CVMA deems surgical and the practice of veterinary medicine. In addition, CVMA rejects a board decision to create a one-year window in which unregistered technicians with at least a five-year work history can sit for licensure.To curb the technician group's impact, SB 1205 overhauls the RVT committee's makeup by putting appointments in the governor's hands, eliminating two seats, creating strict guidelines on term limits and how many times the group can meet.
The legislation, association officials say, is designed to end what feels like a recurring battle between CVMB and CVMA, and at the same time alleviate veterinarian complaints. It seeks to have the board "prioritize its investigative and prosecutorial resources" to ensure those who present "the greatest threat of harm are identified."
"The CVMA has not been shy about discussing the communication breaks and where there have been issues; this goes back a couple of decades," says Dr. Jon Klingborg, CVMA Legislative Committee chairman. "Now we have veterinarians complaining they're getting fined for problems that others are not cited for. Inspectors are going beyond a particular consumer complaint and opening a door to all kinds of oversight. What I hear are horror stories. The process needs to be overhauled, streamlined and consistent."
CVMB Executive Director Sue Geranen says she hasn't received the name of one veterinarian who has contacted CVMA. She admits that if consumers complain about a practitioner, fines will be issued if the client's medical record is incomplete or illegible, per the state's practice act.
At press time, Geranen planned to author a letter of opposition to the bill's language, which she considers "unnecessary and vague." She contends that the board issues roughly 135 citations a year out of 650 consumer complaints. Fines for minor infractions range from $50 to $500, although most are roughly $250.
"We do a survey after every hospital inspection, and for the most part those are positive," she says. "Record-keeping is atrocious out here and citation is a perfect vehicle for record-keeping violations. We're basically transparent. We have a process for auditing complaints."
Geranen adds that the RVT Committee members already are limited to two, four-year terms with a one-year grace period. They meet four times a year and costs, which proponents of SB 1205 consider significant, are minimal, she says.
"These people do not make any final decisions. Everything they do goes back to the board," Geranen says.
Beyond RVTs, CVMA wants to limit regulatory fines to serious offenses, mapping out a list of 15 infractions, in order of significance. The bill seeks to limit civil citations to previous offenders and those presenting immediate danger to an animal and gross negligence.
"There's a feeling that a different set of rules applies when dealing with the board, depending on who you're working with," Klingborg says. "It's not supposed to be a witch hunt. Most are getting fined for something regulators aren't even there to address."
Geranen counters that grave offenses such as gross negligence command more than civil fines, as outlined in the bill. They call for disciplinary action.
"Incompetence and unprofessional conduct — these are major violations," she says. "This bill is unnecessary because we have disciplinary guidelines in our regs, and the board already is working on similar guidelines for citations. We have nothing to hide. If there are problems, we want to fix them."