Thursday, May 1, 2008

DC Veterinarian Peter Glassman (Owner, Friendship Animal Hospital) and his Unlicensed Veterinarians

All Veterinary Boards (except maybe Idaho's) are bad. Bad meaning: They don't protect the consumer. They dismiss unbelievably high percentages of complaints, their disciplinary actions are laughable and TOTALLY not serious enough to be any kind of deterrent, by and large; they take the vet's word for it over the clients nearly always . . . in general, vet boards ain't worth you-know-what.

Texas and other vet boards have dismissal rates (the percentage of complaints that are filed and no action taken) of approximately 90%. This high dismissal rate earned the Texas Vet Board a 2-part consumer investigation from a Dallas-based TV station. It's hard to imagine that another vet board would beat them out for WORST VET BOARD IN THE COUNTRY, but there is one that is worse.

It's DC's vet board.

In years of complaints, the DC Vet Board found only in one case that the violations were worthy of action, and EVEN THEN, they did nothing, claiming they had no legal authority to act. Yup, folks, not only are DC residents experiencing "TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION" but they've got no protection for their pets from bad vets.

In 2007 I made a public records request with the DC veterinary board for all public records related to consumer complaints against veterinarians from the year 2000 to the present. They sent me an envelope with 16 documents in it. Of those 16 documents:

11 were letters to complainants telling them that NO ACTION would be taken on their complaint, as follows:

1. ". . . insufficient evidence of violations of a nature or severity that would support a revocation or suspension of license."

2. ". . . insufficient evidence of violations of a nature or severity that would support a revocation or suspension of license."

3. ". . . insufficient evidence of violations of a nature or severity that would support a revocation or suspension of license."

4. " . . . the Board . . . finds no violation . . ."

5. " . . . the Board . . . finds no violation . . ."

6. " . . . the Board . . . finds no violation . . ."

7. " . . . the Board . . . lacks jurisdiction . . . "

8. " . . . the Board . . . finds no violation . . ."

9. " . . . the Board . . . finds no violation . . ."

10. " . . . the Board . . . finds no violation . . ."

11. " . . . the Board . . . finds no violation . . ."

Of the remaining documents, four (4) were letters stating that an investigation would be conducted. I assume that each of those letters is related to one of the above 11 cases.

The complaints dispatched without action include a complaint filed by the DC Humane Society. The HUMANE SOCIETY reported a vet -- yet still they took no action.

The final document, describes the one and only time that the Board found violations worthy of action -- that was the case of Glassman. But before we discuss that, let's put it in perspective:

Assuming that the four letters announcing investigations are related to one or more of the 12 cases dispatched by the board (11 dismissals and the one Glassman case), then this gives the DC Veterinary Board an abysmal record surpassing even that of the notoriously awful Texas Vet Board. Specifically, the Board found NO violation in 11 out of 12 cases, or 91.6667 percent -- call it 92%. BUT, even in the one case where they found violcations (the case of Glassman and Friendship Animal Hospital), THEY FAILED TO TAKE ANY ACTION, on advice of their lawyer (more later). That means that 12 out of 12 cases were dispatched WITHOUT ACTION -- 100%. Drumroll PLEASE . . . because this makes



Lousy as they ALL are, DC takes the cake. NO other vet board has DONE NOTHING 100 PERCENT OF THE TIME.

Back to Peter Glassman of Friendship Animal Hospital, and why I think he is a BAD VET.

That ONE case in which the vet board found violations and took steps toward disciplinary action was a complaint against Peter Glassman, DVM, owner of Friendship Animal Hospital, just off Wisconsin Avenue in DC's Friendship Heights Neighborhood.

Friendship is the most famous, and arguably also infamous, of DC's animal hospitals, and is the ONLY 24-hour hospital in the city. In 2005, the Washington City Paper ran a long, front-page article about them, pretty damning of both Friendship's actions in a particular case and the DC Vet Board itself. (

According to the City Paper Article:

"According to DCRA records, Friendship has been quite prolific in racking up complaints. When the newly constituted veterinary board met in November 2003, there were eight complaints waiting for its review. Of the eight complaints, five involved veterinarians at Friendship, which is a high-volume clinic. An investigation in 2001 also found eight people practicing veterinary medicine at Friendship without a license. Glassman is quick to mention that there were 'mitigating circumstances,' pointing out that the board concluded that those offenses weren't actionable ones."

Well, that's kind of true, and kind of not true. Here is what I found:

According to a memorandum from J. Sinclair Long, Assistant General Counsel, and Legal Counsel for the DC Veterinary Board (dated May 14, 2004, and provided to me in response to my public records request), the DC Veterinary Board did indeed make a move to take some action against Glassman for having 8 unlicensed veterinarians working at Friendship in 2001. The memo states:

"The Board of Veterinary Examiners has requested preparation of a consent order in repect of Dr. Peter Glassman, owner of Friendship Hospital for Animals, a District of Columbia veterinarian clinic. It is alleged that, during the period of approximately January 2001 to December 2001, Glassman employed eight unlicensed veterinarians in violation of District licensing law. The Board has requested a . . . that Glassman remit a fine of $1,000 for each violation, or $8,000 in total. Glassman is apparently amenable to the proposal."

Ah, you gotta love the game of "Mother-May-I" the Vet Boards play with vets.

"Bad Vet, May I Discipline You?"

"But of course, only a little though."

"Oh, thank you, we are so grateful to you."

[Vomit break]

But, seems like the DC Vet Board ITSELF, decided that was too harsh, even though Glassman himself was "amenable" to the fines. The memo goes on to say: "Alternatively, it has been suggested by staff, for reasons appearing below, that the Board conclude the case with the issuance of a letter of reprimand."

But here is the kicker: Even that meagre action -- a simple letter of reprimand ("BAD vet, no biscuit!") -- is, according to the VET BOARD'S LAWYER, illegal.

Yup, the Vet Board has no legal authority under District Law to write a letter of reprimand to a vet, or to fine a vet.

Law only allows the vet board to either suspend a license, or revoke it. And since NO VET BOARD IN THE COUNTRY hardly EVER revokes or suspends a license, this means that even in the MEASELY 8% of cases where the DC vet board finds cause to act (violations), they can and will take NO ACTION unless the violations are bad enough to revoke or suspend the vet's license. And that almost never happens anywhere. So nothing will be done.

It seems that there are regulations pertaining to the vet board which would allow it to reprimand a vet; put a vet on probation; limit the vets license; make him/her take classes, get therapy, or take an exam. But there is a STATUTE which is higher than the regulations and trumps the regulations. This statute is in the DC Official Code 3-509 (2001) which states that "the Mayor may suspend, revoke, refuse to issue, or restore a license issued . . . if the Mayor finds that the applicant or holder thereof . . . has knowingly employed a person who is practising veterinary medicine unlawfully."

Apparently, this wasn't the last time Glassman used unlicensed vets. In the City Paper article "More Than a Feline," published in summer 2005, the story of a couple whose cat was seen by a Friendship vet in 2003 is told. This cat had chronic kidney failure, and the vet -- a vet named Tawnia Zollinger, who was UNLICENSED at the time -- gave her a Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drug called ketoprofen. Literature indicates that ketoprofen is -- like other NSAIDS -- contraindicated in patients with kidney failure. According to the article, after starting this drug the cat's kidney disease progressed rapidly into an acute state, and she died (at another veterinary hospital).

According to the article, the owners "spent the rest of the week contacting veterinarians all over the country, more than a dozen in all. Every single one of them agreed that Coco should never have been given ketoprofen, especially for 15 days."

The article also describes the treatment the cat's (Coco's) owners received at the hands of the veterinary board -- and it's horrifying. The link is below, and you should read it.

Why else do I think Dr. Peter Glassman is a bad vet?

In June 2007 I testified at a Joint Public Hearing of the Committee on Health and the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, to support provisions of an Animal Protection Act. The provisions that I spoke in support of would have allowed an owner to recover LIMITED non-economic damages when a pet dies because of gross negligence committed by a veterinarian ($2,000 cap), or intentional acts committed in bad faith by a veterinarian (i.e., not euthanasia) that kills the pet ($7,500 cap).

Glassman showed up with another vet, fighting this provision. Glassman argued, primarily, that subjecting veterinarians to the spectre of such damages would cause the price of vet care to rise due to increased insurance rates. This argument has been debunked by many, and seems quite disingenuous -- that is, I don't believe it is a sincere argument.

First of all, vets pay approximately $300 a year for $1 million or more in insurance coverage -- more than enough to cover such claims. Second, these claims rarely succeed and would likely succeed only where OVERWHELMING and conclusive evidence exists.

But finally what would he have to fear -- unless his vets are deliberately/in bad faith killing pets, OR committing gross negligence? I mean, those potential damages would only apply to him or any of the vets at his practice IF they were committing GROSS NEGLIGENCE that resulted in the DEATH of their patients, or worse still, doing things on PURPOSE ("intentional acts . . . in bad faith" that kill patients?????)

Last but not least, his online blog gives the lie to his claims that he cares about holding costs down for the consumer.

In his blog, Glassman discussed how marking up the costs of prescription drugs, saying:

"Everybody likes to make an easy buck here or there and for many years - let's be honest - that's the gravy train that vets have enjoyed. Who cared if you didn't REALLY make money in surgery when you were marking up heartworm preventive 200%?"

And commenting on his own blog, he added:

"With some exceptions we previously marked up drugs 100% and added a $5.00 Rx fee."

He acknowledged that to compete with online sources like PetMeds, they have now had to reduce their markup to 50% and still charge the $5.00 fee for filling prescriptions.

In his blog, and with his "product" "Pet Portals" -- he is focused on MARKETING and INCREASING REVENUES of veterinary practices -- that is, GETTING MONEY AWAY FROM THE CONSUMER.

Does this sound like a guy who is genuinely concerned about the impact of passing on costs to pet owners? I think that concern was feigned. I think he's all about getting as much money out of your pocket as he can. With little space and attention being given to issues of quality of care based on his blog (where he talks about "marketing" and "branding" and revenue) and his statements at the DC hearing, my observations tell me that Glassman is all about making money and fighting any attempt to keep vets accountable for quality of care.