Wednesday, May 28, 2008

New York Vet Shawn Michael Demmerle and the Use of Unlicensed Staff to Administer Medications

Those of you familiar with my own case will know that my cat was given an insulin overdose by an unlicensed, unsupervised person. (See my website The Toonces Project for details.) I have a special interest in the dangerous and seemingly widespread practice of veterinarians using individuals who are not qualified (based on veterinary regulations) to perform veterinary duties requiring clinical skill. Worse yet, many veterinarians allow these individuals -- who are unlicensed veterinary assistants -- to perform these duties unsupervised.

This is very dangerous, and that is the reason why I take seriously any cNomplaint or judgment about a vet allowing unlicensed assistants to perform veterinary duties that should only be done by properly trained, certified, staff.

In New York, the Division of Professional Licensing issued the following "Specifications of Professional Misconduct" against veterinarian Shawn Demmerle:

"On or about November, 2004, while employed as a veterinarian by the Sullivan County, New York SPCA in Rock Hill, New York, [Demmerle] permitted an unlicensed person know as 'Tammy' to administer rabies vaccines, an activity requiring a veterinary medicine license, to several animals."

Like many board documents this one does not mention whether any harm came the animals as a result of this. However, a complaint was filed --- and usually some negative consequence must occur to inspire the filing of a complaint.

What could happen?

Well, an inadequately qualified person could draw up the wrong dose, causing an overdose that could seriously injur or even kill a pet. Or, an inadequately trained and unqualified person could fail to recognize symptoms of a adverse reaction in the animal, which in turn could also lead to serious health consequences and even death. (An example of this is the case of Kodi the Pug.)

In his 2006 press release, veterinarian John Robb of the “Protect the Pets” website warned that unlicensed staff performing duties that should only be performed by licensed veterinary technicians or veterinarians themselves poses a grave risk, which can lead to "tragic injury or even death of our beloved pets.”

He went on to add: "I have witnessed first hand horrific examples . . . Soap solution was accidentally placed in the eyes of pets scheduled for surgery, resulting in the sloughing of the surface layers of their corneas. Or urine being mistaken for a drug and being injected into the intravenous line of a pet."

So, this kind of thing can be a very big deal, and a life-endangering practice.

In the case of New York Vet Demmerle, the Professional Licensing Board suspended Demmerle's license for 1 year, but stayed the entire suspension (that is, it was not enforced); instead they placed his license on probation for 1 year and ordered him to pay a fine of $2,000.