Nearly two years ago, I lost my incredibly loved and irreplaceable collie, Jack. Jack did not die because he was old or because he was sick. He died in Red Bank Veterinary Hospital (RBVH) in Tinton Falls, NJ, because after successfully undergoing surgery at the hands of a skilled, knowledgeable surgeon, he was left overnight in the Critical Care Unit under the unsupervised care of an inexperienced and incompetent intern.
It was only after Jack died that I learned that the sole medical provider caring for him in the CCU — had just graduated from veterinary school two months earlier and had only been working as a “veterinarian” for less than two weeks. In fact, she had not even passed the state exam or received a license from the state.
I am hoping you will help me honor his memory by protecting the more than 500,000 dogs and cats, along with their human families living in New Jersey, who may risk a similar fate when faced with veterinary hospitalization.
Jack died because the intern who was supposed to be taking care of him wasn’t paying attention, or because of her inexperience, she just didn’t know how to help him. For nearly 13 years I kept Jack healthy, happy and strong despite the fact that he was born with a megaesophagus which required continual observation and care. All of that was wiped out with one lie, one intern and one irreversible mistake.
For most of us who share our lives with dogs and/or cats, our four legged friends are much more than pets — they are members of our family. We love them, care for them and do our best to protect them. Indeed, the only reason we went to RBVH, was because it was supposed to provide exemplary surgical and post-operative care. What makes Jack’s death even more devastating is the fact that it was completely avoidable. When I told the admitting veterinarian, how concerned I was about leaving him in the care of an overwhelmed, inexperienced vet tech, she promised to put him in the CCU where he would be kept under the constant, careful supervision of a veterinarian. Had I known that the “veterinarian” had just graduated two months earlier and had only been practicing as a vet for two weeks, I never would have left him there. It is completely unethical and unforgivable that we were not told the truth about who would be caring for Jack.
It is difficult to believe that a veterinary hospital would allow an intern to be the sole medical provider to critically sick and injured patients, but that’s exactly what happened. Unbelievably, there’s nothing to prevent what happened to Jack — and me — from happening again. While there are no statistics to quote, I called all the emergency hospitals listed on the New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association’s website and most of them hire interns. Who knows how many unsupervised interns have made similar, critical mistakes?
What’s more, it is unfathomable to me that there are no laws in New Jersey prohibiting a recent veterinary school graduate from being the sole medical provider in a hospital setting — even in a critical care unit. In New Jersey, an intern works under a veterinarian’s license. However, the licensed veterinarian is not required to be present when the intern is working, or to personally supervise him or her. If an experienced veterinarian had been overseeing the CCU the night of Jack’s surgery, I would not be writing to you now. It is incomprehensible to me that a veterinary hospital would allow an intern to run their overnight CCU without a more experienced veterinarian there to supervise. How is one vet, especially one with only a few weeks experience, supposed to give quality care to each individual when her time, focus and energy is divided in so many different directions?
When we take our dogs and cats to veterinary hospitals, we should be able to trust that the people caring for our loved ones will be experienced professionals. Veterinarian hospitals need to be transparent and accountable. Yet, unfortunately for the residents of New Jersey, there is nothing to stop a similar tragedy from happening again. That is why I am asking for your help in creating “Jack’s Law,” a law that would restrict the responsibilities of recent veterinary school graduates and require interns to be supervised — in person — by experienced veterinarians, especially in critical care situations. It would also require veterinary hospitals be transparent and honest to consumers about exactly who treats the animals left in their care.
Jack was an incredible soul. He made everyone around him feel happy and loved. He was intelligent, funny and beautiful. He was so much more than that. I am heartbroken and will miss him forever. It is unforgivable that Jack died because I wasn’t told the truth. It would be unconscionable to allow others to die simply because nothing was done to change that awful truth.
I hope that with your help, we can save other families and their beloved dogs and cats from similar heartache. Please do not let Jack’s death be in vain. Thank you very much.