Comments Contained Here…..

Filed under: @ 12:17 pm

Do not necessarily reflect the views of me in my D.V.M. disguise, employee of VCA Antech Inc.
Margaret Lynn Hammond, private citizen, however…..

My lawyer told me to leave well enough alone with my employers and in a professional sense I have done. This being the US I am, at least for the immediate moment, afforded certain constitutional protections with regard to free speech which I am desirous of exercising. I am also willing and able to accept the consequences of my speech, since this is technically a private discussion in a public place, but really, what can my employers do? Fire me?

That disclaimer having been disclaimed, the sub-title of this post is “Or, Why Margaret Quit Her Job.”

When I graduated WSU in 1994 I went to work almost immediately for a miserable miserly SOB in Olympia who, through his outdated ideas of what consituted good medicine and his truly bizarre notions of what constituted good business management gave me an ulcer and made me want to quit the profession. After much soul searching I decided that being unemployed and/or being forced to take a job at the local supermarket to pay the rent was probably better than staying with him and so I got the satisfaction of calling his house one night and telling his wife (the office manager for the practice) that I was leaving for Hawaii in 10 days and wasn’t coming back. That was December of 1997.

I floated around for a few months (after we got back from Hawaii), interviewing for jobs and squeaking by some sort of income by working as a relief doctor for various practices for whom I had interviewed. During this period of time I was startled to learn that not all practices worked the way Dr. RatBastard’s had. In the real world there were licensed technicians who were capable of doing things like placing IV catheters, taking radiographs, doing dental cleanings and surgical preps; things that I was capable of doing, but since I had trained as a doctor, I wasn’t that good at doing. In the real world there were modern anesthetic protocols, modern pain control drugs, referral hospitals to take care of your patients overnight so you didn’t have to leave them on IV fluids with no monitoring.
I discovered that I really did love medicine and, although inexperienced and unsure of myself, I had the potential to make this career work for me.

In March 1998 I took a week’s position at a hospital whose name I was familiar with. Five Corners had been owned by one doctor for the last several decades. And, with all due respect to one of my seniors in the profession, the man was over ready to retire. His management style and the nature of the practice was such that he hadn’t been able to keep doctors for several years and nothing will kill a veterinary practice faster than clients not being able to see the same doctor twice. A local company, Pet’s Choice, had purchased Five Corners from Doctor OldDude in July 1997 and had rapidly installed a disasterous series of medical directors. By March 1998 they were on their third medical director and still didn’t have a stable DVM staff to get the day practice back on its feet, to say nothing of a stable DVM staff to keep the emergency practice going. Dr. R (the third medical director) recommended me to the corporation for a full time position within two days of my taking that week long relief shift. And so I found myself with a full time position at a practice that seemed promising with a capable staff working for a corporation that seemed somewhat reasonable.
I was transferred to a sister hospital in Redmond for December of 1998, but was back to my position at Five Corners by January 1999 when the corporation decided that Dr. R was a loon and he quit. Around that time the emergency practice died, mostly because of Dr. R’s mismanagement, and so Five Corners was left to Melanie and I. A building built for a 7 doctor 24 X 7 day/ER/ICU practice had turned into an overwhelming white elephant with two doctors and a feeble, struggling day practice.

For two years we split six days per week and managed to get to a point where we had a dedicated client base, a full schedule and, glory be, a crowd of local veterinarians pestering us to re-open the emergency clinic. In June 2001 we hired Laurie and for two years we three split seven days per week which further strengthened our client base and encouraged more local veterinarians to pester us about re-opening the emergency clinic. The white elephant was actually making a profit, we were attracting dedicated, if eccentric, staff members and the demand was loud to open our emergency service again.

In June 2003, with five doctors, a staff that didn’t know what was about to hit them, and an enormous building that had been built for exactly that purpose, we re-opened our emergency service. The white elephant practice with no client base and no local veterinarians that would refer emergencies to us had gone from being the least profitable to the most profitable practice in the corporation. It was a hard haul, but we were proud of what we had done.

I was in my office one day in May 2005 when the then office manager called all of us to an impromptu staff meeting in the middle of the afternoon. She had just been notified that the investors in Pet’s Choice (i.e. the bankroll behind the corporation) had sold the corporation to Veterinary Centers of America (VCA) effective immediately. Pet’s Choice wasn’t profitable enough and they wanted to finally get some return on their investment. Our small, homegrown corporation had been assimilated into the Borg collective and resistance really was futile.
Over the next several weeks there was considerable weeping, wailing, hair tearing, teeth gnashing, and other melodrama. A series of very carefully planned and attendence mandatory meetings were held introducing us to the parent company.
And at first it didn’t seem all that bad a change. Yeah, we’d have to wear different colored scrubs, yeah, they’d want us to change from Five Corners Veterinary Hospital to VCA Five Corners Animal Hospital, but overall there was nothing really threatening. We’d still work with a local management team, the decisions about medicine would still be made by doctors and each hospital would be able to determine how they would practice medicine.

Then the changes started happening in the support staff’s employment agreements. Several full time people weren’t able to make enough money to be able to afford the “group rate” that was offered for health insurance. Don’t you think that a large corporation with over 300 hospitals around the country and literally thousands of employees would be able to negotiate a group rate that would allow full time employees to be able to afford health insurance? Hospital management was effectively neutered in their decision making capacity. Our very skilled office manager was reduced to little more than a paper pusher, unable to make decisions about what suppliers we used, what vendors we would purchase things from directly, and which local services we would, or would not, choose to have our business represented by. Management on the medical side of the practice was taken away from the doctors of the practice. Oh, we were told that we’d still have the absolute say on what we would or would not use/perform/recommend, but we’d get “suggestions” from corporate and if we resisted those “suggestions” we’d have to come up with a bloody good reason for our resistance and even then we’d face censure. The doctors’ employment contracts had to be re-negotiated too. We were informed in September 2005 that we had to sign a VCA employment contract by December. I don’t remember what the “or else” was, but we were all handed an insulting document masquarading as an employment contract and were told to sign. That, at least, was open to some negotiation. We banded together and authorized Melanie to negotiate on our behalf. She got her barracuda to go over the contract with a fine tooth comb and presented corporate with an alternative contract which, barring a few non-negotiable points, was actually accepted.
I was aware that there were some parts that we asked to be changed that corporate wouldn’t change for us. At the time I didn’t think they mattered so I signed the contract.

There are three parts of the contract I signed that I should have gotten more pissy about before signing. The first being that I agreed that the contract as signed in December 2005 was the employment contract I’d work under for the rest of my term at VCA. There was no provision for yearly review, especially no provision for salary review, and no real provision for appeal.
The second being that my base salary was capped at the rate at which I was being paid in December 2005. Reasonable, in some lights, considering that I agreed to be paid on a “base plus production” rate that would guarantee me a base salary and would pay me a bonus of 21% of what I brought into the practice per month. In theory, I never need cost of living adjustments in my base salary because if I’m working hard and the practice is successful then I’ll be getting a bonus every month. Right?
That takes us to the third portion of the contract that I should have gotten more pissy about before signing. The very least negotiable portion of the entire VCA veterinary employment contract says that they’ll pay you a salary at a set rate per month, but if you don’t bring into the practice the amount of money it takes to pay your salary each month then you end up owing the corporation the difference and you won’t get a bonus check until you pay it back. Or, to put it another way, you can take the vacation or sick time that you earn and you’ll still get a paycheck since it is “paid” time. But if you aren’t bringing in any money during that time you’re not in the office, you owe the corporation that paycheck.
We went to Great Britain for three weeks last spring. I was out of the office for a month. It took seven months for me to produce enough each month to pay my salary for that month and work off the “debt” I had incurred getting paid for my earned vacation time.
And this was paid vacation time, how? I have a colleague who is paid a somewhat higher base than I am who “owes” the corporation oveer $15,000 because she takes “paid” vacations fairly frequently. She is afraid that the corporation will cut her base salary because she doesn’t bring enough money into the practice to pay her salary.

Somewhat miffed over this, and deep in the grips of the tummy weasels, last December I sent an e-mail to our regional manager asking if I could re-negotiate parts of my contract. I mentioned that I had been a dedicated employee for 8 years and had every intention of staying in my current position for the forseeable future. I purposely did NOT mention that I needed to re-negotiate my contract because I was sick and needed to stress out less about how taking time off affected my salary. If they weren’t willing to re-negotiate my contract in respect for my loyalty to the corporation I didn’t want them to re-negotiate just because I was sick.

The answer I got is reproduced, in part, below (comments in parentheses are mine):

“Pet’s Choice went out of business and VCA has a different compensation structure for the doctors – bottom line.” (i.e. put up or shut up)

“Vacation pay was determined by what was produced and a reimbursement percent was calculated on an hourly basis. There was no gift for continued employment.”

“What I mean is that there is not a financial reward for being someplace for three or five years but there should be continued opportunities for growth that will allow each of you to succeed in whatever area is important.” (does anyone hear a Dilbert-like “you won’t get paid more, but your intangible benefits will increase” Maybe I should have been petting the hospital cat more frequently.)

I spent two hours at the hospital last week from 8-10 am and not one GP client walked in the door. What is up with that? We are a combined practice that is in part dependent on the GP for the health or our ER service. What are we doing to grow the GP? The practices feed one another, currently the ER practice is down and the GP piece has eroded and cannot make up the deficit. (or: I was the one who was responsible for hiring the absolutely disasterous manager that we just fired and since she was the one responsible for hiring most of the front desk staff and promoting the practice the fact that clients of the General Practice don’t want to come in anymore has to be someone’s fault, but it’s sure not mine!)

People who have known me for a while will realize the futility in such a response. I threw a lot of temper tantrums as a child and so am quite familiar with the best response to them. Mom used to grab me by the scruff of the neck and the seat of the pants and chuck me into my room then shut the door until I cooled down. Issuing such an ultimatum is not the way to get any rational response out of me. I haven’t yet told the author of the above letter exactly where, and exactly how high to stuff it and maybe I never will, but I sure have fun composing e-mails in response.
Besides, as I mentioned at the top of this (very lengthy) post, I did quit my job. I’ve got a hot prospect with a friend from WSU and the regional manager is going to be the one answering to corporate as to why the profits from the day practice (the GP) are going to take a big hit for a second summer in a row. I almost look forward to it.
I’ll be working three 13 hour days per week with no weekends and no emergency work. I’m REALLY looking forward to that.
I’ll miss my support staff and I’ll really miss my doctor team, but I can’t love the people I work with and not trust the people I work for. So this summer look for me on weekends. I’ll be the one with the wistful look and the big grin.

3 Responses to “Comments Contained Here…..”

  1. Uncle Andrew Says:

    That’s my girl! If you don’t ever feel comfortable telling that corporate talking head where and how far to stick it, just let me know; I’ll leave a flaming bag of dog poop on his front stoop or something. :mrgreen:

  2. Valerie Says:

    “…but I can’t love the people I work with and not trust the people I work for.”

    Sing it, sistah!

    Seriously, sometimes you just gotta do what you just gotta do, and damn the torpedos. Good for you.

  3. Dalek Says:

    Good for you, Jake! :mrgreen: I’m very glad you quit and got yourself out of that miserable situation. I hope this goes a long way towards bringing your tummy weasels under control.

Leave a Reply

All comments containing hyperlinks are held for approval, so don't worry if your comment doesn't show up immediately. (I'm not editing for content, just weeding out the more obvious comment spam.)

All portions of this site are © Andrew Lenzer, all rights reserved, unless otherwise noted.