The veterinarian running Alta View Animal Hospital lost his license to practice medicine this month, after state officials found dozens of instances of unprofessional conduct, incorrect prescriptions and errors in animal care.
The decision to revoke the license of Tejpaul Ghumman, which took effect July 13, comes after four local pet owners came forward in 2017 with complaints about the treatment of their animals, two of which died during or after being treated at Alta View. A total of 53 violations were alleged, about half of which were sustained in court.
Ghumman is challenging the decision in a new civil case, however, contending that the revocation of his license was excessive and based on erroneous findings. An attempt to reinstate Ghumman's license during the challenge failed last week.
Ghumman had been operating the animal hospital, located near the San Antonio shopping center on Showers Drive in Mountain View, on a probationary license since 2014. At the time, the California Veterinary Medical Board (VMB) found he failed to properly treat a cat with kidney failure and was illegally operating an online pharmacy. Alta View received more than 1 million tablets of prescribed medications including 287,520 tablets of Phenylpropanolamine, which can be used to make methamphetamine.
Later, complaints arose alleging that Ghumman was providing poor care to pets, including errors in emergency care for one dog, Lena, who died in 2017. The vet board found that Ghumman was negligent in that he failed to provide frequent doses of epinephrine to Lena while she was experiencing cardiac respiratory arrest.
The vet board also found numerous record-keeping violations: Physical exams were either not being performed when required, or at the very least were not being documented, and that Ghumman failed to provide full medical records to owners in a timely manner.
State officials revoked Ghumman's veterinarian license as well as his "premises license" that allows him to operate Alta View Animal Hospital. Ghumman's attorney, Michael Firestone, said the location remains open for business under another entity, and that Ghumman is still working there -- albeit only in back office operations.
One of the owners who testified against Ghumman, Courtney Batterson, said she was "relieved beyond words" that his license was finally revoked. She had gone to Alta View to have her dog Mabel spayed after adoption, a procedure that she believes was botched. Batterson said it worries her that the animal shelter she used -- Copper's Dream Rescue -- continued to guide new pet owners to Alta View despite the long list of alleged violations.
"For the past three years I was aware, in the back of my mind, that new clients were going to Alta View Animal Hospital deceived, trusting Dr. Ghumman and his staff to properly and ethically diagnose, treat, and operate on their pets," she said.
Irina Badea and Jim Frimmel, who lodged a complaint against Ghumman over the treatment of their dog BooBoo, called the revocation a victory for veterinarians, community members and pets. But it didn't have to take so long, and shouldn't have been so difficult.
"It's a shame that the process of removing a license is so difficult," Frimmel said. "Going forward, we want to work to give the board a stronger hand and to give pet owners the ability to sue for more than just the dollar value of a pet."
Veterinary license revocation is handled differently than criminal or civil matters, and is decided by an administrative court. The vet board made allegations against Ghumman in 2018 and petitioned to revoke his license, with the California Attorney General's Office acting as the prosecution, and an administrative law judge determined earlier this year that there was enough evidence to support the revocation.
Appealing the ruling
But the fight continues. Firestone recently filed a challenge to the ruling in San Francisco Superior Court, arguing that the vet board overstepped in taking away Ghumman's license. The most egregious allegations had been successfully challenged, he said, and the remaining violations are mostly related to bookkeeping and discrepancies between paper and medical records -- hardly mistakes that warrant the loss of a license.
"Under the circumstances, the totality of the evidence doesn't suggest that Dr. Ghumman was a deceitful, money-hungry, reckless doctor, which they make it sound like in the accusation," Firestone said. "Revocation of a doctor's license -- the functional equivalent of a professional death penalty -- is an extraordinary act which must never occur without a sufficient record to support it."
Several character witnesses supporting Ghumman described him as a trustworthy and capable veterinarian, some relying on his care for their pets going back more than 20 years. One of the owners, Craig Dremann, testified at an administrative hearing that it would be a "great loss to the community" if Ghumman were to lose his license, according to court documents.
Prosecutors from the attorney general's office disagree. Deputy Attorney General Judith Loach, in opposing a stay on the revocation, wrote that Ghumman has for years "endangered his patients, flouted the law and told shameless lies about his qualifications and his activities." His actions amount to gross negligence that has injured his patients, she argued, and that the revocation was necessary to protect the public.
Loach pointed to numerous instances in which Ghumman had been dishonest to his patients, using paperwork with the American Animal Hospital Association when he was not accredited by the organization, and attempting to enter what she called a "hush money" agreement with Badea. After BooBoo was euthanized, a veterinarian working at Alta View offered the owners an illegal settlement agreement that offered them $749 in exchange for them not contacting the vet board with a complaint. The owners never signed the document.
Even during the hearing, Loach wrote that Ghumman continued his penchant for dishonesty. He entered a settlement in 2014 admitting that he operated an illegal online pharmacy, yet continued to testify that the allegations are untrue.
"Pure and simple: Ghumman is a danger to the community of pet owners in Mountain View, California," Loach said in her opposition. "He, in essence, thumbed his nose at the VMB and its probationary conditions. And then the client complaints were lodged with the VMB and there clearly emerged a repetitive pattern of a dishonest veterinarian who was negligent and incompetent in the practice of veterinary medicine."
Representatives from the California Attorney General's office declined to comment on the revocation, deferring to the Veterinary Medical Board. Members of the vet board did not respond to requests for comment as of Monday.
Badea and Frimmel, BooBoo's owners, said the victory in administrative court was clouded somewhat by the immediate challenge in San Francisco to overturn the decision. Badea said she was concerned to hear Ghumman is still working in some capacity at Alta View after he lost his license, and said she had little confidence confidence that the state is equipped or interested in enforcing its own decisions.
"We are basically at the mercy of a future judge," she said.