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Task force examining rural vet services

The Rural Veterinary Task Force will be holding three public consultations in Dauphin, Brandon and Stonewall beginning on October 20

Manitobans will soon have the chance to weigh in on how the provincial network of veterinary services is performing as the Rural Veterinary Task Force (RVTF) launches its public consultations later this month.

“These meetings are certainly open to anyone. We are hoping to hear from livestock producers, large farms, small farms as well as pet owners and individuals involved with the veterinary districts and municipalities,” said Dr. Paul Schneider, chair of the RVTF.

The task force, which was launched in June, consists of three individuals, Dr. Schneider, who has been a practising veterinarian in the province for more than 30 years, Bertha Russell-Langan, current chair of the Vet Services Commission (VSC), and Merv Starzyk, chairman of the Shoal Lake and District vet board for the past 23 years.

“Since we began in June we have had several focus group meetings with students, various active vets, representatives of the VSC, as well as stakeholder consultations with virtually all of the livestock associations, the vet medical association, animal health technologists, the chief veterinary officers and Manitoba Health,” said Schneider.

The RVTF will be reviewing the current vet structure, funding, clinic infrastructure, residents’ needs and will also look at the role they play in food safety, biosecurity, and animal welfare.

Current students and recent graduates of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine will also be surveyed and clinics throughout the province will be reviewed, looking at things such as financial statements and caseloads.

Provincial setup

Manitoba’s Veterinary Service District (VSD) program was established in 1970 and the VSC was formed to oversee the program.

There are currently 27 VSD clinics in Manitoba and approximately 145 practising veterinarians in rural Manitoba.

Rural clinics are funded through financial contributions from local municipalities who have a representative on the VSD board.

The provincial government also provides $479,000 annually for the operation and maintenance of clinic buildings.

Manitoba is the only province in Canada to operate rural clinics with this provincial-municipal funding structure.

Periodically reviewed

The review stems from recommendations a similar task force made in 2008 that the rural veterinary structure be reviewed periodically.

In 2008, the task force held similar public, stakeholder and focus group consultations and found the most pressing issue to be the continued shortage of rural vets.

It was recommended that the province evaluate the number of spaces for Manitoba students at the Western College of Vet Medicine in Saskatoon, consider more provincial funding for vet training, enhance scholarships and expand responsibilities for vet technicians.

“There has been an increase in the number of students that Manitoba fosters at the veterinary college. Over a few years they have moved from 10 places per year to 16 per year,” said Schneider.

The province also has a scholarship program for vet students who agree to practise in a rural setting for two years after graduation. This program was established in 2003 and has seen more than 45 students participate.

Current focus

This year’s task force will be looking into all of the areas explored in 2008 as well as the recommendations that were made to see what has changed, whether the proposed solutions have made any impact, and what should happen next.

“Some of the issues that we examined previously are still with us. We are looking at how things have changed whether there are opportunities for new solutions,” said Schneider.

The relationship between livestock industry trends and the vet system will also be explored in the context of changes in contemporary livestock production and animal volumes.

“We will certainly be looking at the economics of the beef and bison industries. Many factors have changed in these industries since the last review,” said Schneider. “Back in 2008, we were reeling with the BSE issues and the beef industry was under financial stress. For a lot of these clinics, a big part of their livestock clientele is on the beef side and so as the industry changes so does the need for these services.”

Following the review, the RVTF will compile a report and recommendations that are expected to be delivered to the minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development early next year. “Manitoba’s rural veterinarians provide a broad range of services and care for animals throughout the province,” said Manitoba Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development Ron Kostyshyn in a press release. “Animal health and biosecurity are priorities shared by vets and our government, so we want to ensure appropriate services and infrastructure are available. We want to hear the priorities of stakeholders and then develop a comprehensive plan for veterinary services for the future.”

The RVTF is encouraging everyone with a comment or concern surrounding rural veterinary care to participate in giving feedback.

“We are not going into this with any specific agenda. Our role is to gather the information and ultimately what we report back and what our recommendations are will be based on what we are hearing and what we will hear from anyone who is willing to talk to us,” said Schneider.

Public consultations will be held Oct. 20 in Dauphin at the Canway Inn & Suites, 1601 Main Street, in Brandon Oct. 21 at Riverbank Discovery Centre, 1-545 Conservation Drive and Oct. 22 near Stonewall at the South Interlake-Rockwood Agricultural Society’s Red Barn, south of Stonewall on Highway 236. The open house runs from 1:30 to 7 p.m. No pre-registration is required.

“Everyone is welcome, whether you are coming with a presentation or just a few comments. We are hoping to hear from everybody.”

If you are unable to attend an in-person session, the RVTF is encouraging you to submit feedback online through written submissions or question­­naire.

For more information visit the Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development website.

About the author

Reporter

Jennifer Paige is a reporter centred in southwestern Manitoba. She previously wrote for the agriculture-based magazine publisher, Issues Ink and was the sole-reporter at the Minnedosa Tribune for two years prior to joining the Manitoba Co-operator.

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